How to Make Running a Habit

How to Make Running a Habit

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
September 19, 2023

Becoming a better runner is simple, but not easy.

Consider this quote from Meb Keflezighi (2014 Boston Marathon champ) on his key to success:

“I don’t have any big training secrets. Just consistency.”

I love this quote.

When it comes to becoming a better runner, consistency is king.

So how do you go about becoming consistent?     

Running regularly requires two things:

1. that you build running into a habit
2. you’re healthy

For this lesson, we’re going to focus on building running into a habit.

A habit is an action that one performs regularly without much thinking.

Take for instance, driving home from work. You’ve done the drive so many times, that you don’t have to think about turning onto particular streets. Your brain is on auto-pilot.

So when it comes to running, they key is to get as close as possible to that auto-pilot mode where you don’t dread going for a run.

It’s just something that you do.

James Clear, a previous guest on my podcast, calls this an identity-based habit.

That is, to make running a habit, you need to become the type of person that gets out there three times per week (or whatever your routine is like). Rain, snow (if you’re in Canada like me) or shine.

Simple, right?

But not easy.

Here are a few thoughts and tips to help you become that person and turn running into a habit.

1. Do what will allow yourself to win.

Wins produce habits. Set the bar low.

If you think you can run for 10 minutes. Just run for 5.

Lower your expectations and start small. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself permission to not be perfect.

It can be easy to want to run fast and too long in the beginning. It’s quite common.

Do your best to resist the temptation to run fast.             

“I don’t have any big training secrets. Just consistency.”

Meb Keflezighi

2. There is magic in 5-minutes.

Don’t have time for your run today?

Do you have 5-minutes?

That’s enough to get a lot of health benefits.

I encourage you to read this article from the New York Times – Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits.

The article goes on to talk about a long-term study looking at the health benefits of running. As you would expect, high mileage / speedy runners had low risk of dying from heart disease and lived on average longer than those who did not run.

Yet these “hard-core” runners did not live much more than those who ran 5-10 minutes per day at a slow pace.

Get your running gear on, head out the door with one goal in mind – walk or run for 5-minutes.

That’s it.

If after 5-minutes you feel like that was enough, then that’s fine. More often than not, however, 5-minutes will fly by and you’ll want to keep going. And that’s fine too.

Commit to 5-minutes.

3. Some runs will suck.

Even professional runners have days where they feel tired, sore or feel unmotivated. I seem to have a “bad” run once every couple of weeks.

In the beginning, you may even find that you have more tough runs than easy, enjoyable ones.

That’s normal.

Soon your good days will outnumber your bad days.

4.   Focus on cues instead of running to create the habit.


Charles Duhigg has written a wonderful book (The Power of Habit) about habits. In his book, he explains that all habits follow a three step cycle.

5. Cue or trigger —> 2. Action (run) —> 3. Reward

Consider a smoker. Often smokers smoke a cigarette when they feel stressed (other triggers include drinking alcohol or coffee). So stress is the trigger and the action or habit as a result of the stress, is to smoke. The reward is a feeling of relaxation and lowered stress. When stress comes on again, the cycle repeats itself.

Find your own cues

To find a cue to lead you into a run, look towards cues already embedded into your life.

This could be after you brush your teeth, before you eat lunch, commuting to or from work, once the kids are in bed or after the kids have been dropped off at school.

Look for a cue that works with the time of day you want to run.

Before I had kids, I ran religiously on Saturday mornings.

My trigger was having breakfast, my action was to run and my reward was almost always a cappuccino at a local coffee shop.

During the week, my trigger is once the kids are in bed, I head out for a run. The reward?

Maybe not the most healthy way to end a run, but a cold, post-run beer is amazing.

What’s your reward going to be?

This is an excerpt from Mark Manson’s habits guide (pick it up here for free)

The “reward” component of the habit equation above is used to reinforce your target behaviour after you’ve successfully completed it. With our exercise example, you might get done working out and treat yourself to a (healthy) snack or maybe schedule a post-workout rest session by watching an episode of your favourite TV show. Some people derive enough reward from the exercise itself (e.g., “runner’s high”), which acts as powerful reinforcement for their habit.  Whatever you do, be sure to incorporate a healthy reward into your habit routine.

6. Missing a workout is okay.

Research support the notion that even taking a couple of weeks off, you will not lose much fitness. While I do not recommend this when you’re just getting started, it’s important to know.

Yes, consistency is important, but you have my permission to miss workouts and feel okay with it.

Get back on the horse soon again though.

7. Find some accountability.

Setting up some accountability is one of the best ways to become a regular runner.

There are a few different ways to do this, but for a runner here are some examples for you:

  1. Sign up for a race (and train for it with a friend).
  2. Join a running group.
  3. Use social media, running apps or sites like Reddit, The Daily Mile to find others like you.
  4. Take part in a challenge.

If you feel yourself slipping, having accountability will keep you on the right trail.

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