Always go for a run, even if it’s raining

Hacks for sticking with something you want to do long-term

“silhouette photo of a person running on road” by lucas Favre on Unsplash

I can be a terrible, terrible procrastinator. Given half a chance, I will put stuff off until either the last minute or until it’s too late. Running could easily be one of those things if I let it. My natural state of mind would see me saying, yep, going for a run today and then finding a million excuses why I needed to wait: answer my emails first, make those phone calls first, read that report first, or indeed wait until it’s stopped raining first.

And then when I was out running the other week, it was a cold, rainy and windy day — and as I got to the highest point of my run, out of breath from the mile-long climb I’d just finished, I thought whenever I go for a run, regardless of the conditions, I never regret it. In fact I should always go for a run, even if it’s raining. The acknowledgement of the human condition to find excuses to avoid the things that on the face of it feel uncomfortable or inconvenient, combined with the faith that once you are out there you are glad that you ignored them, is what made me think that there are a series of hacks that I use to stick to my goals. I’m relating them to running, but they could be applied to anything really. Here are some of my hacks:

1. Only commit to something you could continue with forever

I need to lose 50lbs so I’m going to go to the gym every day, give up alcohol and juice fast until my weight comes down.

If you have the will-power, that could theoretically lose those 50lbs for you. Going to the gym every day could maybe burn a couple of pounds of fat each week. Limiting your calories to 500/day could possibly lose you another 5lbs or so, too (depending on how heavy you were to start with). But it would be horrible and you’d almost certainly fail.

You are far better off committing to something you know you can do forever with a bit of effort. It might take longer to reach your weight goal if that’s what you are looking for, but at least when you get there you have every reason to stay there because by then you will have built up an achievable habit. And we all know that the great thing about habits is that they are hard to break. Examples might be:

· Going for a 3 mile run twice a week

· Not drinking alcohol during the week

· Writing a blog article and publishing it once a fortnight

· Reading one book a month on your commute to work

· Going on a date-night with your partner every other week

None of these things would be an impossible task if you set your mind to them. And importantly, if you fell off the wagon once or twice, it wouldn’t be that hard to get back on again. But the key thing is deciding on something and then making a commitment to do it, more or less, forever.

My running commitment is the 1,000 mile challenge: which is basically running 1,000 miles in a year. OK, a year isn’t forever, but it’s a pretty long time and when I get to the end, I can just start over. 1,000 miles a year equates to just under 20 miles a week. Which is just under 3 miles a day on average. I generally tend to run 4 days a week and run between 3.5 and 7 miles each time. So for me, this is achievable with a bit of effort and something I can see myself doing indefinitely.

But the great thing about committing only to things you can definitely do (with a little effort) is that you are simultaneously more likely to achieve your goals AND whenever you exceed them, you can feel super-smug about it.

2. Make micro-contracts with yourself

Kind of like an “If This, Then That” approach. For me, I tend to work from home 2–3 days a week. On those days I go for a run. I figure that rather than commuting on the train, I commit to spending that time going for a run. It’s like a double whammy of virtue: not only does it force me to get out, once I’m running I also feel supremely lucky that I’m bounding through the countryside breathing in fresh air instead of sitting in a railway carriage breathing in everyone else’s germs.

But this could work for anything you want to achieve over time. Want to write a book? Make a contract with yourself that when your partner goes to her evening class, you spend that time writing. A couple of hours a week is a 100 hours a year. Could you write a first draft in that time?

3. Create strategies that prevent you from overthinking

The last thing you want is to start creating choices, because each decision is also an obstacle you have to navigate before you can get started: shall I go for a run and if so what time should I go? And when I go, shall I run 3 miles or 5 miles? And if I run 5 miles, should I go off-road or keep to the path? And if it’s off road, should I run by the river or up through the woods? By the time you’ve mentally answered your questionnaire you’ll have talked yourself out of it.

To counteract that, there are a couple of things that work for me:

Firstly, I put on my running stuff as soon as I wake up. I don’t think about anything beyond the fact that because I’m working from home that day I put my kit on (If This, Then That). Doing that is far more likely to get me out of the door than having a shower, getting dressed and then thinking whether or not I should do some exercise later on.

Secondly, I have two “go-to” runs: one shorter with a really steep hill and one less extreme but longer. The first half a mile is the same for each run, but after that they split off in one of two directions. I can do any variation of those if I want to, but in the absence of any specific inspiration, I know I don’t have to think too hard — I just open my front door and start running. And I’ve got a good half mile to decide whether I’m going steep or long, by which time there’s no turning back.

4. Go early, if you can

It’s not always easy, especially if you’re the type of person who struggles to get up early, but going for a run before the world (or your family) is awake has three key advantages:

1. It means less time for you to think about it (see point 3); just go while you’re still waking up and by the time you start wondering whether or not this is a good idea, you’re already mid-flight.

2. When it’s all quiet and the sun is just rising, it’s a magical time of the day.

3. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve already done your run before the day has started for everyone else.

5. Ditch the guilt

While we all might feel guilty when we fail to go for a run, ironically, the opposite might also be true. It can sometimes seem self-indulgent to give yourself an hour of ‘me time’ when that report needs writing, or the kitchen needs cleaning.

Anyone who has that odd feeling that they are somehow playing hooky from work by going for a run, even if there is nobody telling you that you can’t, will know what I mean. The key here is that you have to stop saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone. It’s not a crime to say no. Everyone has a finite amount of time and if one of those things you want to do with it is run, or meditate, or write a blog, then you have to be single-minded about protecting that — and not feel guilty about doing so.

6. Always go for a run, even if it’s raining

The title of this article. You have to believe that nothing and I mean NOTHING will stop you from doing your thing. Whether it’s raining, or snowing, or the wind is so strong you think you might take off, you will go for that run regardless. This is probably the most important one of them all. Consistency is what keeps you on track and you have to guard that selfishly. Make a pact today that whatever you commit to doing, no external factor will prevent you in your quest.*

7. But… don’t sweat it if you fall off the wagon

Whilst you should always go for a run, even if it’s raining, there will of course be times when you miss one, or go a week without writing, or catch a nasty cold, or slip up in another way. It happens. But it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and you may as well give up and go back to your old ways. Just carry on as you were before and think of it as a bump along the road.

*Obviously don’t go for a run if you are injured, or it’s dangerous!