A runner with good habits trains consistently follows a plan, practices good form, participates in events, and researches new routes whenever they can. In this article, we explore the importance of habits and give some examples of good habits for runners to have.
I used to be a runner without good habits
A few years ago, my first attempt at getting into running failed dramatically. I had bad habits. I was out of shape, didn’t create or follow a training plan, lacked motivation, was unorganised, injured myself, had the wrong mindset and didn’t have a strong reason for running. I didn’t train at the same time each day, and I never researched new routes.
I gave up running and felt embarrassed with myself. My inability to adopt good habits made me a terrible runner. That was then, this is now.
The key to be a successful runner is establishing good habits
Fast forward a couple of years, I decided to change my approach to running and I really fell in love with the sport. I became motivated, focused, and enjoyed running. I now regularly run at least 4 times a week and try to do a half-marathon a month.
So, what changed? I made a point of establishing good habits committed myself to run and following through with my training plans. No excuses, no bad practices. Just solid and honest running. I established a series of good habits which continue to serve me today.
What is a habit?
A habit is a routine of behaviour repeated regularly and consistently, which tend to happen without you having to think about them. Habits take some time to form and often start with you consciously thinking and acting. However, once a behaviour is repeated enough it can become a habit and occurs without you having to think about it.
For example, common habits you may be familiar with are things like nail biting, skipping breakfast, using ‘umm’ and ‘like’ in speech, playing with your hair, cracking your joints, and so on. An example of a popular habit in the modern day is constantly checking your mobile phone for social media notifications and interactions.
Habits can occur in other areas of life, like running.
Why are habits so important for running?
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellent, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ Will Durant
Habits are who you are. They form your daily routine and make you unique. Therefore, if you have good habits it’s highly likely you’ll be successful. This is completely true when it comes to running.
Do you think top draw athletes like Mo Farah and the Brownlee brothers train when they feel like it, and luckily perform at the top of their game all the time, winning gold medal after gold medal? Of course not. Top runner athletes have wonderful habits, which make them so successful. They train day in, day out.
Following good behaviour patterns, training with a consistent approach. If you’re a runner, you don’t just run when you feel like it and hope you will be great. That’s not how it works, you have to train day in, day out with good behaviour patterns, to become successful.
To back up the importance of habits in running, let’s look at some other examples in life. When you want good grades for an exam, you need to study constantly. If you want to be a fantastic chef, you’ll need to practice your recipes so much you don’t even have to think about what to do next. If you want to become a renowned concert pianist, you’ll need to practice the piano so much you don’t even need to look at the keys.
Success in running, and in life, depends on establishing and keeping good habits. It’s so crucial, and I know what it’s like to fail with bad habits for running in place. That’s why I’ve put this article together. To help other runners establish good habits to become successful in the sport.
Without further ado, here are 11 good habits for runners to have
1. Be consistent with your training
“It’s better to train for 4-5 hours a week than to do ten hours one week then nothing for two weeks. It helps your body adapt and maintains your fitness.” Alistair Brownlee, on the importance of consistency in training
Without a doubt, one of the most important habits you need to develop is consistency. Being consistent means, you keep training week in, week out and don’t skip a day.
An example of a consistent runner could be to run at least 15 miles a week across 4 separate runs. Once the 15 miles is achieved one week, the runner will repeat this the next week, and gradually up the mileage.
Forming the habit of consistency means you’re disciplined and don’t skip a run just because you’re tired or it’s inconvenient. Like Alistair Brownlee says, it’s better for your body to adapt to a stable training regime to maintain your fitness, rather than running when the mood takes you.
If you don’t have the habit of consistency built, you will run lots of miles one week and then run none for the next two weeks. Without regular running, you will lose all the progress made and your fitness will go back to how it was before you started running.
To become a successful runner, make sure you develop the habit of consistency. Choose a routine like a training plan, get into it, and stick to it religiously. It’s a habit all successful runners know about and have.
2. Practice good form
It doesn’t matter how determined you are, without good form it will be difficult to fulfil your potential as a runner. Running with proper form means your style will be refined, allowing you to run faster, safer and more efficiently. It’s a difficult habit to adopt and it may take some work, but once you have it your running game will improve drastically.
The key to successful running is nailing proper form. Keep your upper body tall and relaxed, hit the ground with your mid-foot landing under the hip, swing your arms forward and backwards (don’t go side to side, it doesn’t help) and look forward.
