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Maintaining a running program was the hardest thing for most people. One sad reality I have seen when I began coaching is a high dropout rate from those that start a program versus those that finish. Since I started tracking runners four who joined my running club, only 60 percent or so made it to the end of the training. That means there was a 40 percent dropout rate. Now, there's a lot of reasons that may play into this.
At first, this really just messed with me a little bit and messed with my head. And I was wondering if it was something I was doing or not doing. But after reaching out to some other coaches, I found that this is a pretty decent average. Retention of members is one thing that many clubs and coaches struggle with.
Clubs are where you tend to have higher success rates anyways just to the social nature and accountability that they can have. So it made me wonder, how many people who don't have club support are dropping out. I don't know of any actual statistics, but I would bet greater than 40 percent of all runners who start end up dropping and quitting.
Here are some common reasons or things that I can think of why we may drop out of running or become inconsistent with running.
5 Reasons You Can't Stick to a Running Program
Not Realizing Time Commitment
So reason number one is that as runners we don't realize, I think, the level of time commitment that's often needed. For example, marathoners and half marathoners fall into this trap a lot. And I'd argue that anyone with two kids and a full-time job working 40 or 50 hours per week and doing sports can still train for a marathon. I've done that a few times and it is a huge time commitment, you know, regardless of whether or not you're running a marathon.
But even those of you who are brand-new to running certainly can do 30 minutes, three times per week. And if you can't commit to that, I would argue that your life is just way out of balance. But for those of you who are running a half or full marathons, there is that high level of commitment that is needed. This commitment is time. Also, the real commitment comes not so much with time, but with just getting our butts out the door to go for a run.
Starting Training Spontaneously Without Having a Plan
Another common reason why we drop out of the running because we may have started up on a whim, for instance, after watching The Biggest Loser night. When the show first aired, I watched several episodes because I just got hooked on the characters and their struggles and it motivated me to want to exercise.
For weeks, I would sit on my butt eating chips and watching a show about losing weight, which is kind of funny. I mean, I ate chips and I got so motivated to exercise except that I always said, I'll start tomorrow
Sometimes we can get motivated and actually take action when the idea pops in the head and we get caught up in the moment and say “hey, I want to do this”, and we head out and we actually do start. But then after a few days, reality sets in, and for whatever reason, you're not into it like when the idea popped in first in your head.
Pushing Yourself Too Hard
For most of us, I'd argue, 99% of us, we start off our running program way too fast, way too aggressive, and we get excited and we push ourselves too hard. Our lungs are burning and we sometimes push ourselves to where we feel nauseous or we get so sore we get shin splints or just get frustrated because the level of suck is so high. We just don't start conservative enough, which often leads to people just not enjoying it and dropping out of running.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation is a feeling that comes and goes and you're not always going to feel motivated, just like other emotions, motivation is temporary. So if you're someone who struggles with motivation, you're going to need to work on that as well. And we all do. And here are some factors that I think can help with motivation.
Motivation Factors for Runners
The Real-Life Motivational Story
So often we get motivated or at least I get motivated by watching or hearing about other people's inspirational stories. And I can go on YouTube and see somebody really transform their life through weight loss and instantly feel like I need to go lose weight. Another example is listening to the story of somebody who managed to fight cancer or overcome a disability. That kind of stuff inspires me and it motivates me. It gets me fired up.
Another factor that can impact motivation is the weather. For example, let's say it's hot, you’re going into the summer here in the United States. I often don't feel like training in the heat because to me it's just miserable. I would much rather run during the wintertime. But if the temperature, say, drops 10 degrees, all of a sudden I just got this a little more pep in my step.
I get energy and motivation. I want to go for a run and I just feel faster. In fact, I do go faster. And if you ever wondered, by the way, why you run slower in hot weather than you do in colder weather, and that's because more blood is going away from your muscle cells and towards the surface of your skin. This way, your sweat glands and water, and your cells can resupply the sweat, and that's where the liquid where your sweat comes from. And since not this much oxygen is headed to your muscles, your body fatigues faster.
You may get this feeling of being whipped up and tired from the heat that can kill motivation. I know as it does for me.
Another factor that can help with motivation is just hanging around people who have a positive influence. For me, initially, the whole reason for joining a running club was to become accountable and to force myself to feel like I had to be there at a certain time so I wouldn't let my training partners down.
