How to Start Running and Stick with It

How to Start Running – Five Proven Tactics to Start and Stick with It

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The truth is that I don’t like running all that much. I never have.

I’ve gone for periods in the past where I get into running and then I fall out of the habit. Never doing any more than about 30 minutes of running.

It’s always an obstacle lacing up my running shoes and getting out the door.

Once I do it though, I’m usually okay. Even if I am huffing and puffing away, especially those first few weeks (ie right now).

Now that we are back in Medellin, I needed a new challenge, something to propel me forward. I reluctantly decided to embrace running once again.

I’ve long toyed with the idea of running a 5k race, but never pulled the trigger.

This morning I finally pulled the trigger and registered for 10k run. Even though I’ve never so much as run a 5k, I’m jumping into it and challenging myself a little more.

Registering for this 10k race, the Corre mi Tierra run in April, will hold me accountable. I am now committed to doing it in about two months time.

No excuses.

No backing out.

You don’t need super fancy running shoes, compression shorts, and a fancy water bottle holster.

Running is one of the simplest and cheapest exercise habits to build.

Spending a bunch of money on gear to guilt you into running isn’t the best strategy.

Here are my 5 tactics for starting and maintaining a running habit.

How to Start Running - Five Proven Tactics to Start and Stick with It how-to, fitness

Don’t Over Do It

If you want to create a new, long-term habit, don’t risk burning yourself out in the beginning. Many people get excited to get in shape (especially in January) and get out there everyday with gusto.

While that is admirable, it might actually be counter productive. Your body needs to adjust to your new workload. Your feet, your shins, your ligaments, and your lungs all need time to adjust.

Give your body time to acclimate and recover between workout sessions. Or you will be inviting injury, fatigue, and burn out.

In the beginning, I would suggest running no more than every other day, or 3x per week.

Use your running rest days for other forms of exercise that won’t stress the same part of your body. Lifting weights, doing push ups, pull ups, sit ups, etc, are all excellent choices.

When first starting out you shouldn’t go out and run for 30 minutes straight if you haven’t been active. Build up to it over time.

There’s no shame in that.

Couch-to-5k is something I’ve used at various times and is proven to help you build up your running. In the beginning you will alternate between running and walking. And over the course of two months you build up to running for 30 minutes straight (roughly 5k).

There’s an App for That

We’ve all got smart phones. Let’s use that technology to motivate us, keep us accountable, and moving forward.

Here are a few app recommendations that have helped me forge a running habit.


This app is amazing. RunDouble features the Couch-to-5k program with audio prompts to tell you when you should start running or walking. But beyond that it also GPS tracks the distance, pace, and mileage of your runs.

Afterward you can examine your pace at different parts of the run and see all sorts of data.

You can set it to share your runs with Facebook, tapping into the power of social accountability.

The data it collects provides me a great deal of motivation because I can see myself improving.

You can also buy cheap add-on plans, such as the 5k Improver, 5k to 10k training, and even half-marathon training runs.

If you get bored you can also experiment with gamified applications like Zombies! Run! which will have you evading killer hordes of zombies in your own personal version of the Walking Dead.

This is a habit building app for anything you want to do or stop doing on a regular basis.

You set the goal (running or exercising) and the app prompts you to do the things you set out to do. You can build up streaks of exercising which encourages you to not break the chain.

I’m using my app for all sorts of things at the moment. Daily exercise, reading at least 20 minutes, writing at least 750 words. Each of them on a daily basis.

It will also send me emails which remind me to keep my streak alive. It’s great to get harassed on different fronts.

Podcast Addict

Some people like to run to music. I used to be like that. But my preferred audio company is now educational podcasts. It’s a great thing to get out there and exercise while also learning some amazing new stuff.

Podcast Addict was the best player I found after a long and frustrating search. It allows me to download various unread episodes, create playlists, and other basic functions.

Podcast Addict rocks. My preferred podcast material is Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income which relates to online businesses. Pat and I have spent a lot of time running together.

I always end my runs feeling energized and coming away with new actionable strategies and tactics for my business.

Here are a few more of my favorite podcasts.

Find Accountability

If you have a friend that wants to get out running, you can do no better than having a commitment to meet up and go running together in person.

