Running Habits (For the Undisciplined)

Written by DBR Blog Editor Bobbi Sawchyn It was the last long run before my first ever half marathon. Besides hopping a flight out west,…


Written by DBR Blog Editor Bobbi Sawchyn

It was the last long run before my first ever half marathon. Besides hopping a flight out west, all I had left to do was get through 16 kilometers of trail. As a bonus, I’d even completed the same route a few weeks earlier, and so was fully prepared to tackle it again (or so I thought). 

Less than five kilometers in, I could feel the run taking a turn for the worse. I was distracted, my mind was full of negative self-talk, and I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, doing anything other than what I was. Every step propelled me further into my mental spiral until, a few minutes later, I realized I was doing the unspeakable: I was texting from the middle of the trail so that I didn’t have to run.  

What happened!?

I may have grit. I may have determination. What I lack, however, is discipline.

In the early morning hours of January 1, 2019, right around the time the New Year’s festivities were wrapping up in most households, the wallet came out as did the laptop – and I registered for the race that has held my heart for the last three years. Coming off a year of injury, my goal for 2019 is not to push distance but instead to get back down to basics, train smartly, and re-build my running foundation for a strong 50K.

Figuring it was a good place to start, I found myself asking the question ‘what works?’ followed by the equally important one of ‘what doesn’t?’ Here’s what I came up with.

#5. A Habit That Works:

Talking your BFF into running the race with you

*Helpful Hint: it always helps if you have enticing pictures to send along with the plea

Why it Works: In choosing the same (or a similar) end goal, a shared experience has been created.

Rationale: Although the day of my first ultramarathon was one for the books, I might even say that the path to get there was even more memorable.

While our race wasn’t until October, as early as April my race partner and I were planning sufferfests (er… training stints) in the name of Race Day. Our long weekends were earmarked to spend hours in the car driving to training destinations, only to spend even longer on foot in whatever technical terrain we were preparing to tackle.

We worked through logistics together. We studied the trails and race course together. We FaceTimed and texted and ran up the usable minutes on our phone plans to report on training, work through uncertainties, and strategize for the main event together. On those long weekends, we suffered together.

When the race was over, not only was I surprised to find that I was well-prepared, but I also realized that the entire process to get there was one big, impactful adventure. Neither feat would have been possible without having my race partner with me along the way.

#4. A Habit That Doesn’t:

RSVPing YES to that group run

*Extra Deterring Deet: Making it on a Saturday when you just. Want. To. Sleep. In.  

Why it Doesn’t Work: As a person who struggles with discipline, what I really need is accountability.

Rationale: There is nothing keeping me from switching the RSVP to NO the night before.

I remember showing up at a group run one Saturday morning (probably with a proud smile on my face, because I had actually made it), when my little secret was all of a sudden publically exposed: ‘YOU’RE Bobbi!’

In my naïve ways of thinking, I thought that retracting my RSVP before the event was a victimless crime, and a hidden victimless crime at that. What I didn’t know was that the run leads received emails when I registered (and were fully aware when that registration not-so-miraculously disappeared). This one, in particular, had noticed my bad habit.

In all honesty, I knew there would be others there and that the run didn’t depend on my presence. That knowledge alone became my personal crutch: Too cold outside? Went to bed 15 minutes past bedtime? All out of Clif Bloks? The excuses were plentiful and the solution was easy – just change the RSVP to no.

Having one person waiting for me at the trailhead? You bet I’ll be up and out of the house to make the 6:00am start time (well, since those who know me might be reading… at least by 6:05).

#3. A Habit that Works:

Accepting the fact that, even if it’s temporary, you’re a ‘runner’ now

*Helpful Hint: Own it! No matter your pace, style, or experience – just own it.

Why it Works: Training is no longer considered something that I have to do (anyone else out there resist obligation like cheeseburgers before race day?) and instead becomes something that I just do.

Rationale: There was a time when an early Saturday run would mean giving up my fun Friday night. As time (and perpetual race registrations) went on, I found the tables started to shift: early Fridays became less a sacrifice, while Saturday mornings in the woods became something of a treat. Those long runs were an excuse to get outside, an opportunity to explore new trails, and often, a reason to see and spend quality time with my running partners who were quickly becoming close friends.

In reframing the situation, the negative connotations my mind conjured up around training dissolved and a whole lot of positive replaced them. Haven’t we all heard? When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at magically start to change.

They say it’s all in the mindset… In this case at least, it really is.

#2. A Habit that Doesn’t:


*Extra Deterring Deet: Do I need one?

Why it doesn’t work: I work in an office. I was sedentary for most of high school and the majority of university. I didn’t start running long distances until I was 30. Apparently, while my mind has accepted that I’m a runner, my legs still have some catching up to do.

Rationale: If there was a meme to summarize my relationship with running, it would be of my heart at a computer perpetually registering for races while the rest of my body sits defiantly with it’s arms crossed saying, ‘I didn’t sign up for this nonsense.’ My mind tries to play the rational peacekeeper between the two.

Physiotherapists and osteopaths have identified that I have muscle imbalances. I will also admit that I don’t usually follow a detailed training plan. If neither of those are reason enough to start strengthening, I’m constantly finding myself out on injury for extended periods of time.

While I’ve heard of – and even met – the elusive, mythical humans that can ‘just run,’ conclusive evidence has stated that, at least for the time being, I am not one of them. I have glutes that don’t fire, ankles that have been favored, and calves that love to stay tighter than next the post to drop from Ultra Running Memes.

If my heart wants my legs to run, after three years of denial I’ve finally accepted that I’m going to have to properly prepare them to do so.

#1. A Habit That Works:

Registering for pretty races.

*Helpful Hint: Follow all the famous ultra runners on social. Study the race issue of Trail Runner magazine thoroughly. Spend hours online looking for races in your favorite places. It’ll find you.

Why it works: Inspiration FTW

Rationale: Putting a pause on the sarcasm, if I set a goal that motivates me, there is a much greater likelihood that I’ll put in the effort to achieve it. All of the other habits listed (both good and bad) have little significance if I’m not inspired to make it to the finish line.

Sometimes that inspiration comes from beautiful scenery, sometimes it comes from a friend or loved one, sometimes it comes from wanting to conquer a brand new challenge. The common denominator here, however, is that there is an active and persistent desire to make it happen.

Already finding myself reviewing training strategies, keeping to my athletic therapy plan, and, lo and behold, actually prioritizing strength training, I can already see inspiration having a positive impact on my disciplinemia. All it took was one registration to a Backcountry Rise (the course photos on Instagram… I just couldn’t resist them*).

*They also worked on my BFF

Looking for other running hacks? Check out our Tips for the Newbie Trail Runner.