5 Ways to Make Running a Lifelong Habit


If you want to become a runner, you have to build the habits demonstrated by most lifetime runners and I believe there are 5 habits that are absolutely necessary to turn someone from an every now and then runner to a lifetime runner. But, first a little bit about habits.

Habits, we all have them; some we want to keep, like lifetime learning and relationship building and others we long to get rid of like a bad diet or even smoking. All habits, whether good or bad, are learned behaviors.

There are rules that have been thrown around stating it takes 21 days or 30 days to build a habit but I’ve found little to no science behind those numbers. In fact, the science seems to indicate that the 21 day timeframe to make a new habit is a MINIMUM and the average is more like 66 days; according to Phillipa Lally at University College London, it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to create a habit. And, it makes common sense if we are trying to build a lifetime habit it would take some time for it to become ingrained mentally, emotionally and physically.

You may start on some of these habits, and succeed immediately while others may take two or three attempts until they become second nature; fear not, you’re in this for life and anything worth doing for life is worth the process of building into a habit. So, what are some of the habits lifetime runners demonstrate?

Run in the Morning

I’m a morning person, so it’s easy for me to tell you to run in the morning; but there are plenty of reasons for you to take up morning running. 

First, we all know how overwhelming life can get with work, family, friends and the many responsibilities we have. Getting your run done in the morning is a great way to ensure life doesn’t get in the way of you building running as a habit.

Second, if you start your day off on a positive note and finish that run you planned the night before it will benefit you the rest of the day; you’ll be more alert, have higher productivity and allow your metabolism to kick into overdrive. 

With all this said, some people are and will always be night owls so if that’s you and you simply can’t turn into a morning runner you should at least set a consistent time to run each day and build that habit. 

Here’s a good article from Runner’s World on how to become a morning runner

Set Goals

We all have heard the importance of setting goals; they help you stay focused, measure progress, stay motivated and avoid that deadly monster of procrastination. I think the challenge most people have is how to set goals and what type of goals to set. 

My advice is to keep it simple at first and set goals for the period you are building the habit of becoming a lifelong runner; so, let’s start with short term goals. 

Obviously, your goals will depend on where you are starting; are you a sometime runner, a couch potato or a “lapsed” runner? But I think the simplest goal to set is to establish a goal to run at least 1 mile a day for the first 30 days you are trying to build the habit of running. Don’t worry about length of run or speed, just get out there and lace them up and run. 

Once you’ve mastered this goal, decide what else you want to accomplish during this habit-forming period; do you want to run a local 5K? start trail running? begin training for a longer distance race? Whatever it is, put it in writing; in fact, keeping a journal during this period will be instrumental in reaching your goals and forming the habit of running. 

Finally, once you’ve created the habit pick out some long-term goals that will keep you motivated once the habit has formed. 

Join a Running Group

We all know that being part of a group can provide many benefits, from accountability to motivation to consistency; in addition, in most groups there are people of different skill levels, so you are always learning as part of the group. 

If you join a running group, you can apply all these benefits while you’re building the habit of becoming a lifelong runner. And, you might just find some friends for life as well. 

How do you find one? That’s simple, you can Google local running groups or search through various platforms to find them. I recommend looking for Facebook Groups Facebook Groups, utilize the club finder feature on Road Runner's Club of America or such social platforms as  Meetup to find a group that fits you. 

My company, FunRunBox offers an exclusive running community and monthly challenges to help runners stay motivated and inspired in addition to monthly goodies, gear and apparel. 

Practice Injury Free Running

One of the things that will stand in your way of building the habit of running is getting injured during your initial habit-forming period. Not only will you lose the fitness you’ve gained, but the break in momentum will send you back to the starting line. I recommend you focus on three things: 

Build your aerobic base slowly during this period; I’ve seen so many new runners try to add to their weekly miles too quickly, injure themselves and never take up the habit again. If you’ve done any research on the topic of building your miles, you’ve no doubt heard about the 10% where you increase your miles by 10% each week. My advice is to ignore this during this period and follow these simple rules. 

  • Only increase your miles every 3 or 4 weeks while you’re building the running habit
  • Increase your miles no more than 10% every time you take a step up
  • When you do increase your miles, either add it evenly over your running days or simply add another day of running in the weeks you increase your mileage 

Cross Train in order to build your aerobic base, as well as train muscle groups that will support your running; if you want to know the best ways to cross train as a runner, check out this 7 Best Cross Training Options for Runners article. 

Strength training is fundamental in staying injury free, and all new runners should understand the type of strength training most beneficial for runners. Just heading to the gym and pumping iron won’t have the positive effects that a focused strength training regimen for runners will. 

You should focus on exercises that will help you increase your running efficiency, improve your endurance and help you avoid injury; check out this Strength Training for Runners article for more on the benefits of strength training. 

Take Care of Your Body

For new runners, taking care of their body is a new element of life as you build the habit of running and you should consider this before, during and after your run. 

Before your run, I recommend you learn all about dynamic stretching and make it a ritual before every run; dynamic stretching is movement-based stretching as opposed to the static stretching many of us are used to. It allows the body’s movement to generate the stretch, begin blood flow and should be a fundamental part of your running routine. Here’s a great video on dynamic stretching

During the run, make sure you have the right gear, stay hydrated and pay attention to what your body is telling you. 

What gear do you need? Shorts/pants, a running shirt, socks and shoes and I recommend wicking material for shorts, pants and shirt as well as lightweight compression socks. For the shoes, you should go to your local running store for a shoe fitting as we each have unique feet, strides and foot plants that will help them lead you to the right shoe.

During runs longer than 60 minutes, you should bring some hydration (a handheld bottle is the simple solution here) and for runs longer than 90 minutes you should bring some nutrition in the form of gels or bars. 

After your run, the best idea is to not wait too long before you re-fuel; typically, you’ll want this to occur within 30 minutes of your run and should consist of both protein and complex carbs.

If you want to become a lifetime runner and make it a habit, follow these guides and you’ll be that much closer. 

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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.

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