How to Make Running a Habit that Sticks

Workouts are like brushing my teeth; I don’t think about them, I just do them. The decision has already been made.” – Patti Sue Plumer

If you’re looking for the ultimate training “secret” then you’ve found it: consistency.

2013 is the Year of Consistency and we’ve plowed through over two weeks of material to help make running a more ingrained habit in your life.

We’ve seen how the Try Everything, Try Nothing Approach can sabotage your efforts to improve, while making it nearly impossible to get into the groove of running well.

I’ve given you the Plan B Technique to help you feel stronger and more empowered – even on days when you’re not feeling well. Turning a bad workout into a good performance helps reinforce the reasons why you run, so you can keep coming back for more.

Finally, we saw how Joe improved his marathon by over 66 minutes. He “stopped thinking and started training” by focusing his efforts on consistency and a smart plan instead of always jumping to the next best training tip.

All of these articles have reinforced that consistency is king. It’s the secret sauce of good training and if you don’t have it, you suffer the consequences. I hear about this constantly and it breaks my heart. See for yourself:

I’m able to maintain the schedule for awhile but then go through a phase of laziness and low motivation.

I love running so much that I’m inconsistent with strength work, so now I’ve been injured for all of 2013.

I need to be able to motivate myself back into consistency, but I always do too much, too soon.

Today, let’s discuss the most effective way of being more consistent: make running a habit sticks.

What Passes for Habit Change Advice

Much to my dismay, there’s too much woo-woo, feel good psycho-babble out there about how to build habits. And it just doesn’t help you change your existing habits or start a new one.

If you find it damn near impossible to run after a tough day at the office, will “trying harder” be successful for you? Hell no.

So I’m livid when I read stuff like this:

Bad Motivation AdviceOr this:

Bad Advice on Creating Habits

Is this real life?

Alas, it is. In a world where this is the conventional advice, most runners are left in the dark about how to really create change. If you want to make running a habit that you “just do,” instead of something you’re constantly planning to do, you’re out of luck.

Has this ever happened to you: when your alarm clock goes off, you think Oh it’s too dark and cold, I’ll just go later. Then you never run!

It’s so common – because mainstream habit change advice is terrible. You’ll see that “experts” are telling you to change who you are, like become a morning person. But if that’s not your normal energy pattern, it’s far too difficult to change.

Or my favorite: get a trainer that costs $100 per session. At an “optimal” schedule of three times per week, you’re spending $300 every week to work out!

There are better solutions.

Consistent Running with “Systems”

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

When I first started running, every day we’d meet after school for cross country practice. It was a chore – I used to just play video games or hang out with my friends. Learning to run (every day!) after school was a new routine that took a lot of time to learn.

It was hard at first, like any new habit. I’ll be honest and admit I skipped a few practices.

But soon, everything clicked: I felt empowered after my daily run and saw my hard work paying off. I felt even more accomplished after a good race – running simply made me happy.

Maybe that sounds familiar. You might feel the same way after a week or month of consistent running. It’s exciting when your running feels effortless, isn’t it?

That’s the power of developing the habit of consistent running.

And like any habit, it can be learned. It’s easier to get through the lows of training or bad weather when you have good systems.

A running system is a habit shortcut that holds you accountable and makes it easier to accomplish your goals:

  • Join a supportive community of runners that encourages you to finish your workouts
  • Post a public monthly training journal – so you can get yelled at if you’ve been a slacker
  • Are you a morning person? Don’t put off your run until the afternoon (when you always skip it). Lay out your clothes the night before and put your running shoes on as soon as you get up

Systems are proactive – they’re set up before you go running to help you accomplish your workout. They anticipate barriers and methodically create a solution to them.

If you want to finally know what it’s like  to feel like an accomplished, strong runner, I invite you to learn more about the Team Strength Running.

What Are Your Barriers?

What Are Your Barriers

You don’t need to spend hundreds – or thousands – of dollars on a trainer or the latest Garmin GPS watch with elevation capabilities. Many runners do and then find themselves in the same position two months later.

Instead, it’s more helpful to identify the specific barriers that prevent you from completing your workouts or running more consistently.

Do you use your busy schedule as an excuse to skip your runs?

Do you lack the motivation to just lace up your shoes and GO?

