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Not enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough discipline.

Are these really the reasons it’s so hard to run consistently?

Do you start a training plan that works for a while, but then no matter how hard you try, feels impossible to follow?

Do you insist that you’re not really a runner because you lack the discipline to run consistently? And then you berate yourself silently for not being more committed?

You’re extremely hard working, disciplined and committed in other areas of your life. So why do you struggle to run consistently?

First off, you don’t lack the discipline or commitment when it comes to running. That’s not the issue.

In fact, running consistently isn’t about working harder than you are already.

What’s Really Happening

What you perceive as a lack of time or discipline for running comes down to having to make choices about what to do with your time. And these are really hard choices. Every day you must choose between going for a run and other things of equally high value. For example:

  • Getting more things done at work or home vs. going for a run
    This you feel as though you don’t have enough time, resulting in frustration and feelings of failure.
  • Getting enough sleep and rest vs. going for a run
    This manifests as feeling constantly haggard, exhausted, sleep-deprived.
  • Spending time with our loved ones (spouses, children) vs. running with friends or alone
    This manifests as guilt about for having to choose between the people you love and yourself.

Facing these seemingly impossible choices is simply not fair. But there is a solution.

The first step is to re-frame the issue so don’t have to make such choices. Acknowledge that yes, there will always be a long to-do list, you’ll always need more sleep, and your loved ones will always want more of your time and attention. And you shouldn’t have to sacrifice running to have those things.

Finding time to run isn’t about choosing your running over something else, rather, running is what happens in support of all the other things that need your time and energy. To see how this applies to real-world situations, I asked runners during a recent  workshop what kept them from running consistently.

Case Study 1: Too Tired To Run

I find it difficult to stick to this practice running when my body feels not rested. I have lots of interrupted nights because of my small child waking, or underlying stress that makes me wake up. When I feel that my body hasn’t rested, I can’t even conceive of running that day. Is there a way of overcoming this and just running anyway? It feels like a titanic effort.” –Macarena

My Response: In this exhausted, sleep-deprived state, your body isn’t going to be able to build fitness anyway. Your body probably lacks the resources (energy) necessary to make your muscles stronger and cardiovascular system more efficient.

Therefore, what would serve you best is approaching your run as a way to release stress and boost your energy. Making that your intention allows you to approach your run with gentle expectation of yourself, and a light, playful attitude that re-energizes you instead of exhausts and depletes you.

This way, running isn’t something that only happens when you feel fully rested, energized and had a perfect nights’ sleep. Instead, it happens in order for you to have the energy and presence of mind to make smart, healthy choices throughout the day, including getting to bed earlier and proactively managing stress so it doesn’t wake you up at night.

Case Study 2: Family Needs Me

My biggest challenge is fitting training in to our social calendar when my spouse doesn’t run. (…) One of us is always giving something up. It works but [running] is one more thing to balance in with work schedules, family, etc.”–Melissa

My Response: Melissa, it sounds as though the fact that your spouse doesn’t run leaves you feeling torn between going for a run and spending time with your family.

This is a tough one because guilt is a powerful feeling, and one that comes up often for women who have to when choose between family and their running.

To re-frame your situation, consider the idea that running is how you show up best for your spouse and your family. The people who love you and count on you need you to be present for them. And I’m not talking physically present, but also mentally and energetically present.

But that’s really hard to do when you’re depleted, exhausted or stressed out. You know that running makes you a better person and makes you happy. It’s hard to be that way when when you’re not running regularly.

So it really doesn’t matter if you are physically in the same room with your spouse if your mind is elsewhere or your energy is so low that you can barely give them the attention he or she needs from you right now. When running is part of your day, then you’re raising the quality of the time spent with your family.

Case Study 3: Endless To-Do List

 “My biggest issue with running consistently is time. I always feel great after a run but making time is tough. I work full time as a middle school principal & I am finishing my dissertation to complete my doctorate degree. I used to run several distance trail runs annually. Now, I just feel awful because I am nowhere near the fitness level I used to be.”– Celine

My Response:

Like a lot of hard-working, extremely driven women who run, keeping busy and being highly productive feels good to you. And that’s one of the reasons you’re so drawn to running: it’s a deeply satisfying, invigorating thing to do. As humans, we’re totally built for it from a physiological standpoint.

But that’s not enough to satisfy the analytical part of your brain that is acutely aware of how much is on your to-do list and what you need to get DONE today.

Here’s the thing: productivity has less to do with time than it does with attention. Studies have shown that your ability to focus on the present moment determines your productivity level far more than the amount of time spent on a particular task.

Other studies have shown that the time it takes to complete a task will expand to fill the time you’ve allotted. Budget less time to complete something, and chances are you’ll still get it done. Have you heard how countries in Europe are starting to institute mandated shorter work weeks? This is in response to the growing body of evidence that working fewer hours actually helps us accomplish more and experience less burnout in the process.

Now what does this mean for your running? It means that your daily run helps you optimize the time you spend working on your dissertation. Going for a run before you sit down on the desk oxygenates your body, refreshes your mind and slows distracting thoughts so that you can stay focused and get more work done is less time. You’re doing yourself a huge favor by scheduling run time during work time.

Four Steps to Running More Consistently

If you’re wondering how to put these ideas to work for you, here are the specific action steps that will help you run more consistently, without the stress, guilt and conflict you may be feeling right now.

1.Identify what choice or compromise you are facing in order to make time for running.

What’s getting in the way or making you feel conflicted? Are there specific people involved? Commitments, jobs taking up your time and energy? Make a list of all the things that come to mind.

2. Set an intention to re-frame the obstacle. 

An intention is not a goal or objective, like declaring, “I will run today no matter what!” Rather, your intention determines how you want to feel. For example, “Considering my energy level today, I intend to run in a way that will clear my head and leave me feeling more refreshed when I finish than how I feel right now.”

Or, for another example: “Today’s run will help me cultivate the patience and presence my family will deserves starting at 5 pm tonight.”

3. Write down your intention and post it someplace you’ll see it often.

Look at it first thing in the morning and again throughout the day to remind yourself of how running fits in with and supports everything else going on in your life and why it’s such a critical part of you day.

4. With your intention clearly in your mind, identify the space in your day into which running fits beautifully.

Instead of seeing your day blocked out with obligation and to-do’s, look for the space and opportunity to run. It’s there, and it’s waiting for your to claim it for what is arguably the most important thing you can do for yourself.

I encourage you to put these four steps into action for the next few days and see what happens. You’ll probably find that it’s a lot easier to see opportunities in place of obstacles.