Building Healthy Running Habits

How many workouts have you missed in the past five years? Another question: How many times have you failed to brush your teeth? I’m guessing your teeth-brushing record is much stronger than your workout tally. Most people, even when overwhelmed with work or personal issues—running around like crazy and missing commitments—still find time to brush their teeth. Think about it. When was the last time you said, “I’m so busy and so tired; there is no way I can find the time or energy to brush my teeth?”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge supporter of oral hygiene. But how is it that this simple daily act has been elevated to such an exalted status that we consistently partake regardless of how much else we have going on? You brush your teeth several times every day because it has become a ritual. From the earliest days of childhood, you were likely encouraged, cajoled or otherwise convinced to take brush to tooth. I have two small children, and every day follows the same script. After “Good morning,” my next sentence is: “Brush your teeth, and go potty.” Life in our house simply does not begin until my children have fulfilled this commandment. At night, right before bed, my kids receive the same instructions. Day by day, I am establishing the ritual of teeth brushing in my children’s minds—just like your parents most likely did decades ago.

Rituals hold power. Some folks laugh when I discuss the force of the teeth-brushing ritual, but I think it clearly shows others their ability to deeply ingrain healthy rituals into their daily routine.

Working out proves another activity that needs to made into a ritual for continued success. When we were younger, not many of us had parents who regularly urged us to use the gym or head outside for a run, so we are going to have to develop this ritual on our own. One solution: Schedule your run for the same time every day. I realize this may be a challenge, but try to find one block of time each day when you can work out. I’d also encourage you to fill your non–running days with other forms of exercise or active recovery like yoga, Pilates, cycling or swimming.

Just like brushing your teeth, it’s easier to create a ritual if something’s done on a daily basis. Committing to working out every day from 7 to 8 a.m., for example, becomes much easier to accomplish than working out in the morning on Monday, the evening on Wednesday and whenever you find the time on Friday. Power comes from structure and constancy.

I read a story several years ago about a running club in New England, formed for those 65 years and older. One of the women made it a point to run every day. She found it easier and less stressful to simply know that when she woke up, she would go for a run at that time. Plus, she found it so hard to start running again after taking a break, that it felt easier to keep up the momentum on a daily basis. While I’m not advocating that you run every day, I do think this woman’s story illustrates the power of having a consistent ritual.

Find a quiet space and taking some time to think about how you can incorporate rituals into your running program, in order to position yourself for success. Schedule out your workouts for a selected period of time. If you will be traveling or experiencing other irregularities during that time, figure out now how to plan around them.

Pick a few rituals that work best with your schedule, lifestyle and personality. For me, I run at the same time every morning, take off from running on the same two days each week and cross train instead and track my runs on an app. The one ritual I still need to work on is consistently stretching after each workout. Although I realize how important it is, I still struggle with it. Maybe I need to take my own advice and develop a stretching ritual and commit to it. 

If you can develop strong habits through planning and consistency, sticking with your training will be a breeze—just like brushing your teeth.

Dawna is a mom of two, author of ten books and founder of Women's Running magazine and the Virtual Women's Half Marathon series. She is also a certified health coach and motivational speaker. Dawna has appeared on the Today show, MSNBC and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna has launched and sold two wellness companies and loves combining her passion for health and wellness with her love of running. Learn more about Dawna Stone.

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