Research suggests these could be key for making the sport a regular habit.
- Research looking at attendees of parkruns, a free 5K program started in the U.K. that spans to the U.S., points to the biggest factors that make people return for more runs.
- Experts weigh in on how to make running a consistent part of your schedule.
For those new to running—or trying to establish a more regular routine—several factors can play a significant role in helping you stay motivated, get consistent, and enjoy the sport, according to a new study published in PLOS Global Public Health.
For the study, researchers in Scotland looked at reasons that first-time participants returned to parkrun events. Founded in the U.K. in 2004, parkrun is a collection of free 5K events that draws walkers and runners on Saturday mornings. It’s now held in more than 2,000 locations in 22 countries, including the U.S., according to the event’s site.
Researchers surveyed more than 20,000 participants in parkrun across 58 venues. They found two major features led to considerably more runners returning for another event: when routes were near freshwater or woodland. The results were so compelling that researchers suggested that organizers consider creating more routes that include these elements.
These findings are in line with previous research emphasizing the benefits of woodsy or water-adjacent running, even in urban environments. For example, a study in BJPsych International found that green space significantly lowered levels of mental distress, anxiety, and depression, and inspired people to increase their physical activity when those spaces were available.
Other factors in the recent study that were not as much of a driver but still inspired some to return to parkrun included having more new runners at an event, being able to run a route faster than expected, and having smaller events.
A variable that wasn’t tracked but is part of every parkrun is a community feeling, allowing runners to be part of a group, no matter what pace they choose. That social element is a huge boon, according to Natasha Trentacosta, M.D., sports medicine specialist at Cedars Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in California.
Although she was not part of the recent study, Trentacosta told Runner’s World that there’s ample evidence, both in research and anecdotally, that running groups and running buddies can offer significant advantages in terms of motivation.
“Not only is it helpful to run with others from a safety standpoint, since you have help in case you get injured or lost, but you’re also more likely to enjoy running and make it into a habit,” she said. “With a group, it gives you a feeling of community that’s important for better health overall.”