Many of us have a love-hate relationship with running. We all know the health benefits of exercise and going out for a run is cheap, easy and quick. Races from 5k to ultra marathons are hugely popular and offer an almost unrivalled, euphoric sense of achievement. Yet finding the motivation to lace up your trainers and get out of the door is tough. I’ve always motivated myself by entering events and telling myself that I’d have to train for them. Whilst it made me run relatively regularly, I would often go through stages of not running at all, especially after a big race. It was time to find another way to stay motivated. That’s when I started to read about habit over motivation.
Deciding to run more
I have read and heard a lot recently about how it is easier to persuade yourself to do something using habit rather than motivation. It makes complete sense. For years, the only run I would go on every week without fail was my Wednesday night run with a friend. We enjoyed it, putting the world to rights while we plodded across the Malvern Hills. Often, we’d start the run by standing in my living room moaning that we didn’t really fancy it. It was cold or rainy, or a wine bottle was calling us. But we’d go out anyway, because it was what we did.
I realised that if I wanted to run more, I would have to make it habitual. Perhaps schedule in another couple of regular runs each week. The problem was, my lifestyle didn’t work like that. I could tell myself I’d run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening. But something would come up. Usually work or the children but there was also my inability to say no if I had the opportunity to do something more fun. Still, I realised that habit rather than my weak motivation had to be the way to make myself run more.
I signed up to run this year’s Brighton Marathon. I ran London Marathon last year and managed to train enough to be able to run all the way round. But I still wasn’t running enough. Running wasn’t easy or particularly enjoyable, it felt like a chore. When it came to training for Brighton, I got off to a bad start. I was running a few times a week and doing some work in the gym. I wasn’t running often enough and this time there was an added pressure, my friend Martyn was relying on me because I had agreed to push him around the marathon in his wheelchair.
Running: habit over motivation
By last December, I realised I needed to do better. I heard a lot in the media about habit over motivation. The fact that we naturally form habits that become part of our lives. These can be both good and bad things. Getting up at a particular time, having a glass of wine every night, yoga, meditation or anything else we do regularly. Eventually, these things become an integral part of our lifestyle. That was what I needed to do with running.
Just before Christmas, I was suffering with the usual seasonal over-eating and under-exercising. There was a good chance I’d end up a stone heavier and completely unfit by the time the school holidays were over. The weather was rubbish and going out for a run was a chore. So, I decided that was the best possible time to start running every day. After all, if I could persuade myself to run daily in the middle of December, there was no excuse for the rest of the year.
I wasn’t sure how it would go. I am very hit and miss with running. After a period of running a lot, I sometimes go for weeks or months without putting on my trainers. But would I be able to change that by making it a habit? I read a bit about people who run every day. Would it cause me to get injured? It seemed not. Some people run every day for years. In fact, the longest ever run streak was by Ron Hill. It lasted for over 52 years.
How easy was it to make running every day into a habit?
Actually, it was a lot easier than I thought. I was lucky though, I had a secret weapon. Her name is Bubbles. I used to walk the dog every day, without fail. So, I decided to stop. Instead of walking the dog, I would run with her. At the start, we would often run twice a day. We went on either a short run morning and evening, or a longer run once during the day. As my marathon training picked up, the distance of my long runs increased and I decreased to once a day.
I’m not sure at what point running daily became a habit. Looking back, I’m not even sure when I transitioned from two runs to one per day. What I do know is that it is now well and truly ingrained in me. It’s what I do. When the Brighton marathon was postponed, it didn’t cross my mind to stop running. When lockdown was announced, my only concern was that I would be able to keep running every day. I have missed open water swimming, but this running habit I have built up has become a coping mechanism. It was easy to start, but I have no idea how I will ever manage to stop.
What I have learnt from running every day
I have always had a love-hate relationship with running. Since I started to run every day, that has dissipated. It is a part of my life that I can’t imagine being without. I have learnt that the joy of running does not lie in taking part in mass participation events. It’s not in fast times, medals or improvement.
The joy of running lies in getting out of the door, whatever the weather. Putting one foot in front of the other and clearing my mind. Pounding the streets to get rid of pent up aggression. Running across deserted hills and taking in the view. Racing the dog across a field, hammering down a big hill or conquering an uphill that I’ve always struggled with. The joy of running is in appreciating the act of running itself.