6 Ways To Make Running A Routine

day planner and pencil

During a recent recap post for my Oregon Coast 50k training, I noticed that while I run my scheduled run nearly every time (skipping maybe 2 runs every 4-5 month training cycle), my success rate, that very same week, in completing my planned strength work hovers around zero.

What gives?

How can I do one workout so religiously, and skip another with almost the same level of dedication?

female runner running with her back to the camera

Habit and Routine v. Willpower

Here’s what I eventually realized: for me, running is a habit, it’s part of my daily routine. I never think: ‘should I run?’, ‘do I want to run?’ or ‘how far do I want to run today?’

I have a plan and a schedule. I wake up on Tuesday, I run. Saturday? I run.

It’s all on auto-pilot.

I may dawdle a bit and procrastinate with the occasional ‘I don’t wannas,’ but ultimately, it feels odd to not run.

Strength work (when it’s done) is done solely out of willpower and by good intentions, on a case-by-case basis.

I’ll ask myself, ‘do I feel like doing lunges and squats today?’ The answer is usually ‘not really.’ And if I don’t feel like it, chances are, I won’t do it.

It’s not a habit, it’s not a routine, it feels no different to me if I do it or not.

Creating a Running Routine

Creating a solid running routine can make all the difference for your running.

When your running is a routine, you won’t think about going for a run, you’ll just do it.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make running a routine.

Make It Realistic and Sustainable

A big part of building a routine is doing the thing regularly. So make sure your running schedule is something you can do regularly. Maybe it sounds great to plan on running every single day, but that is likely too much to take on as you start.

Consider how and when running will fit into your life.

If you can only commit to regularly running once or twice a week, start there. Build a solid habit of running twice a week.

Then, if you can, add in a third day.

The right number of times you should run per week is whatever you can do on a sustained and regular basis.

Do Not Renegotiate

In order to build a routine, it is key that you build a plan and then see that plan through without renegotiating with yourself.

Once you start making excuses to yourself for why you don’t need to run today, it’s the start of a slippery slope of excusing not running tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

If you don’t follow your plan (for whatever reason), and constantly renegotiate with yourself what you should be doing, you’ll never build a running routine.

On Wednesdays, We Wear Pink

A big part of building a successful running routine is doing the same types of workouts, at roughly the same time, on the same day.

When your body and your mind adapt to a consistent schedule, it will begin to feel odd to not do the run at that time, strengthening your running habit.

For me, Saturdays are long runs. My whole day feels off-kilter if I don’t do my long run on Saturday.

Don’t Question Yourself

My general advice is to consider why you are doing what you are doing. Know your why.

In this narrow exception (to build a running habit), I’ll advise the opposite- don’t question it.

Avoid asking yourself any variation of: ‘do I want to run?’ or ‘do I feel like running?’, ‘how far do I want to run?’

Spoiler alert: you very often won’t want to run.

Just run.

Build In An Out

As I mentioned, habits are built when you don’t renegotiate with yourself. If you say you are going to do a long run on Saturday, you do a long run on Saturday. You don’t spend all Friday trying to coming up with reasons you shouldn’t have to run that particular Saturday.

But what if there are conditions you know (in advance) you can’t deal with? Conditions you know if you’ll face them, they’ll do you more mental and psychic harm than physical good.

For example, I have a very bad history with substitute yoga teachers (several have mocked me openly in class). I know spending an hour with a bad substitute yoga teacher may leave me bitter and hating yoga. But I also have a deal with myself that I’ll do a yoga class every Monday and Thursday.

I don’t want to renegotiate the deal with myself (“well, it’s OK if I skip class today because…”), but I also know I’ll be miserable if the sub is bad. So what to do?

I planned ahead, and built in an out.

Think ahead to the conditions you know aren’t good for your state of mind. These will be personal to you – really hot, really humid temps, substitute yoga teachers, whatever. Consider (again, in advance!) when you’ll allow yourself to not do the run you have on the schedule and what you will do instead (for example, ‘if it’s over XX% humidity, I’ll skip my outdoor run, but I’ll do a cardio class at the – air-conditioned – gym’). 

When those conditions arise, invoke your exception, and do your alternate activity.

This way, you can avoid your negative circumstances, and still not have to renegotiate your deal, because the exception was built into the plan from the beginning.

Read MoreFitness Goal Exceptions

Progress Not Perfection

I hate to break this to you, but there will be days when you don’t do the run you had planned. Maybe your calendar got ahead of you, or your kid’s flu bug made it impossible to get out the door.

You will not be without failed attempts at habit building.

But don’t think about it as all or nothing. If you missed Tuesday’s run, it can be tempting to think ‘I may as well give myself a pass and not run the rest of the week. I’ll regroup next week on Monday’.

There is nothing special about Monday. There is nothing that next Monday will bring about that you can’t do tomorrow.

Each day is a clean slate. Regroup the very next day and get right back to it.

What about you? Did you make running a routine? If so, how?

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