Are you struggling to run consistently in the colder temperatures?

Trying harder or “just saying no” to your inner negative voice won’t help. That’s how you lapse into old habits.

Identifying the specific barriers that prevent you from staying injury-free or consistent is the first step.

Once you have a list of barriers, it’s time to develop the systems you’ll use to overcome those barriers. They can be simple like, “run with a friend on my long run” (you won’t skip a long run if someone is depending on you to show up).

Or they might be more complex, like scheduling automatic reminders in your calendar on pre-determined dates. If you know you slack off four weeks into a training program, cut that habit loop with a persuasive calendar reminder.

These are just a tiny sample of the techniques I use with my runners to help them run more consistently. You can learn more about the team here.

Does that sound like something you might benefit from?

When Running is a Habit…

Imagine that it’s easy to motivate yourself to complete your regular strength workouts. Or that you don’t have to use your finite willpower to do your tempo runs.

The sense of achievement from being consistent is powerful and can make you feel successful. You’re deliberating completing something you set out to do.

Consistency makes you feel ready for your race. Your body feels better and you’re more confident.

The attitude shift from being consistent is exciting and can encourage you to keep going. It can even spill over into other areas of your life – like performing better at work or being a better role model for your kids.

These are the reasons why 2013 is the Year of Consistency.

And it’s why hundreds of runners have joined the Team Strength Running. To make consistent running that feel-good thing you “just do,” instead of something you always try to do.


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  1. John Goodie says:

    Consistency is definitely key and something I am working on myself.

  2. I cannot thank you enough for this article. I have tried the whole ‘inner voice’ thing without my success. I find my inner voice can argue with itself.

    I can’t wait to hear more about the project! Quick question: If I’m already signed up to receive your updates through my email, will that work for your project info?

  3. Sam Butler says:

    Having a running schedule on a calendar, and having running partners are the two best motivators to be consistent.

  4. For me, the hardest part is just getting out of bed in the morning and heading outside. especially lately because it’s been cold, rainy, and I’m slow to wake up in the mornings (I don’t like coffee).

    I have found that laying out all my clothes the night before does help. For a brief time, I had a running buddy and we’d meet up for morning runs and that was a tremendous motivation to not skip. I think I may just have to find someone else nearby that will be willing to be my next running buddy.

  5. For me – the Standard Core Routine is my least favorite strength training exercise – because it’s tough for me. Sometimes I’ll tell myself ahead of time that I’ll just cut it short or maybe do less sets. Believe me – I have my days when I’m SO tempted to skip it. But, I know how IMPORTANT it is to my running success. I know because it IS making me stronger. I notice when I ascend hills, or when I run strides. Seeing the results is why I get it done.

    • Many (non-runners mostly) often ask me why I’m so into running. I usually reply with just a smile. Because I just can’t put it into words. I’m not a religious person but have become more spiritual because of running. I no longer run for fitness. Does that make any sense? I’m a mom to 3 girls – (4, 3, and 1 yrs old). I run and do strength training exercises whenever I can fit it in. I’m a morning, afternoon, and evening runner. I run because it’s a part of who I am. Sure they’re are days the motivation to get out there is a little tough – especially after being up all night with a sick daughter. But not running is not an option for me. Like Jason says – consistency is the key ingredient. That and I believe it takes HEART too.

      • Laura (another one... ) says:

        Laura.. have you heard of Girls on the Run? It’s an international running program geared to girls in 3rd through 8th grade.. essentially they train for a 5k together, and build bonds and go through some self-esteem exercises. My daughter began training for her first 5K in third grade to support a friend who had joined the program in another state. She absolutely loves to run now (she is waiting for my husband to come home now… it is 37 degrees, cold and damp… but she is dressed and ready to go!). To quote her, “Running makes me feel free and unstoppable. If I have a problem, running helps me sort it out. It clears my mind.” GOTR is always looking for coaches and “buddies” for their girls… 🙂

        • Laura – I haven’t heard of it. It sounds like a great program! I will check it out the next chance I get. Thanks!

      • Laura,
        Running is the same for me. It is just part of me now. To help others understand this I recently started I would love if you would check it out and contact me through it or our Facebook page. I am always looking for people like you to write articles to help inspire others. Thanks and I hope to hear from you!

