Dawn asks: I’m having a very hard time sticking with my training. I really want to run regularly, but I’m having difficulty following through. After two or three weeks I fall off the wagon, give it up for several weeks, and then start all over again. How can I stick with it better?
The more important question is this: What are you doing right? Changing any behavior is really hard and rarely a linear process. It is usually more like two steps forward and one step back. It’s a process, and your experiences of stopping and starting have probably taught you more than you may realise.
Start by identifying your successes and noting the barriers that created roadblocks to running regularly, and then you can create alternative solutions. For example, consider the time of day, how many times a week you ran, and even examine your expectations.
Perhaps changing when you begin your run will reduce conflicts that often keep you from heading out, or joining a running group will provide extra guidance and support. Maybe you need to change your goal of running four days a week to a more manageable number like three days a week. Keeping your goals realistic and compatible with the rest of your life will help integrate running into your daily routine better.
In working with runners, I’ve found it typically takes six months or longer for a behavior to become a habit. Adopting a running routine is a behavioral change, so some runners set running goals using the SMART goal model.
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic, and Timed. By setting up goals in a clear and concise fashion, you can better track progress and maintain control over a period of time. For example, rather than saying, “I want to start running,” you’d set up a SMART goal by saying, “I want to run a 5K in four months by training three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.” They only way this approach works is if you keep your goals realistic and within reach. (Need more help sticking to your goals? Follow Meb Keflezighi’s advice on setting good goals.)
Another way to stay motivated is to plan rewards for yourself along the way. Perhaps a massage or a pedicure every two or three weeks to complement your training would be a positive incentive.
And congratulate yourself for getting back on the wagon rather than scold yourself for stopping. It doesn’t matter how many times you may start over, the important point is that you start again.