We’ve all been there: You’ve spent the weekend vegging out on the couch and, come Monday morning, you’re determined to go on a run before work. But, when your alarm goes off, you immediately hit snooze as the thought of lacing up your shoes to hit the trail makes you want to immediately hide under the covers.
If you do manage to get out of bed and head out on a run, though, you end up feeling so great afterward that you wonder why you tried to put it off in the first place. Motivation is key for any runner, but it can certainly be hard to come by.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to overcome a lack of motivation so you can get excited about doing what you love. Here are some top tips for motivating yourself to head out on your next run.
10 tips from olympians and science to help you get motivated to run:
1. Set Small, Specific, And Realistic Goals
If you’ve been running for a while, you might be mentally exhausted and the thought of a long run might be overwhelming. Alternatively, if you’re new to the sport, it’s possible that you’re struggling with the seemingly daunting training plan that you’ve set for yourself.
Setting goals for yourself can help motivate you to hit the road, trail, or wherever you like to run, according to a 2019 study from the Washington University School of Medicine. However, the study, which reviewed the current research on goal setting when it comes to making meaningful changes in exercise, diet, and other health-related actions, found that simply setting goals is just one piece of the puzzle.
These researchers found that setting small, specific, and realistic goals were critical in terms of how successful people are at actually meeting their own expectations. Using the “SMART” method of goal setting, where you create specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed goals for yourself is often an effective strategy.
With this in mind, create a running goal for your upcoming week. What you choose to do will depend on your experience level, but an example could be to run for 1 hour on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week every morning before you go to work.
Setting a goal like this is much more attainable than “I want to run 3 times this week” because it gives you clear guidance for what you need to do so you can better motivate yourself to actually stick to your running plans.
2. Watch A Running Film
For some people, lack of motivation is an infrequent occurrence, not a persistent issue. If just need a bit of a pick-me-up to encourage you to get out on your run today, try watching a trail running documentary for a bit of extra stoke.
In reality, there are few things more motivating than watching your favorite runners crush a race or an epic run before you hit the trails yourself, so an inspirational movie is a solid choice.
3. Stick To A Routine
Sometimes, having a routine is the secret to staying motivated. If you can turn running into a habit, rather than just something you do every once in a while, you’ll have a harder time avoiding your morning jog.
However, while we humans find that it’s often challenging to break bad habits, building new ones can be even more difficult. Research from University College London found that habits are likely to still drive us to make healthy choices (like going on a run) even if we’re feeling unmotivated.
But making good habits is all about sticking to the same routine, even when you’re not excited about it. That study also found that it’s easier to turn an action into a habit by doing it at the same time every single day, such as at 5:00 when you get off of work.
Furthermore, the researchers found that habits are even easier to create if you build them into an existing daily routine. So, it might be helpful to commit yourself to go on a run right before breakfast every day or to build a run into your lunch break.
Whatever your routine, just be sure to stick with it every day to ensure that it becomes a habit that can keep you running even if you’re not feeling particularly motivated. Research shows that it can take an average of 66 days to build a new habit, so consistency early on is key.
4. Mix Up Your Run
Perhaps you always run for an hour a day or maybe you stick to running the same loop around your neighborhood during your training sessions. However, according to experts at Harvard University, boredom can be a major roadblock when it comes to motivation and exercise.
So, to keep things fresh and exciting, try switching things up a bit. Instead of that hour-long run, commit to running a certain number of miles or opt to explore a new trail that’s a little further afield from home.
If you’re really lacking motivation to run, it might be time to incorporate a bit more cross-training into your routine. Consider swapping out one run a week with a bike ride or a hike so you’re more excited about running when you get a chance to do it. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
5. Find A New Podcast Or Make A New Playlist
Sometimes knowing that you have a new podcast to listen to or a great new playlist to rock out with can be enough to get you out the door. If the idea of listening to your same old playlist one more time or running in silence for an hour makes you want to do anything but train, having something fun to listen to can make a difference.
For people who want to listen to people talk about running on their next run, podcasts like Diz Runs Radio, Ultra Runner Podcast, and Science Of Ultra are a good place to start. Alternatively, make yourself a playlist of your absolute favorite songs that you can look forward to listening to whenever you’re not feeling particularly motivated.
6. Create A Running Plan & Keep A Training Log
It’s all too easy to tell yourself that you’ll skip your run today but get back out there tomorrow. What difference is one day going to make, right?