Nailing good form takes practice, so don’t worry if you’re not perfect right away. Ask a friend or coach to watch you run and provide some feedback on your form. Alternatively, ask someone to record you running so you can make a self-assessment on your form. It’s handy to record yourself running, it can open your eyes to a tonne of issues.
I thought I was running as gracefully as Mo Farah or the Brownlee brothers, but after watching a recorded clip of my technique I was horrified. Not only was I slamming the ground with each strike, but my arms also went side to side and my head was looking down to the ground. What a running disaster. Luckily, I used the footage to make a self-diagnosis of poor running form which I worked on. Now my running style is more refined, and I find my running has improved in leaps and bounds.
Make proper running form a habit. You might struggle at first, but that’s okay. It will be worth putting in the work.
3. Have a goal you want to achieve
If you’re running with no target to aim at, you won’t be motivated and will fall into bad habits like skipping training or running fewer miles than you know you should. It seems like a simple habit to establish and keep, but you’d be surprised at how many runners just run without having anything in mind they want to achieve.
Having a goal is important for a runner. A goal is a tangible, measurable feat you wish to achieve. The goal will inform your training schedule, and drive you forward to achieving it.
Examples of common goals include running a 5K in under 20 minutes, running a half-marathon in under 1:45, running 20 miles in a week, completing a marathon, fundraising a certain amount for charity in the lead up to a race, finishing in the top 100 of a race, and so on. Everyone has different goals dependent on fitness level, ability, and how serious they are about running.
It doesn’t matter what your goal is. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, set a goal for yourself, familiarise yourself with it (write it down, say it aloud, speak about it), then go and achieve it. Don’t stop until you’ve accomplished your goal. Once it’s been overcome, set yourself another one and repeat. Do this enough time, and you’ll develop the good habit of setting and achieving goals. You’ll become a better runner, with good habits, in no time.
4. Stretch before and after your run
Stretching is an important habit for runners to develop. Whilst it only takes a few minutes to do, it’s easy to forget about and go on a run completely cold which could risk injury and pull the muscles. Ouch, not ideal.
Instead, do some static and dynamic stretches for 2-3 minutes before you run. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible and supple, gets the blood flowing to them, and prepares the body for physical exertion.
Think of it like a phone turning on. When you press the on button, it takes a few moments to warm up and get itself into gear, ready for activity. You’re the same, you need some time to warm up the joints and muscles so you’re ready for running.
Try to stretch your calf muscles, quadriceps, shoulders, triceps, Achilles, and so on. Anything your body needs to run, make sure it’s properly stretched out. There’s a tonne of useful videos and books on stretching, easily accessible in your local bookstore or the internet.
Okay, I’ll admit that stretching isn’t the most fun activity in the world but it’s an extremely good habit to get into. When you first start stretching before a workout, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to make sure you do it and set aside some time. Eventually, stretching will become second nature and a habit will form.
If you’ve fallen victim to the evil that is Achilles Tendinitis, find how to treat it with the following article:
5. Use a GPS running watch to your advantage
If there’s one thing runners love, it’s a good GPS watch. These handy devices track your location, data on your run, monitor your heart rate, and tell the time. GPS watches are a staple in runners’ arsenal for good reason. Getting into the habit of using one can make you a better runner.
Whether you’re a casual jogger, a seasoned runner, or even a professional athlete, having and using a GPS watch can be one of the wisest decisions you make. Not only do they accompany you on every run, but they also provide useful functions and track important data. After using a GPS watch for a few workouts, runners often wonder how they coped without one before.
There are lots of benefits to these handy watches. You don’t have to carry your phone, you can record lots of useful data, they look stylish, can be used for triathletes, and some even offer advice on recovery.
The key feature of running watches I want to highlight, for this article, is that most come with training modes. Being in ‘training’ mode is the ideal zone for successful runners to be in, so developing the habit of using these watches to your advantage will do wonders for your running.
Some modes are pre-set into the watch, and some allow you to customise them meaning you can personalise your workout. For instance, if you find you’re lagging and not hitting your target pace you could set your watch to beep and vibrate when you’re going to slow. This will keep you running to a pace you’re happy with, which will improve your running.
Alternatively, some watches come with interval training functionality which guides you to run flat out for a set time before beeping to signal a recovery jog. The watch continues this cycle until you reach the desired number of reps for that training session. These incredible watches have lots of functions, we’ve only covered a few of them here.
