How to Get Motivated to Start Running

woman stretching
Woman Stretching, Image Courtesy of Andy Newson,

There are many good reasons to run, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have never done it before. Listing reasons to run, rewarding yourself for achieving goals, doing things to make running fun, and eating right can help you get motivated and stay motivated.

List the Reasons You Want to Run

Putting the reasons you want to run down on paper has a strong motivational effect, especially if the list is kept where you will see it regularly, such as near your desk or on the refrigerator door. Reasons to begin a running program might include the following:

    • Improve self-esteem.
    • Lose weight – every mile you run burns approximately 100 calories.
    • Be able to eat more high-calorie foods without gaining weight.
    • Beat depression and anxiety.
    • Get through a tough time after a stressful life event.
    • Increase overall fitness to look and feel better.
    • Prevent osteoporosis.
    • Cure insomnia and get better sleep overall.
    • Set a good example for other family members.
    • Save money by exercising outdoors instead of in the gym.
    • Help prevent joint problems – a U.S. study found that runners developed joint problems 12 years later than non-runners on average, and only 5% of runners developed stiffness or disabling joint pain compared to 20% of non-exercisers (Whalley & Jackson, 2004).

Reward Yourself for Achieving Your Goals

Set small achievable goals at first so that you can make continual progress. The first run might be just one block, and subsequent runs may be just to the next lamppost or tree. List your goals on paper or online, and each time one larger goal or several small goals are achieved, reward yourself. Possible rewards may include:

    • Healthy treat such as fruit
    • Movie, book, or video game
    • Alcoholic beverage (just one)
    • Massage
    • Long bubble bath
    • Beauty treatment
    • New outfit
    • Meal at a nice restaurant
    • New and exciting activity such as sky diving
    • Concert or play
    • New music
    • New running gear

Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a less than stellar day – not every running session will be a record breaker.

Stay Motivated to Keep Running

There are a number of strategies for making running more enjoyable so that you stay motivated. Try one or more of the following incentives:

    • If running all the time bores you, mix it up with other activities such as swimming, cycling, martial arts, soccer, or yoga.
    • Start a friendly competition with one or more friends, family members, or coworkers, and make it official with a scorecard and prizes.
    • Listen to your favourite music only when running so that you have a treat to look forward to.
    • Choose appealing places to run, such as near a lake, an area with interesting architecture, or somewhere with great views.
    • Run for a charitable cause.
    • Join a running club and meet new friends.
    • Bring a friend and treat yourselves to a nice meal afterward.
    • Change your route regularly.
    • Run at the time of day when you feel most energetic.
    • Set an impressive long-term goal such as running a race, marathon, or triathlon.
    • Keep a running blog to track your progress.
    • Adopt an energetic dog that will come out on runs with you.

Eat Right for Maximum Energy

Nothing saps motivation faster than a lack of energy caused by poor diet. To maintain health and recover more quickly after injury, choose foods rich in Omega-3s (fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and flaxseed oil) and antioxidants (brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, tea, and dark chocolate). Complex carbohydrates are also essential for energy. Some of the best energy foods for runners include:

    • Soy/tofu products
    • Beans
    • Breakfast cereals
    • Whole wheat pasta
    • Brown rice
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Bananas
    • Yogurt
    • Fruit smoothies made with yogurt or milk
    • Nuts and seeds

Runners (particularly female runners) also need to make sure they get sufficient iron. Lean red meats, molasses, enriched cereals, lentils, nuts, seeds, green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, beans, and eggs are rich in iron, and having a glass of orange juice with these foods is beneficial, as the vitamin C aids iron absorption.

Stay Safe and Prevent Injuries While Running

Avoid bad experiences while running by staying safe and preventing injury:

    • Warm up and stretch before beginning a run.
    • Layer clothing in cold climates.
    • Wear wicking fabrics for comfort.
    • Jog on the spot at intersections until the light turns green and watch for cars, particularly if listening to music.
    • Wear bright clothing so that drivers can see you.
    • Don’t run alone in a deserted area (bring a friend or a big dog).
    • Tell someone where you’ll be running and when you expect to return.
    • Wear sunscreen.
    • Drink sufficient water to prevent dehydration, especially when exercising in hot weather – if you dislike carrying a water bottle, choose a route with drinking fountains.
    • Don’t force yourself to run when sick or injured.
    • Invest in a high-quality pair of running shoes.
    • Carry a cell phone.
    • If possible, run on softer ground rather than concrete to reduce the likelihood of developing shin splints.

For more health and fitness articles, see the main Mind-Body Health Health page.

Reference: Whalley, Susie, & Jackson, Lisa. (2004). Running Made Easy. London, UK: Robson Books.

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