Starting a Running Habit

"Why did you start running?" reporters ask again and again.

I never find an answer that satisfies either the reporters or myself. It's difficult to reconstruct my situation more than 20 years ago, almost impossible to know for certain what was going on in my body and mind - and more particularly my soul.

This leads to my response to the next most frequently asked question: "When do you plan to stop running?"

Never, of course.
George Sheehan, author of Personal Best
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So how does running become a habit for someone? For context, researchers tracked people as they tried to form a new habit related to eating, drinking, or some other specific activity. On average it took participants 66 days to form a new habit - what the researchers called “reaching automaticity.” At an individual level, however, the range was broad. Some people took just 18 days to form a new habit while others took over 200. Fortunately, a famous coach tackled this question when it comes to running: Bill Bowerman, track coach at the University of Oregon from 1948 to 1972. Bowerman was an innovator in the sport of running. The shoes that runners wear today are inspired versions of his original “waffle tread” design in his capacity as co-founder of Nike. If you’ve ever been on a rubberized athletic track, this was another one of his innovations.

In 1963, after he began his own regular running routine, Bowerman set his sights on how to introduce running to adults with a job and a family, rather than just for the university-aged runners he worked with on the track team. 
Freedom from Sedentary Living...New runners using the University of Oregon track during the winter of 1963

As the picture above shows, in the middle of winter, Bowerman invited residents of Eugene to come out for a run. Day one at the University of Oregon track, 200 new runners showed up; on day two, 300 showed; and on day three, 1,500 showed. News of the run spread through the community like wildfire! Recalling this event, Bowerman said, “It got completely out of hand. I told the people to go home until I could work out some programs.” By this unexpected response, it showed that Bowerman had tapped into a powerful motivation source in the community. With relatively few options for physical activity like we have today, people viewed running as a way to be free from the grasp of sedentary living. Running help counteract the effects of sitting at a desk during work hours and sitting at home in front of the television at night. Also, the attraction of running centres on the near universal ability of run. Yet, for those living a sedentary lifestyle, part of learning to run is remembering how to run.

Some other issues needed to be worked out before proceeding, too. One being that, although he responded very well to a regular running program, Bowerman did not know if running would indeed benefit the typical middle-aged person. In fact, in the 1960s, many cardiologists believed that physical exertion would endanger people! Consequently, he formed a partnership with a Eugene-based cardiologist, Dr. Waldo Harris. The two then conducted research trials on the effects of running using volunteers; and, later they came out with the book, “Jogging - A Physical Fitness Program for All Ages” (cover below); which had a range of schedules for those starting from different levels of physical fitness. Bowerman considered it important for the runner to follow a schedule, as he stated, "Written schedules are probably the simplest possible way to make specific assignments for workouts. The runners don't have to wait for a busy coach or assistant to tell them what to do. And being provided with their assignments for at least two weeks and up to three months in advance, runners are better able to coordinate their class and exercise schedules work, study, and recreation times."
By using a schedule, the budding runner scheduled running into their day
A Running Program for All Ages...Bowerman & Harris' book contained running schedules for a variety of starting points

By developing schedules and making running a SCHEDULED EVENT, not only was Bowerman getting new runners to use their muscles; he also got them to tap into this motivation for freedom from sedentary life. In following a schedule that slowly builds in physical challenge, a new runner has a better chance to WILL themselves into physical exercise. Also, a schedule makes running SIMPLE for fitting in one’s daily routine. Bowerman believed new runners did not need to give up anything to take on their new running program. As he stated, “You can grow fit without greatly changing your personal habits. Within reason, you can still eat what you like . . . take a drink. Remember only that good sense is the best guide to healthful living.” 

Another important feature, new runners were given the chart below with the following directions: “Check off each day’s jogging, and this chart will be a reminder to keep your workout schedule, as well as yourself, in good shape. Check it daily.” Therefore, this checklist made the runner SELF-ACCOUNTABLE. Before your eyes get too wide by running being a DAILY EVENT, the schedules follow a hard day - easy day sequence. For instance, after a hard day with a run, Bowerman had new runners taking an easy day of stretching and brisk walking for 10 - 15 minutes. 

A Route to Make Running a Reliable Form of Exercise...In addition to a schedule, using a checklist makes the runner personally accountable

These schedules Bowerman developed for new runners were based on adapted versions of track workouts given to university runners. For instance, like his university runners, Bowerman assigned intervals to do, albeit adapted. With schedules containing different runs, new runners were encouraged to embrace variety. In addition, variety of location is important to practice running, as stated in his book, “Jog right out the door, jog in a schoolyard, on a city street, at the beach, on a country road, or a vacant lot. Jog down a bicycle path, on a school track, around a golf course, through a park, in a backyard, in a gymnasium, in a supermarket parking lot – anywhere.” As a result, a running habit is encouraged through VARIETY in training schedule, setting, and terrain.

Bill Bowerman’s efforts to make running a reliable routine for adults provides several key ingredients for starting a running habit:
- Running needs to be a DAILY EVENT that is SCHEDULED into the runner’s day;
- Even on EASY DAYS, the runner is doing something to get ready for the next run;
- The running schedule is SIMPLE to fit into a daily routine and new runners did not need to give up anything to take on their new running program. 
- The runner is PERSONALLY ACCOUNTABLE when following this schedule.
- The schedule should include a VARIETY of runs, locations, and terrains.
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Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel.


Link to live event video on 'Starting a Running Habit'...

As mentioned in the video, Bill Bowerman's running schedule was:
Monday: Run 4 minutes, walk to recover. Repeat 6 times.
Tuesday: Stretching exercises, 5 to 10 minutes brisk walk.
Wednesday: New Zealand Fartlek, 20 minutes.
Thursday: Stretching exercises, 5 to 10 minute walk.
Friday: Run 8 minutes, walk to recover, repeat twice. Run 4 minutes, walk to recover.
Saturday: Long easy run
Sunday: rest.