  6. Great read! My consistency issue is my lack of speed. I know I can run at a decent speed for a very short distance, but if I try to lengthen it out, I tend to over-do it too much and end up walking more than I want to. I guess the inconsistency comes in when I try to figure out what I can do to make it better and I keep trying different things, but end up at the same place.

  7. Very good article. I started running last April focused on building the strength and stamina of completing my 1st marathon. Along the way running became a habit that I look forward to.
    In the beginning I didn’t like to run and told people that you have to motivate me to run. However, as I focused on preparing for the marathon I changed my focus from not liking to run to loving the benefits of running.

    Now I will run in the morning, during lunch or late afternoon. I focus on getting my run in. I also have let go of all of the equipment like the Timex Ironman watch. I just carry my phone and use MapMyRun to log my distance. Running is my new best habit because I spent so much time focusing on the benefits of increased strength and stamina which led to lower weight, lower blood pressure and lower sugar.

    My best advice is to anyone who is struggling with their running is to focus on the benefits of what you receive by running. When you change your focus you change your outcome.

  8. Mathew Hill says:

    The following quote from your article on Try Nothing/Try Everything really encapsulates my biggest problem and energy/motivation drainer: “Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to know what to do. So many runners do nothing – they fall prey to paralysis by analysis. And they’re stuck in a vicious cycle of dealing with constant little injuries, not knowing whether to run, lift, or rest, or being terrified of increasing their mileage.”

    I’ve found good consistency in running. I have an adequate running back-pack and now run everywhere I can, rather than driving. Motivation to be consistent in running is easier when I make running part of my daily transportation life.

    Consistency in cross-training is my Achilles Heel.

    Also my nutrition.

  9. I hate intervals. I’d rather run an ultra than pushing myself to run my brains out so if I’m not feeling 100% good, intervals or fartleks are the first I skip. Alas, I’m good at long distances but not very fast. This year, I’ll change that. Got out this morning in -5 degrees, snow and pitch black and ran 8 short but really fast hills. Turned out it wasn’t so hard after all.

  10. Laura (another one... ) says:

    I’m a newbie to this whole running thing…. I found the best time for me to work my runs in was first thing in the morning, before any other commitments and before I could change my mind, lol! It is a great way to enter my day… I get my “me” time, and I feel a real sense of accomplishment by 6:30am.
    I got stuck in November with back pain, and then the cold weather set in. I know… real runners run in any weather (i.e. my husband and daughter). It’s been a stumbling block for me… I’m still trying to figure out how to dress for 5:30am runs in 20/30 degree weather.

    Maybe Linda (above) can share her strategies for -5 degree weather 🙂

  11. I’m finding it hard to think of one right now…but I’ve been there. I’m currently training for my first marathon and one thing I have learned along the way is motivation does not magically fall out of the sky! The only thing that drives one to be motivated is RESULTS! This theory is true with all of life if you stop and think about it. Then the only first step for anyone is to want to do it. Once you’ve made up your mind, let your results continue driving you. What your goal is with running will determine your results. Mine is that I’m type 1 diabetic and keeping my blood sugar regulated is important to me and my family. Running is great for diabetics in all sorts of ways. We should all set small goals to accomplish for ourselves while running whether it be distance, speed, losing weight, or a certain race. Well that’s my two cents worth… Thanks for all you do Jason.

    • Actually after thinking about it more…the strength routines are the hardest things to fit in. I’m a fairly new runner that went through IT band rehab (Thanks for the videos Jason) and before training for a marathon I had ample time to fit these in. Now with a wife, 3.5 yr old and 13 wk old time is so limited! I have just the right amount of time each week set aside to do my minimal training runs.

  12. My hardest thing is trails. I love running trails, I know I should run them, but I have to ride a bus for 40 min to get there and it’s just way easier to head out along my local pavement route. Signing up for a trail half in September though, so I have to get this sorted!

    • Same here, Diane. I can squeeze a lot into my schedule, even with work and a toddler, but spending 45-60 minutes roundtrip to get to and from a trail is not easy.

  13. The hardest thing for me isn’t staying motivated to run or do my post-run strength routines. It’s knowing how much to run. Those race plans that are available online tend to include 3 running days, 2 cross-training days and 2 rest days. Or something like that. But other things I’ve read suggest that running 5 days a week is better, so I took my cross-training days and did half x-train, half short run. Then, related or not, I got glute/hip tightness that has persisted for a while. I just don’t know how much is best to run.

