7 Habits of Highly Effective Runners

Hey guys,

Do you ever find yourself lacking in running motivation when you’re getting ready to go for a run?

Suddenly the sofa seems much more tempting, you find yourself surfing Youtube, you remember you still have to do the dishes . . . 

It happens to all of us – we all go through motivational peaks and troughs.  

The difference between a person who never misses a training run and someone who always misses training runs is normally found in their systems.

Systems are processes we put in place and cues we create which make it more likely we’ll follow through on something.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few habits related to my running to ensure that I follow my training plan.   

How Habits Are Formed

Here’s a quick primer on habit-building before we jump into the list:

A true habit has 4 distinct phases to it. In order to make your run training into a sustainable habit, each part of the process has to be in place.

Let’s look at the 4 phases,  and apply it to a typical 10km training run:

i) a cue – you have planned a 10km training run

ii) a craving – you feel restlessness, the urge to complete your run

iii) a response – you go for your 10km run

iv) a reward – you need something satisfying to mark the end of the run, and close out the habit loop.

(If you’re interested in books on willpower, motivation, and building habits, check out my recommended reading list at the end of this post).

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Habit 1: Have a Training Plan

In order for your training runs to be effective, you want to be as specific as possible when planning out your training runs.

This means specifying the planned time you’re going to run, the route you’re going to take, how far you’re going to run, and your target speed (if you’re training based on pace).

By mapping all of this out in advance, you are putting a system in place.

Systems work where goals fail.


Goals are great until real life gets in the way.

The goal of running a marathon, or running four times a week, sounds great, but is a bit vague in details.

system of running 10km every other day at exactly 6pm works. You have defined the work required and when you’re going to do it.

Goals focus on the end result, whereas systems focus on the process.

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.

Systems require pre-planning and mapping out – for example, if you have a marathon coming up an effective system would be a comprehensive training plan, mapping out each training run, mileage, pace, etc.   

Sounds like a lot of work, right?  

But the truth is that with a system, you’re doing all the hard work up-front – so it’s much easier in the future. 

By mapping out a 3 or 4 month training plan, you remove the daily decision-making process from the equation, and silence that little voice that is always trying to persuade you to skip your run.

You make a training plan, and you stick to it.

(Check out our library of training plans to get you started).

Alternatively, aim for a daily habit such as running 3 miles a day, or running 5 miles a day. You’ll quickly rack up serious miles, and your new routine will have a massive effect on your running game and life!

Habit 2: Prime Your Environment

If your environment is set up to encourage you or remind you to go running, all the better.

Some of these steps may seem tiny, but adding them together creates a world where you are automatically ‘nudged’ to go running as you go about your daily routine.

Tricks I use include:

  • Keeping my running shoes next to the front door, so they’re both visible and ready to go.
  • Prepare my running gear and have it laid out in the morning, so I’m primed to just slip into it later on.
  • During my commute, I listen to running-based podcasts and check out friend’s workouts on Strava. All of this get me into the headspace for running.
  • download and plan out podcasts and audiobooks to listen to during my run. This becomes something to look forward to.
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Habit 3:  Remove Any Resistance

By ‘resistance’, I mean anything at all which creates some friction in the system that will make you less likely to go for a training run.

When planning out your training runs, think of any obstacles that might crop up which might convince you to not go for a run. Then find a way to remove this obstacle before it affects you.

Some examples:

Resistance: You are just going out for an evening training run, then realise you don’t have anything for dinner when you get back, and by that time it will be too late to go shopping.

Resolution: I have a few instant noodle packets in my kitchen, ready to go in-case I get caught short one evening and don’t want to compromise my training

Resistance: It’s colder than normal outside, and you don’t want to risk getting a cold.

Resolution: Ensure you’ve got cold-weather running gear at hand.

Resistance: You’ve had a long day and your kids / spouse wants to hang out.

Resolution: Communicate your training plans to your family well in advance, make sure they realise how committed you are – and map out other times to spend quality time with them.

Habit 4: Track and Share Your Runs

At the end of each training run, I whip out my phone and upload my run straight to Strava (check out my profile here).

In order to keep things interesting, I try and take a couple of pictures during each run – if I have my iPhone – and add it to my feed.

By tracking each run, I immediately can compare my effort to previous runs and see how I am progressing.

Strava – and other platforms such as Garmin Connect and Nike Running Club – has a strong social element, meaning that my friends and I can like and comment on each others’ activities.

This creates a level of social accountability and competition – knowing that friends are checking out how well you’re doing motivates me a little more!

In terms of the habit feedback loop, I count this habit as part of a ‘reward’ step, it’s something I look forward to immediately after each run, which reinforces the habit of going for a run in my head!

Habit 5: Find Something Interesting To Listen To While You Run

If you like to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks as you run, you can build this practice into the habit-formation process.

I’m a podcast and audiobook junkie. Often when I stumble upon something new I want to listen to, I save it for my next run.

This gives me something to look forward to during my run.

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Habit 6: Reward Yourself With a (Healthy) Snack

Immediately after I finish a run, I go to the kitchen.

If it’s a morning run, then I scramble a couple of eggs and make tea.

If it’s an after-work run, I go straight to my smoothie maker and blitz some protein powder, a banana, peanut butter and a few seeds.

Whatever works for you – keep it healthy, satisfying, protein-rich and as simple as possible to prepare.

Habit 7: Make Your Run The End of Your Day

When I go running in the evening, I intentionally make sure I do any outstanding tasks before I go for a run.

This way, my evening run becomes my ‘line in the sand’, after which I know I will be able to relax and wind down.

My run becomes something I’m looking forward to, as it’s signalling to my brain that it’s the end of my ‘to do’ list.


Which habits or little hacks do you use for running motivation? 

Let me know below!

Recommended Reading List

The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit breaks down the fundamental way habits influence our every-day life, and describes the 3-phase habit loop.   Some great stories too.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

This book takes a lot of the research and popular science of habit-building and makes it into an ultra-practical guide.   James Clear describe a 4-phase habit loop (a lot of other literature misses out the ‘craving’ phase, combining it with the ‘cue’ phase).   It has some great tips about setting up your environment to make your desired behaviours as automatic as possible.

Willpower – Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength – Roy F. Baumeister

This book gets you looking at your willpower, and your daily routine, in a totally new way.   Willpower is a muscle it turns out, much like any other, and needs to be trained.   You also have a set amount of willpower each day, and learning how to prioritise your activities and avoid willpower-draining tasks was a huge eye-opener for me.   Each tiny decision you take every day costs you a few cents in your willpower quota – so plan carefully!

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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