Runners and they are always willing to beat their goals. But more important than feeling the taste of victory is knowing how to enjoy the whole course. Whether daily or three times a week, having a grueling routine needs motivation when running to not play.
When it comes to making resolutions, consider goals based on process instead of outcome. That way, you can sustain momentum by celebrating small, frequent victories. And you’ll avoid the all-or-nothing thinking that triggers massive disappointment if factors beyond your control interfere along the way.
The benefits of healthy habits spill over into a better life beyond running, too. Here are some healthy habits the most highly motivated runners develop, with expert advice on how to make them your own.
Become a Morning Runner You meant to log those five miles today, but between family, work, and social obligations, it just didn’t happen. Or you find your digestive system rebelling—or your sleep disrupted—courtesy of evening runs. The solution: Put running first on your agenda.
- Make It Routine Test the waters. Start with one or two days per week. Knowing you have the other five mornings to snooze makes getting up early less painful. And to stay motivated, make sure you can get to bed on time the night before a crack-of-dawn call.
Give it time. All habits feel awkward at first. Since it requires resetting your body clock, morning running may require a little longer than most—at least three or four weeks—to sink in. Consider trying this habit in the spring, when weather and darkness are less likely to interfere. (And morning runs aren’t right for everyone, so re-evaluate after a month or two)
Strength Train Regularly Building muscle improves your health, reduces injury risk, and, according to a review in the journal Sports Medicine, improves your running performance—which is always motivating. Across 26 studies of endurance athletes, strength-training programs (either plyometrics or heavy weights) boosted fitness, increased efficiency, and reduced runners’ times in 3K and 5K races.
- Make It Routine Design your own program by picking six exercises: two for each of your major muscle groups (upper body, core, and lower body). Do them two or three days per week. And remember that intense strength-training DVDs or classes don’t always pair well with a running routine.
Cross-Train Regularly If you’re struggling to squeeze three or four runs per week into your schedule, you shouldn’t worry about adding in other aerobic activities. But once you have a steady running habit, workouts like swimming, cycling, or rowing can boost your fitness without the impact stress of running. And by engaging different muscle groups, you can correct muscle imbalances and net a stronger, more well-rounded body. “This can increase your longevity as a runner. If you do get hurt, you’ll also have a familiar option for maintaining fitness.
- Make It Routine Stay consistent. Sticking to a regular class at the gym is an easy way to automate cross-training. Even if you go solo, set up a regular date and location, such as cycling in your neighborhood on Monday mornings—context cues help habits to form.
Keep it easy. Treat cross-training like an aerobic recovery day; schedule it after hard running days and keep your effort level low enough to carry on a conversation.
Eat More Vegetables Low-calorie and packed with nutrients, veggies should be a staple in every runner’s diet. Their high-quality carbohydrates power your workouts, and their antioxidants help you recover. Each daily serving of produce (up to five) reduces your risk of early death by about five percent, according to a new study.
- Make It Routine Indulge in your favorites. Don’t choke down kale if you hate it. Pick up produce you actually want to eat, even if it’s more costly or less of a “superfood.” Snack smarter. Trade chips or candy for a produce/protein pair—carrots and hummus or tuna on cucumber slices, for example—to improve between-meals eats.
Warm Up Before a Run; Stretch and Foam-roll After The repetitive motion of running tightens muscles, increasing your injury risk. Dynamic stretches before a run prep your body for more intense activities, says Gary Ditsch, lead exercise physiologist for weight-loss company Retrofit.
- Make It Routine Ditsch advises a 10- to 15-minute warmup routine: Start with leg swings, then walk, march, and skip before you finally run. Start small. Don’t kick things off with a 30-minute full-body elongation session. Start with 10 to 15 seconds of a single stretch after a run, then celebrate.
Factor in the time. If you have a 45-minute run on your training plan and exactly 45 minutes to do it, chances are you’ll rush into it without the dynamic stretches. Adjust your schedule so you have a full hour for yourworkout, or consider decreasing the mileage to accommodate the warmup.