If you need something to help you up your running game, it might be time to consider getting a decent GPS running watch. They are a bit costly, I know, but think of them as an investment.
Purchase it once and reap the benefits for many months (or even years). If you can’t afford one right now, try to save a bit of money from each night out or cut down on eating out as often. Make a little saving fund for your running watch, and once you have enough to make your purchase you can wear it with pride and turn your running life around.
For more information on GPS running watches, check out the following articles:
Of course, if you’re using your GPS watch with headphones then check out the following blog post:
6. Eat a proper diet
Anyone who has heard of the word ‘habit’, has heard it in the context of diet. What we eat on a day to day basis, determine our eating habits. As humans, we need food to survive. Therefore, everyone has an eating habit of some kind. Eating habits have a dramatic effect on your success as a runner, so it’s important to establish and maintain a proper diet.
The phrase ‘you are what you are eat’ is true, and you’re eating patterns will reflect in your running performance.
Examples of bad eating habits include those which are high in processed foods, too much fat, lots of sugar. This kind of an eating habit means your body won’t have an appropriate energy source to fuel it for running, meaning you’ll feel lethargic and get worn out quicker.
Another bad habit is eating at inappropriate times like right before bed or minutes before a run. Eating before bed is likely to make you gain extra unwanted weight, which will have a negative effect on your running, whilst eating before you run can make you throw up. It sounds nasty, but I’ve seen it happen countless times.
It’s important to establish and maintain healthy eating habits. Eat natural foods which aren’t processed, low in saturated fats, and give you a generous dose of vitamins and minerals.
As a rule of thumb, try eating healthy carbohydrates (like wholegrain bread and pasta, oats, porridge and yoghurt) before you run for a dependable energy source to fuel your workout. After the run, eat healthy fats and proteins to aid normal bodily function and to repair the body after your workout. Sticking to proteins and fats after a run means you’re less likely to get tired, as you won’t experience a high GI sugar rush associated with carbohydrates.
Additionally, try not to eat late in the evening because a large meal right before bed means your body will store lots of it as fat. As a result, you’ll gain lots of unwanted weight and you’ll not only run less efficiently, your self-esteem may suffer too. Likewise, don’t eat within half an hour before a run because the food will make a reappearance as it won’t be digested enough for your stomach to hold it down.
Healthy eating habits are a daily battle and require a lot of work and mental concentration. Once you start eating healthy, you gain momentum and start to believe in yourself. The more you eat healthily, the harder it is to break your behaviour cycle. Before you know it, you’ve established a healthy eating habit and your running will become much more successful. Now there’s some food for thought…
For information on the best foods to eat before a 5K, check out the following blog post:
7. Go to sleep at a reasonable time
Not just a good habit for running, going to sleep at a reasonable time is one of the best habits you can adopt in life.
Sleep is a necessity for our lives, we need it. If we don’t get enough time asleep, or enough quality sleep, we feel groggy and don’t function at our best. We’re usually irritable when we haven’t got enough shut-eye and can’t focus properly. Hardly the physical and mental state you want to be in when you want to be a successful runner.
Instead, make a habit of making sleep a priority. Most adults need roughly 7-8 hours’ sleep, so try and get this amount. When it comes to bedtime, optimise your environment for a good night’s rest. Switch off all light sources like your mobile phone, TV, light, games consoles, and so on. Try to eliminate as much noise as possible and get into a comfy bed. Make sure you’re properly hydrated, close your eyes, start breathing deeply and fall asleep.
Try falling asleep and waking at the same time every day to get into a stable rhythm and develop a sense of normality. Not only will your general quality of life improve with more energy and regularity, but your running will also improve too.
Getting enough sleep means you’ll be more energised, alert, and up for running. You won’t feel tempted to skip training, and the workouts you do will be more purposeful. Additionally, your body uses sleep as repair and recovery time from physical activity during the day. If you’ve been running in the day, your body will need an adequate amount of sleep to repair your muscle tissue and revitalise you. Sleep helps you recover, so you can go for your next run feeling stronger and in better condition. Who would have thought the wonderful act of getting some shut-eye could have so many benefits for your running?
Sleep is an important factor for a healthy lifestyle and getting enough quality sleep is vital for successful running.