  14. I have no problem doing running. Of any type, whether it’s long, short, fast, slow, tempo, intervals, base or recovery. Whether it’s raining, snowing, cold, dark, I get out the door and run (unless the floodgates have well and truly opened, then I wait until it eases).

    What I find hard is doing strength work, the ancillary exercises that keep the runner strong. Squats, core, upper body, flexibility, resistance and weight training, etc. I seem to get away with not doing it, but I know that the lack of doing these exercises will catch up to me soon, which will no doubt result in injuries and setback. For some reason, it’s easy for me to fit in the running, but I just can’t seem to get around doing these other exercises. If I can develop a system that helps me do this consistently, I believe I’d be a better runner for it.

  15. Chuck Swanson says:

    The hardest part of staying consistent for me is doing the little things. Proper warm up/cool down, stretching properly, etc. I do decent with my foam roller use but don’t take the extra 5 minutes to stretch. This is why I seem to have an injury once every year or so. I know what to do but always seem to skip this portion of my training. ITBS hit last year and now I have Achilles Tendonitis. Need to fix this so I can retain my gains better from the previous training cycles.

  16. Hi Laura, if you’re referring to clothes I wore tights, double boxer shorts, sports bra, long-sleeved shirt, reflector vest, gloves and a hat. I sweat a lot so I don’t need much clothes (except on my bum) when I run.

    If you’re referring to some kind of mental strategy, I started by tricking myself out of bed pretending I’d only do my usual morning stretching routine. Then I went on tricking myself I’d only do the standard warmup routine and go outside for four short hill sprints. Which I did. But then I did two more. And then two more. Suddenly, I had done eight and what had seemed like a gruesome workout in the middle of the night was over.

    I guess “just do it!” is the baseline here. Good luck with your running!

  17. Jason when should we use a foam roller? Before a run/after? I’ve been rolling at the end of the day before bed every night.

    • That works great! You can use it briefly before you run too to help you loosen up. As long as your’e not spending too much time one one muscle you can use it frequently.

  18. My biggest challenge is getting back into the rhythm. Occasionally, life interrupts the habit and forces me to miss a day or two. Instead of picking it back up, once I’ve missed 2 days, it becomes too easy for the habit to slide and let life continue to take control.

  19. Hardest thing here is a nonsupportive spouse. That on top of really dark rainy winter (Oregon), hate the treadmill, and now trying to get my omph back after a nasty case of the flu in spite of flu shot and a cough that won’t go away 🙁

    • They do say running is a selfish sport. It probably takes some compromise and understanding for a runner/non-runner relationship to work.

  20. I’ve been training for triathlon the past few years and I find consistency running the toughest once I begin to pick up my mileage and/or intensity on the bike and I’m also weight lifting legs 2-3x/week. It’s easy to run or do speed work when I’m only running but my life doesn’t work that way!

  21. For me, the speed work is toughest. I knew from the time I started doing them that they losed the biggest injury risk. And guess what? Pulled hammy on Christmas Day on my second sprint. And this after a longer than usual warmup and several sets of active stretches. I started running last spring because a screwed my back up royally lifting weights. I was too afraid to go back to the weights. I had to do something to get my blood sugars back in line (type 2 diabetic), so running it was. I was doing great until the injury, but now I wonder if fear will set in and keep me from pushing myself to start running again once the hammy heals.

  22. Your articles always uncannily address an issue I am struggling with :-). From the time I signed up for a PR plan I have been more consistent than ever. But yesterday I missed a run and was feeling guilty the whole day. But then I though as long as I am consistent, missing a run now and then is OK. I get up by 4:15 for every run and when I think that I have to do this for the rest of my life, it seems daunting. I realize the only way to overcome this is to make it a habit that I don’t think about but just do.