Cook at Home More Often Extra calories, fat, sugar, and sodium lurk in restaurant dishes, so dining out adds extra pounds that weigh down your running performance and your health. One study in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that the more frequently you eat out, the higher your BMI is likely to be. Research suggests that carrying just two excess pounds can add 12.4 seconds to your 5K time and one minute, 45 seconds to your marathon finish. You don’t have to transform into a top chef, but mastering kitchen basics has perks beyond weight control.
- Make It Routine Get a jumpstart. Sign up for a cooking class or check out instructional videos. Plan for flavor. Take 30 minutes to an hour each week to find recipes and go to the grocery store. Don’t forget fresh herbs, which keep meals interesting, and if you are interested, you are more likely to eat at home.
Add a Weekly Long Run Efforts of an hour or longer build endurance, grow capillaries that carry nourishing blood to your muscles, strengthen bones and ligaments, and prepare you for races of any distance. Newer or low-mileage runners first need to focus on running regularly three or four times per week, then building up to an hour on one of those runs. Designate one day a week as your long day, even if that means 20 minutes of run/walk instead of your usual 15. Then add 10 percent to your longest run per week, but never any more than a half-mile to two miles at a time.
- Make It Routine Plan it out. Write out your long-run progression for the next month or two in advance, then sit down each Sunday night or Monday morning and plug your long run (and the others) into your schedule. Be flexible—if you need to reserve weekends for family activities, try early Friday mornings for long runs.
Get Enough Sleep Few habits have as much of an impact on your running and your health as getting sleep. Everything is so much worse when you don’t have enough sleep; it not only permeates your running, it affects your work life, your family, your relationships. While you snooze, your body and mind recharge, repairing the damage done from hard training, releasing human growth hormone to build muscles, and strengthening connections between nerves and muscles. Regularly shorting on shut-eye has been linked to everything from limits on your muscle glycogen storage to injury risk and moodiness, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Most people need six to nine hours per night; if you regularly feel like you might nod off during meetings or if you conk out immediately when you hit the sack, you’re probably not sleeping enough.
- Make It Routine Declare bedtime sacred. Start with a month-long commitment to add between a half-hour and an hour more to your regular sleeping time.
Unplug. During that final hour, shut down all your screens, including phones, TVs, tablets, and computers. The blue light they emit dims production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Designate an old running-shoe box for electronics—at the appointed time, plunk your devices inside and shut the lid until morning. Do something relaxing, like reading a book or completing a crossword, instead.
Choose sleep over miles. If you’re an early morning runner but can’t seem to hit the sack early the night before, cut your run a few miles short rather than setting your alarm earlier.
Eat Breakfast Every Day Your muscles can store only about six to seven hours’ worth of glycogen for energy. A morning meal offers you a chance to replenish them and also sets thetone for the rest of your day. Studies of people who’ve lost weight and kept it off show 78 percent of them eat breakfast on a regular basis.
- Make It Routine Add on until you’re eating a meal that’s about 300 to 400 calories, featuring half produce, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter lean protein. If you eat it after your run, aim for a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to satisfy you and begin to repair the muscles you damaged during your workout. Expand your definition. You don’t have to stick with traditional breakfast food if you’re not a fan. Leftovers, sandwiches, salad—anything is fair game.
Pregame it. Spend Sundays prepping a week’s worth of breakfasts—dole out cooked oatmeal into single-serving containers or boil eggs. If you’re a smoothie fan, clean, chop, and store the fresh ingredients when you get home from the store.
Sit Less Even runners often spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes per day with their butts parked in chairs. As you rest, your hip flexors and hamstrings tighten and your posture slumps, boosting injury risk, Ditsch says. And the research on the health harms of sedentary behavior has grown so alarming that many experts call the problem “sitting disease.”
- Make it Routine Track it. Log your sitting time or strap on an activity monitor - manufacturers like Garmin now make models that double asGPS devices. Then consider this: Six to seven hours of total daily sitting time harms your fitness about as much as an hour of running helps it, according to a study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Demand to stand. If getting a standing desk isn’t feasible, make rules for your workday: Rise each time someone comes into your office, pace on every call, hover in the back of the room during meetings. Anchor it to what you’re already doing and you’ll find it easier to remember, and over time, the first behavior will become a trigger for the new habit.