How to Start a Running Habit, Even if You Think You Hate It

running habits
Oren Aks/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Thrillist

To non-runners, picking up a jogging habit can seem incredibly daunting. Hell, for some people, just the thought of wearing athletic clothes is terrifying! But the benefits of running -- like improved mood, stronger muscles, and a sharper mind -- far outweigh the cons (like shortness of breath, chafing, and incredibly sore calf muscles).

So if you're thinking about taking up running, good for you! It can be difficult, though, especially if you have doubts about whether you've got what it takes to succeed at this sometimes-grueling sport. But it can be done, if you follow these tips.

Have a clearly defined reason for starting your habit

If you sit around and say to yourself, "Boy, I should really start running, it's supposed to be healthy, right?" you'll never get off the couch. Susie Lemmer, a Chicago-based RRCA-certified running coach and founder of Suzlyfe, reminds you to "think about your 'why'" -- or the reason why you're running in the first place.

The reason itself doesn't matter so much -- maybe you lost a bet to try it for a month, or you had some surprising feedback from the scale, or you're trying to quit smoking and rehab your lungs. Lemmer recommends thinking about your reason (or reasons) for running every morning when you wake up, and every night before you go to sleep, in addition to before, during, and after your runs.

"Running is a journey," Lemmer says. "There are going to be days when you question your decision to start, and when you question whether or not you can continue. But the mental and physical benefits are so, so worth every difficult step you take along the way."

Spend time finding the right shoes, and don't worry about other gear

No, you don't need to deck yourself out from head to toe in overpriced, sleek workout gear boasting fancy-sounding "technology" that instantly evaporates sweat or cools your core to polar temperatures. But you do need to get the right shoes.

Marnie Kunz, running coach and founder of NYC-based running group Runstreet, advises going to your local running store and getting fitted for running shoes to ensure you don't wind up in a bad pair that could injure you. "The right running shoes are the most important piece of running gear you'll need, and will help prevent injuries," she explains.

Eric Senseman, a Denver-based ultrarunner who is a member of the SCOTT running team, recommends reading the advice of runners before you, always a smart bet when starting a new habit. 

Start slow, and don't assume progress

Just because the sport is called running doesn't mean you need to take off at a sprint from the get-go. Instead, begin your new running routine with the "run-walk" method. Lemmer recommends a run for three minutes, walk for two minutes (and repeat) strategy.

"Try for 20 minutes the first week that you go out, and then try to increase the length of your session and then the length of your running interval before ultimately decreasing your walking interval," Lemmer says. "This will help you gradually and safely increase your endurance and strength." It's also a good idea not to worry about your pace, because it's more about the time you spend running, not how fast you're going.

Don't find the time to run -- make the time

When it comes to scheduling your runs, don't just assume that you'll find the time lying there behind the couch with a couple MetroCards and spare change. It's not going to happen, though you may find time to clean your room, catch up on emails, call your mom, ANYTHING to avoid your run.

Jessie Zapo, founder and coach of Girls Run NYC, a women's running collective in New York City, and co-founder of members-only running group the Black Roses, recommends making a plan to wake up earlier than usual to get your run in before breakfast to avoid losing motivation during the day.

"You will feel like you already won the day before it's even started," she says. "You can even end your run at a local coffee or juice spot as a motivator." If you're not so much of a morning person, you can schedule it into a calendar app, as though you have a meeting. That way, you have less of an excuse to skip it, since you were planning on being occupied for that time.

Join a beginner-friendly running group, or get a friend on board with you

The combination of Netflix, your couch, and a long day of work will tempt you to skip your workout and go directly home to veg. Kunz recommends joining a beginner-friendly running group. By combining your will to run with a social activity you can look forward to, you'll be much more motivated to show up to your workout.

"Even if you run alone most of the time, having regularly scheduled group runs will keep you accountable and motivated -- plus, it will add some fun to your routine!" she adds.

And while a running group full of newbies will be helpful once or twice a week, for consistent motivation, Zapo suggests finding a running buddy. This is also a good choice for people who dislike group settings.

"Choose someone who ideally lives or works near you, and someone who will hold you accountable," Zapo says. Accountability is huge, especially if you're scheduling runs as though they're meetings. It's a lot harder to ditch if someone else is planning on showing up.

Set up weekly goals and track your progress

If the success of Fitbit and its relatives is any indicator, people LOVE tracking themselves. You don't need a $100 bracelet to tell you how you're doing, or a $400 GPS watch to log your weekly mileage; Kunz recommends setting weekly goals to keep you on track. At first, it might just be setting aside time to run Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday your first week, and "checking off" each run as you complete it.

Zapo suggests using a calendar to track your daily workouts. "It helps to see [your progress] somewhere visible each day," Zapo says. She also recommends using a social fitness-tracking app, like Strava, to record and track runs, or purchasing a running watch if you are looking to make an investment.

Ask someone who's actually done it

This is always the most underrated aspect of starting a new habit. Why not find someone who's been successful at what you're trying to do? "Don't be afraid to ask questions," Lemmer advises. "Runners love to talk about running, and you would be surprised how many runners there are out there!"

Or maybe you wouldn't, but the point is that you should seek out as many opinions as you can. Lemmer says that asking around for advice, encouragement, and motivation from seasoned runners will likely net you different perspectives on running, giving you a better chance to discover a trick that works for you.

Just do the damn thing

Like most things related to health and fitness, there really is no substitute for action. The best advice Zapo has for newbie runners: run. "Start small. Start today."

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Erin Kelly is a writer, runner, triathlete, and RRCA-certified run coach living in New York City. Her main running motivation is food. Follow her on Twitter @erinkellysays.