I was once an absolute coach potato. I did not move at all from the couch. But now, it is different. I have become an enthused runner. People, once they know that I run regularly, ask me how I could start and sustain the running habit.
My shortest answer to them is “Do whatever to run regularly”.
Here is a slightly longer version:
1. Have a reason for why you should be running:
Having a reason helps keep you in track. My reason for running was to reduce my weight as I was having some health issues. You may have more than one reason as well. For me another reason is that I want to instill good habits in my daughter who I know would consciously or unconsciously emulate some of my habits as she grows up.
2. Set at least one goal before you start running:
As with everything, have a goal before starting out. The goal is a sign-post. My goal was to consistently run for at least 3 days a week for 14 weeks. This goal was kind of easy, because it did not force me to run every day. I could choose any 3 from 7 days of the week. That gave me flexibility. As I started becoming more consistent, I set my self other types of goals like covering 5k in 50 minutes and slowly reduced the time required to run 5k to 30 minutes. Set small achievable goals and keep raising the bar.
3. Make and stick to a running schedule:
I consulted many running programs like the C25K, learn to run etc available over the internet. I choose to use the “learn to run’ program which gave step by step instructions to progress from walking to running. I created a schedule based on it. This was in a simple excel sheet and I followed the schedule meticulously day after day. Whenever I completed the walk-run session for a day, I changed the cell color of in the excel sheet to green. If I missed running in one day, I could make it up the next day so that I stick to run 3 days in a week. I tinkered with the schedule to make it convenient for me when necessary, but tried not to compromise on missing out any session.
4. Keep up your motivation to achieve you goal:
You can be motivated by many things. Some are motivated by discussions, some by watching movies, some by reading. I realized that am motivated if I read more running blogs and the success stories in them. I continued reading up on walking, running, diet and nutrition for almost 1 hour every night.
Talk to your family and friends and let them know about your rationale to take up running and your goals. Enlist their support for motivating you. Whenever I call my mother, she asks me how my walking is going on. I also ask about her yoga and walking. We keep each-other informed if we miss a session and support and chide each other as well.
Another way is to keep a journal of your progress. This one really helped me. I just used a simple text file. I mentioned a date and a one or two liner on how much I ran or walked-ran in what time and how I felt during and after the session. After filling in this journal for a few weeks, I was happy to see my progress. With whatever time and distance data in there, I would play with it to find how much calories were burned, how I was improving, etc. This kept me motivated.
Starting and continuing a running habit needs more mental preparation that anything else. Plan to run the night before. Visualize what time you would go running, make time for that, visualize how you will feel when you run and how you will feel after the run.
5. Persist: Just do it:
There are days when you do not feel like running. However, just put on your running shoes and go out of the door. Walk for some time, even if you are not motivated to run. Even after walking, if you do not like running then you may come back. But at least you will have the small victory of dressing-up and going out against your inertia. Sometimes, in spite of all your effort, you may miss out a run. But do not give up even if you miss a day of training/practice. Run again the next day. If you plan to run 3 days in a week, just ensure that you do it. You may have planned to run on monday, wednesday and friday. But if that is not possible, run on wednesday, thursday and friday. You may not be able to stick to your day/time schedule, but try to stick to the frequency at least.
6. Avoid inertia that breaks your running:
Avoid anything which might lead to a break in your effort to establish a running habit. I have seen that if for any reason, I miss my running for 3 straight days, it is difficult for me to get myself running on the fourth day. The inertia sets in. So, I ensure that I never take a running break for 3 days or more. If I have not run for 2 days continuously, on the third day, I just do it.
Try to avoid running injuries. Any injury leads to break in the running schedule and it becomes difficult for the running habit to be established. Running injuries for most beginners start with running high volume. Hence, an absolute beginner should alternate between walking and running. Increase the running time slowly over a period. Remember that however slow we run, you are still running faster than someone who is sleeping.
Once you start doing all these, it helps sustain your running and running creates a powerful and positive feedback loop. After a few weeks of running when your body adjusts to it, you start feeling good after every run and that motivates you to go for the next one. Then you notice changes in yourself. You become leaner and fitter. Later others notice and complement you and you feel really good about it!
Small success leads to greater and greater success and the loop of positive re-enforcements helps to establish your running habit!