8. Regularly remind yourself why you’re running in the first place
If you’ve found yourself with some bad habits, chances are you’ve lost motivation to run as often and as hard as you used to. You’ve been running for a few months, and the sport isn’t as exciting as it once was. No need to get worried or start re-considering if this sport for you, this can happen to the best of us. You’ve just forgotten your reason for running. Remember, purpose fuels performance.
You need to have a tangible and easily identifiable reason for why you’re running in the first place to fire you up, so you lace up with excitement for a workout. Common reasons for running are to lose weight, raise money for charity, explore nature, become more active, wake up earlier, become a more interesting person, connecting with a friend. Lots of people want to embrace a challenge, like running a sub 1:45 half-marathon or 20-minute 5K. The list is endless. Having a reason, and regularly reminding yourself of it, is a fantastic habit to adopt.
For example, I had the reason of running to run a sub-20-minute 5K for the challenge. I reminded myself of this reason every day before I trained, and it eventually became a habit. I found myself more motivated as a result and my running improved.
We each have a slightly different reason for running, and it really doesn’t matter what that reason is. Make sure you have one. That’s what is important. Remind yourself of your reason for running and think about it long and hard. Write it down and familiarise yourself with it. Remind yourself of the goal as often as possible to ignite your running passion.
Suddenly you won’t be procrastinating, tempted to skip your workout or demonstrate any of those other bad habits. You’ll run as often as possible, without excuse. Whatever your reason for running, make sure you know what it is and remind yourself of it regularly.
You’ll become a better runner, who rarely misses training for anything. It’s a fantastic habit to establish and maintain.
For more information on finding motivation and avoiding procrastinating, check out the following articles:
9. Reflect on training and adjust as necessary
This is a brilliant habit to adopt. Successful runners will take time every now and then to reflect on their training and adjust their regime. If their weekly mileage projection is way to high and unrealistic, it might be time to lower it slightly. It could be you find the new route you’re trying out has too many steep hills for you to handle, and you decide to temporarily revert to an old route.
Regularly reviewing your training and making changes as necessary, is a good habit to fall into and something all successful runners do. If something isn’t working, don’t keep doing it.
It’s as simple as that. If you were running a business and you weren’t making any money, you’d change your business activities. When you’re driving somewhere and there are roadworks, you’d look for a diversion and wouldn’t just wait for hours. If you were a musician and weren’t making any progress, you’d change your practice techniques.
When things aren’t working out after trying them one way, find a new way and try that.
Don’t keep hitting a metaphorical brick wall if your current regime is too easy or too difficult, change it up a bit. It’s your call to know what’s working and what isn’t, and if you really need help deciding you could enlist the help of a professional running coach.
I’d recommend making yourself a running journal and writing some of your thoughts in that. You don’t have to become an award-winning journalist, just write a few sentences after each run followed by the date and distance covered. It helps to write your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper and can help you see things in your training from a different angle.
Build the successful running habit of reviewing and amending your training schedule as necessary. It will do wonders for your running life, give it a try.
10. Do a weekly long run
Going for a long run means running for considerably longer than usual. If your average running distance is 5 miles, your long run might be 10 miles. If your average distance is 7 miles, your long run might be 15 miles, and so on.
Long runs are typically completed by those training for long-distance events like half-marathons, marathons, or even triathlons due to the events demanding nature. However, long runs can be enjoyed by runners of all abilities who run various distances. Fun runners, those who run 5Ks and 10Ks, and anyone else should add a weekly long run into their routine. It’s a great habit to form and maintain, which will make you a better runner.
Benefits of a weekly long run include building your stamina, developing race readiness (running at race pace), having thinking time, upping your weekly mileage, listening to your favourite audio (music, podcast or audiobook), challenging yourself, getting into nature, keeping yourself healthy, and so on.
The benefits of a nice long run once a week are huge and will make you a more successful runner. Hence, it’s a great habit to develop.
For more information on long runs, check out the blog post here:
11. Go to the toilet before every run, even if you don’t need to go that bad
It might seem funny that I’m mentioning this one, and you’re right. It is rather funny. However, going to the toilet before each run is an important habit to get into. It can be the difference between having an enjoyable, free moving run, or enduring a prolonged period of agonising pacing. Counting down the seconds until you get into your house and can go to the bathroom.
Make it a habit to go to the toilet before every run. Even if you don’t particularly need to go, try and go anyway. It’s a good running habit to adopt.