While it’s important to take rest days so you don’t over-train, routinely skipping out on your daily run because you don’t feel motivated is the potential start of a rapid downward spiral in your training habits. Thankfully, seven-time Olympic gold medalist James Magnussen has some good advice to offer on this topic:
“I think about my goals when I wake up and what I have to do that day. Then, at the end of the day, I do a recap and think about what I did well and what I could have improved”
Taking the time each morning to consider what you want to accomplish for the day and then recapping your efforts at night is a good way to hold yourself accountable. You can take this a step further by creating a running plan and keeping a training log to put your goals into writing.
At the start of the month or the week, plan out your daily runs. Create a calendar that you can post on the fridge or in another very obvious place. Then, each morning, review your plan for the day and focus on your goals. Before you go to bed, be honest with yourself about whether you achieved these goals.
It can be helpful to cross off successful runs on your training calendar with a green marker and to circle any missed runs in bold red ink. That way you can easily see where you met your expectations and where you fell short. Studies have shown that accountability is essential to motivation, so holding yourself responsible for your daily runs can help get you jazzed about your next adventure.
7. Reward Yourself
While it’s often best to find internal motivation to get out on a run, if you’re feeling like you’re trapped in a particularly large rut, a small reward can go a long way. Keeping in the spirit of training and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s generally best not to reward yourself with food, unless you’re planning on using a kale salad as your prize.
Instead, consider other presents that you can give yourself for sticking to your running plan that might be a bit more fulfilling in the long-term. A new pair of running shoes or that sleek new hydration vest might be a good option. Alternatively, you could reward yourself by entering that race you’ve always wanted to run in exchange for your dedication to your training goals.
8. Build A Support Network
The most successful people in the world have friends, families, and communities that encourage them to do their best. The same is true of elite athletes.
Why is this kind of community important when it comes to motivating your next run, you might ask?
The answer is quite simple: Having others that you can rely on to lift you up when you’re feeling down or to keep you in check when you’re making excuses to get out of a run is essential to staying on top of your mental game.
As Shalane Flanagan, former professional runner and silver medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics, once said:
“There comes a point when you need to rely on others to get you out the door.”
It turns out that science backs this up. According to a 2000 study from the UCLA and a 2017 study from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, having a social support network in place made a huge positive difference in motivation and the physical health of older adults.
Even if you’re not a senior citizen, though, there’s a lot we can take from these studies, namely, that having a supportive group of people behind you will help you lace up your shoes for that next run.
Many of us already have some sort of support network in place, we just need to learn how to use it to motivate us. Consider talking with your partner, children, friends, or family, and tell them that you need help staying on top of your training.
Figure out techniques they can use to hold you accountable every time you don’t run and other ways they can continue to encourage you when you meet your training goals. Potential ideas include asking them to check in with you about your run each day or inviting them to run with you every once in a while.
9. Join A Running Club
If you already have a great support network behind you, but you’re still struggling with motivation, consider joining a running club. Although you might enjoy the experience of running alone, having others to run with can help hold you accountable training-wise, can keep you motivated, and can have important implications for your mental and physical health.
A 2016 Japanese study of older adults found that people who exercise with others are more likely to lead a healthier lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Another study from Curtin University of Technology suggests that exercising with others can help reduce stress and can help motivate people to stick to healthy habits.
Even if you don’t see major changes in your physical and mental well-being from joining a running club, simply having others that are counting on you to show up for your training session can be all the motivation you need. Simply put, it’s much easier to skip a run when there’s no one waiting for you to show up. Plus, you might make some new friends along the way.
10. Have Something To Train For
Studies have shown that having an external goal, such as an upcoming race, that has important value to you as an individual can make a huge difference in your motivation levels when it comes to exercising. While the same research argues that intrinsic motivators (i.e. wanting to run simply because you enjoy it) are better motivation-wise when it comes to your long-term habits, sometimes, that little extra nudge to train for a race is all you need to get out the door on your morning run.
Even Olympic Runners, such as Desiree Linden, who have struggled with motivation in the past, have found that simply having something to train for can be a game-changer. As Linden puts it:
“You look at your calendar and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m training for the Olympics! Why am I complaining? You really have to dig and [ask], ‘How bad do I want the thing that I’m chasing?'”
Therefore, if you’re just running for the sake of running but need a little extra motivation boost, sign up for a race. You don’t necessarily need to enter the lottery for the Hardrock 100 – even your local turkey trot will do. The key is to have a goal to encourage your training efforts instead of just running aimlessly down the trail.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.