  23. Sometimes it is even hard for me to believe myself, but I have run 2 marathons and a handful of 1/2 marathons, and have never done anything more than long/increasing weekend runs. It is shocking that I haven’t seriously injured myself. This year, I just decided that that was not working for me (I was still overweight and got winded going up a flight of stairs) and that I wanted to experience the “real” benefits of running and cross-training regularly. So, in December I started going out for 2-3 shorter runs a week, and now I have upped it to 4-5 times a week of anywhere from 2-7 miles, or substituting on the elliptical. I haven’t lost a ton of weight, but I *feel* much better, and my pants fit better, and I am starting to look forward to my daily sweat. In February, I plan to add a little strength work into my routine. I fit my workouts in whenever I can. It helps that now I look forward to them rather than thinking I just don’t have time…

  24. Hardest part for me to stay consistent is the cold weather. And I hate running on the treadmill. I always feel like my legs are flopping around unnaturally and that I’m about to fall off.

  25. For me it’s not getting enough sleep. I will wake up several times throughout the night and I know I don’t get much REM sleep. It’s hard to get the motivation to do much of anything, let alone run. I do it, but probably not at my full potential.

    Question or Jason: If one stays consistent with a running/strength training plan (let’s say for for 2 months or so), will a runner see improvements in that time? If so, what kind of improvements? If not, how many months or (years) does it typically take? I’m referring to mainly a runner’s pace.


    • You’ll see a lot of improvements over two months, but it depends on what type of training you’re doing and where you started. The key is stringing together small improvements every 2-3 months over a long period of time (like a decade)!

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Just had to drop out of my 1st full marathon due to a torn meniscus AND a loose body in knee joint:( needless to say, I’m disappointed & scared that I won’t get back from this injury. Until then, I’m keeping upper body strong with weights. I patiently wait fit the OK to start rehab exercises. Running IS a daily habit, can’t wait to get back to the peace it gives me.

  27. I finished my second marathon in November, fracturing my foot around mile 15. The recovery was easy but I had to scale back so much and then I was hit with the most wicked viral bronchitis that took me down hard for all of December. I was still running some during this time but not like I wanted to. The last 2 weeks have been the first good running I’ve had since October and man I feel weak and depressed. It’s going to be alright but I know I should be doing strength training but I never do. Too much to get going on all at once is sort of overwhelming, so I’m just trying to focus on consistent running now, add gym work in after running is more effortless, hopefully in a few weeks.

  28. For myself in order to keep pushing my limits I need to sign up for races. This keeps me consistent and gives me an objective/goal to work towards. Off season is the hardest to stay on track…my weekly mileage usually goes down making it harder to get it back up come the new year. But the new year is here and there are plenty of races to run!!

  29. Hi Jason, I very much enjoy reading all of your help and tip articles you write. Let me just thank you first off for all the work you put into this and the encouragement you provide. The question I have for you is, is it alright to be running back to back days or even 5-6 days a week? I’ve been only running 3 days a week to give my muscles break down time in between workouts. I know there are several people who run daily but I feel a bit nervous running even 2-3 days in a row.

  30. My problem with consistency is the nasty bugs that my kids bring home from day care. When I’m feeling fine, I can run 3 times a week, I do my “long” run (finishing my 5k-to-10k plan now), and I just started incorporating your Strength routines. Feels great!

    Then my little son comes home with a cold and maybe a fever. After 2 days HE is fine, I’m knocked out for two weeks with massive congestion and maybe a sinus infection. I’m really frustrated right now, just got my second antibiotics prescription in 4 months and I know I’m grounded for at least another week (after already having to reduce training to a minimum in the last 2 weeks).

    What do you guys do when you have a cold? Stop training altogether, leave out the running but keep up the strength routines?

    Sorry about the rant, I feel sick and very frustrated 🙁


  1. […] read: How to make a running habit that […]

  2. […] to help enhance running performance and reduce the risk of injuries. He writes about creating running habits, increasing mileage the safe way, and what gear and books are best. Anyone can learn from […]

  3. […] to help enhance running performance and reduce the risk of injuries. He writes about creating running habits, increasing mileage the safe way, and what gear and books are best. Anyone can learn from […]

  4. […] can see some of that inspiration in my post How to Make Running a Habit that Sticks where I explain that consistency is the “secret sauce” of good […]

  5. […] [Further reading: How to Make Running a Habit that Sticks] […]

  6. MadSweat says:

    […] Patti Sue Plumer (via Strength Running) […]

  7. […] is a long-term endeavor. Beginners must take the long view and expect to progress gradually. Make running a habit and keep training, year after […]