You might dread the idea of lacing up those shoelaces and hitting the road, but you’ll be far more likely knowing that your buddy is there waiting for you.

If you can’t find a local running buddy, you can always have virtual check-ins with someone else committed to running. This also works if you are at different distances/speeds in your running progress. Just a quick Facebook message or email helps keep you both accountable.

Finally, sign up for an actual run. Just do it. Find a race a few months out, sign up, pay the money, and commit to it. Now you’ve got skin in the game. That simple fact is going to increase your chances of following through.

Once you sign up for a race–tell people! Like running with a buddy, you’ll want to follow through on your word.

So yeah, that’s why I’m telling you all here: I signed up for a 10k race on April 24th. I might not rock it, but I’ll be running it.

How to Start Running - Five Proven Tactics to Start and Stick with It how-to, fitness

Set SMART Goals

SMART Goals is an acronym that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

Don’t set a goal of “wanting to start running”. That is a stupid goal, because it doesn’t follow our SMART acronym.

Specific would be: run a 5k, which in this case also happens to be measurable. Attainable means developing a plan to build up to 5k.

Realistic in this case is different for everyone. For me, running a 10k with two months training is realistic. Signing up for a marathon next weekend is NOT realistic for me.

Timely means that you bring a deadline to it–these are not someday goals.

My SMART goal: run every other day with the 5k-to-10k training program to take part in the 10k race on April 24th.

You should set SMART goals for anything you hope to do. Be specific, make a plan to do it, set a deadline for action. Read more about SMART goals.

Make Positive Associations

At first running is going to suck. There’s no way around that.

You’ll be out of breath and sore. You’ll tell yourself there’s no way you can do it or keep it up.

That’s normal.

They say that it takes about one month to make a habit stick. You should see your associations with running change over that time.

Try to make it something that you actually want to do and have positive associations with by the end of the month.

You want to go from “this sucks” to “I need to go for a run to clear my head” or something compelling. Perhaps it is embracing the challenge of running, maintaining your exercise habit, or so forth.

If your internal dialogue about running doesn’t change, you’ll be far less likely to stick with it in the long run. You want to form a positive habit that you want to do.

Try to replace the phrase “I have to go running today” with “I want to go running today because ______”. IE I need to prepare for the race, I need to be healthier, I need to push myself.

We should try to commit ourselves to doing what is best for us, not what is easiest.

Sure it’s easier to sit home and watch Netflix (I’m looking at you House of Cards!) than lace up the shoes and head out the door. But don’t forget: doing hard things matters.

How to Start Running - Five Proven Tactics to Start and Stick with It how-to, fitness

How you do anything is how you do everything.

So get out there and run.

What tips do you have for staying committed to a goal and following through with it? Have you battled with running? How did you make it stick?

Read Next: Why Doing Hard Things Matters

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How to Start Running - Five Proven Tactics to Start and Stick with It how-to, fitness


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 6

  1. Your post comes at a good time as I have decided that I want to start running in 2015, but was not sure how to go about it! The apps you suggested look really useful – Thanks!

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  2. Nice Ryan, definitely like the idea of making it a habit. Why do you think you have always broken the habit? When would you consider it an actual habit…off down the rabbit hole I go haha.

    Anyways, I’ve given up on running. It’s just not for me, personally I prefer walking, for some reason just not motivated to run. Drop me off 20km from home and I’ll happily walk there!
    Good luck with the training…have heard the Couch to 5k app is good, maybe time to give that ago.

    Hmmmm. Thought provoking post haha.

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      Yeah, I’m hoping to ingrain it as a habit… It’s always easy to find an excuse to not do it… It’s too cold out, I’m too busy right now, too tired after work, etc. Not having a set schedule doesn’t help either. Before it was like I’ll run 3x per week, so I could often say I’ll do it tomorrow. Now I’m doing it first thing in the morning (before I’m too tired) and I’m doing it every other day. Hoping that keeps me honest this time. Plus I’ve got the commitment of the race!

      Couch to 5k is definitely a great way to ease yourself into running. I’d highly recommend it if you want to give it a go again. I’m pretty similar, much prefer to walk 20k than to run 5k, haha. But I’m trying to change that. Do the hard things, build the habit, it helps us realize that we can change other things that we tell ourselves we can’t do, or that we aren’t.

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