There's never been a better time to become a more consistent runner

Amby Burfoot's tips on building running habits that last; What should I ask 'Running Home' author Katie Arnold?

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” — Epictetus

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant

“I pray to be like the ocean, with soft currents, maybe waves at times. More and more, I want the consistency rather than the highs and the lows.” — Drew Barrymore

For those of us who were training for races this spring, the coronavirus has (obviously!) thrown everything into limbo. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a time you can make progress toward your goals, and still improve as a runner.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting during this time is that I’ve been able to achieve more consistency as a runner than I have been in a long, long time. And, as it turns out, my own past inconsistency has probably hindered me more than I realized.

Sometime later today, I’ll notch my 18th day in a row of running at least a 5K a day — just over 55 miles (and more than 500 minutes) of running in less than three weeks.

Previously, my running was very streaky, but in a different way — I’d do great for three to four weeks, then hit a snag with my schedule and lay off for a couple of weeks, and then try to get back to where I was. It was a constant process of two steps forward, one step back (and sometimes two or three steps back).

Now, on the other hand, I feel like I’m finally able to think about getting to the place former Runner’s World editor-in-chief Amby Burfoot describes in his 2018 book Run Forever:

Veteran runners don’t have to think about their next run, or plan very much for it. They just do it. Running has become a habit for them, much like brushing their teeth, eating three meals a day, and going to work Monday through Friday.

Irregular runners, on the other hand, spend more time thinking and plotting than doing. They conjure up a half-dozen questions that must be answered before a run. Am I hydrated enough? Should I buy the new shoes first? Where’s my GPS watch? Do I have any dry shorts?

Members of the latter type find that every run seems to disrupt their day. They haven’t yet learned to make running into a habit — something that is second nature, like buying milk for the kids every time you go to the grocery store.

I must confess, in recent years I’ve been the person Burfoot describes in the second paragraph above. A lot. But these past few weeks, however, I’ve found myself able more able to think like the veteran runners he mentions in the first graph.

Perhaps it’s the freedom I now have in a daily schedule that no longer includes time in traffic commuting to work, and no more weekly calendars filled with obligations for things going on outside our home, that we no longer rush back and forth to do.

With those obstacles removed, now I find myself able to put into practice the things Burfoot identifies as essential to building a healthy habit:

  • Deciding on a goal

  • Choosing a simple, daily action that will help you achieve you goal (in my case, running)

  • Planning a consistent time and place when you will complete your daily action

  • Every time you find yourself at the chosen time and place, doing the action

I realize, of course, how ridiculously simple this sounds. But what I think Burfoot is getting at is that building a consistent running habit is just like brushing our teeth before we go to bed and when we wake up. When we associate a time and place in our minds with a specific action, we feel the pull of the habit to do it — and no longer must push ourselves to do it.

Once you have decided on what you want to make your daily habit, Burfoot says these three steps are key to maintaining it:

Running at the same time every day. I didn’t set out to run at the same time every day during the past three weeks or so that we’ve been in quarantine, but for some reason I am finding myself going out for my runs at nearly the same time every day. Our bodies like a familiar rhythm, a consistent pattern (I believe), and so associating the same time every day for your run can work wonders in creating a habit.

Establishing a “ready-set-go” routine. Some people need a cup of coffee about 10-15 minutes before they run (I remember Jeff Galloway telling me that once, when I attended a talk of his years ago). For others, a warmup routine works, or a few minutes of yoga or meditation. The specifics of what works for you are less important than they work — so pick something you like to do that helps you make the transition to being in motion.

Rewarding yourself. Now, this doesn’t mean a huge chocolate chip muffin when you’re done (however appealing that is!). But, it does mean a way to reward yourself that is meaningful to you, such as saving a dollar or $5 or $10 for every run, and then using what you save at the end of a month or a year to buy something special, or contribute to a cause that’s meaningful for you.

Of course, you may have routines and tips that work for you that are entirely different from these — if so, what are they? What are you finding that helps you run better right now? I’d love to know.

Your friend,

— Terrell

(P.S.: Don’t forget, you can follow us on Instagram and share your photos of your daily runs while we’re all stuck at home — tag your photos with the hashtag #myruntoday, or tag me at @halfmarathons_net.)

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What should I ask Katie Arnold?

Tomorrow, I’ll interview Katie Arnold, the author of last year’s Running Home, about the book for an upcoming book club pick.

What questions do you have for her about running/training/anything else? What would you like to know?

Great running reads

Is It Really Safe to Exercise Outside? Useful, concrete, science-based tips you can follow if you’re trying to decide whether or not to run regularly outside where you live as we all wait out our various coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders. The post’s author interviews a biology professor, who shares what’s actually likely — and unlikely — to happen when you exercise outdoors, from whether it’s okay to pass within less than six feet of other runners, if just for brief moments. Really worth a read.

“There is a risk of your mental health deteriorating during this period. I think it’s important that people do get outside and enjoy the weather and exercise.”

Why Running Is a Lifeline During the Coronavirus Crisis. It turns out it’s not just the people who read this newsletter who are “pounding the pavement to stave off pandemic panic” — people all around the world are doing exactly the same thing, as many shared in this live discussion hosted by the Financial Times last week. What’s really interesting to me is how much more strict several European and African nations are about exercising outdoors; in many places, it’s banned (for now).

“Without word or gesture, we have formed our own tribe. We are the ones who have chosen putting one foot in front of the other as our way of keeping some semblance of normal in this most abnormal of worlds.”

This Is What It’s Like to Live Under a Running Ban. Speaking of running bans, here’s a look at what it’s like to try to get some training in when you’re Italian, Spanish or South African, all places where exercising outdoors now can earn you a stiff fine. As the deadline for the beginning of lockdown approached in some places, they saw runners getting as much outdoor time in as they could, and people buying treadmills like there was no tomorrow.

“If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t take even our most basic freedoms for granted. Runners in other parts of the world have already had to learn this lesson the hard way.”

Running Marathons Under Lockdown. Would you want to run 26.2 miles on a balcony? Or around your bed inside a hotel room? People who found themselves in lockdown thanks to the coronavirus are doing exactly that — the man who clocked a marathon in his hotel room circled his bed more than 5,600 times. “When you stay in a room for two weeks, there is no way to do anything more crazy than this,” he told the reporter who covered the story. Just amazing.

“With races all over the world being canceled, and outdoor spaces becoming dangerously overcrowded, the backyard (or living room) marathon is definitely becoming a thing.”

Stuck Inside? Keep Walking. With so many people around the world under shelter-in-place orders, and especially people in many places who can’t venture outside to exercise, finding ways to keep exercising is proving challenging, to say the least. This study shows the frequency and amount, rather than the intensity, of the exercise you get matters most — especially now. “The researchers had expected both the number and intensity of steps to be linked to longevity... [but] only step counts were linked to mortality risk. Step intensity was not.” [Italics added]

🎧 Listen: Mario Fraioli interviews Ali Feller. Probably my two favorite running podcast hosts get to talk to one another. Feller, the host of the (very!) popular Ali on the Run Show podcast, shares how she got into running after an upbringing in dance, what it’s like to live with Crohn’s disease since the age of seven, and how her journey with running has changed and evolved over the years. (Approx. 1 hour, 12 minutes)

A song to run to today

Rumbleseat” from the album Scarecrow by John Mellencamp.

Want to hear all the songs we include in our newsletter? Listen to our full playlist on Spotify here.