How to make running a habit for longer than the lockdown

So, you’ve picked up running – but how to do you stick with it long-term?

If you recently picked up running, you might find that the initial excitement and motivation to lace-up your running shoes and head out is wearing off. Don’t despair.

study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it can take up to three months to develop a habit – and, in some cases, up to eight months.

The study analysed the process of habit creation in the everyday life of 96 volunteers who took up a new eating, drinking or activity to carry out daily during the research for 12 weeks.

The habits included running for 15 minutes before dinner, drinking a bottle of water with lunch or eating a piece of fruit once a day. The study found that on average habits took 66 days to form, but with exercise it was longer, 91 days.

We spoke to Dr Andrew Lane, a sports psychologist, about the best ways to stick with running and motivate yourself to hit the road. Here’s his top tips:

Make getting into the exercise habit a goal in itself. Say to yourself, ‘If I get out for a run, however long or short, then it’s a goal achieved. Once the habit is in place, you’ll be able to think about following a more elaborate plan.

Organise yourself so that its less effort when you are about to go out. Just like shirts for school or work are ironed on a Sunday night, make sure your running gear is ready and waiting to be put on when you need it.

Give yourself extrinsic rewards to attaining goals. Put a sign on the fridge door indicating what the reward is. Make the rewards something you look forward to getting: new clothes, night out, it’s up to you. Give yourself something to look forward to doing.

Recruit family members and friends who can support the process and build their support into the reward process. Make an agreement that if you exercise for 20 days in a month, the family will go out for a restaurant (agree a treat that everyone looks forward to).

Plan for the weather. Buying waterproof clothes is one option. Decent waterproof clothes make running in the rain much easier. Be thorough – waterproof socks make running through puddles a possibility knowing that your feet will not get wet. For summer breathable singlet and shorts should do the trick.

Keep your goals flexible. You know that on a certain day you will have to run 42km, but there is not a magic formula for how to train perfectly. You need to adapt to an increasing volume of training, and this is done by monitoring your feelings too. If you feel too tired to go for a long run, shortening the distance and reducing the speed becomes a sensible option. However, there is no need to beat yourself over the decision to amend your goal.

Develop positive phrases around exercise. It’s important that you don’t turn exercise into a demon. People can use an awfully negative language to describe exercise; yes, it can make you feel tired, which can be unpleasant, but it is also associated with joy. Most runners who complete a marathon have feelings of joy and a great sense of personal accomplishment.

Record your progress. This should be easy if you have recruited helpers to do this. If not, set up a chart, or record your training in an excel file or in a training diary.

Plan to run somewhere nice. Every now and then get in the car and drive to somewhere different to run from. A change in scenario is important as is being comfortable to run in a different surrounding.

Develop “if-then” plans. ‘If I feel tired this morning, then I’ll say to myself to run for 10 minutes only; 5 minutes out and 5 minutes back.’

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