Some of the best training partners I had were not the ones who were going around, doubting everything they did or whining and complaining. My best training partners were the ones who really redirected my negative thoughts and said “Steve, you can do this”, or “Steve, we're almost there”.
The Lack of Commitment
Another reason we often quit is we just simply lack the commitment. Commitment is doing everything necessary to ensure you stay on track, regardless of how motivated you feel. If you struggle with commitment, you may need to create conditions that will help you stay motivated. Again, I'm a big fan of training partners, coaching, and running clubs.
Also, if you're struggling with commitment issues, it may be a sign that you're also biting off more than you can chew. So clearly, if you're extremely busy clear your calendar ahead of time instead of waiting for that day. Move things around if you have to. You can still fit those other things in, but you may have to just spread them out a little bit further apart and look for the little things you can do that you can back up together.
For example, if you have a lot of things going on during every single day of the week, see if you can knock them out and say, leaving two days of the week free.
I run errands on my rest days. I sometimes will pull into a gas station to top off my tank when I drive by one rather than wait until it's getting empty. Because what I found is Murphy's Law always states that when you need to fill up your gas tank, it always falls on the busiest day of the week. Or at least it seems that way to me.
By the way, if your training plan has you running today and off tomorrow and there's just no way you can get a run in today, you know, just switch days, it's OK. You can move things around. Just try to keep alternating between hard and easy pace days. Moving around workouts won't really hurt you, but you may have to change up what you have planned. So you may need to do a hard workout or do an easy workout, depending on what you did before in the overall scope of training or the training season.
Training is like putting pennies in a jar, so every mile is a penny, and every time you work out, you put a penny in the jar. Each penny in and of itself isn't worth much. Just like each run or each mile overtime isn't or by itself isn't worth much. But over time, pennies add up, these miles add up. So, focus on getting those pennies or getting those miles in the jar.
But again, do it smart. If you have to run a few days in a row and you know you're really due for a rest day, but it's the only day of the week left that you can run, go ahead and work out, but just keep it light. You certainly wouldn't want to go off and do a high-intensity tempo run on a day that you should really be taking it easy.
Self-Doubt and Negative Thinking
Another reason we kind of fall off the running is that we often have lots of self-doubt or thoughts that we're too busy. That's normal, but we have to get on with it, we have to move on, and actually, there's a technique. It's called redirection, and that's a great technique for dealing with negative thoughts that may enter your brain. The negative thoughts can be like “I’m bad”, “I’m just not a good runner” or “Well, I think I'll just push off my run until tomorrow”. These are certainly negative thoughts that come and go and pop in our heads all the time.
The key with redirection is basically to just deflect it and move on and try to immediately redirect your attention to something else. You can use this technique even on race day.
So for those of you who run marathons or half marathons or you're in the long run, there's always some level of anxiety. It may be the fear of bonking before a race and hitting a wall. It may be the fear of going out too fast or fading at the end or getting injured or sick right before race day. And these things are certainly possible outcomes that could happen. A lot of these are in your control but a lot of them are outside of our control and there's not a darn thing we can do about it. You can't prevent yourself from getting sick before a race day.
And if it happens, it's not the end of the world. But, you have to put your training in balance. You have to put your life in balance. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. You may have to change your goal to a new one for the things that are in your control, those things that you can focus on, and come up with remediation techniques to try to avoid that.
So if you're worried about going out too fast, set your watch and actually pay attention to it. Or if you're somebody that tends to go out too fast and you don't have a GPS watch, it's probably worth some money to go pick one up. So we all have these feelings that pop in these negative thoughts and we need to understand that these negative thoughts lead to negative emotions and negative emotions become toxic. They're going to get in your head and they're going to grow like a weed in your mind, and they're going to strangle any sort of peace of mind that you have. If you allow them to continue to fester, to grow, they're just going to mess with your will to do anything positive for yourself.
Sometimes, I go through these phases where I get into this negative mindset and I really let it drag my mood and my emotions down. And this type of thinking in this type of mood often leads to negative things that feed upon itself. You'll stop running, you’ll lose this desire to run as often. You're going to eat like crap because you're going to be thinking “hey, what's the point?”. Eating healthy, eating clean is hard. You'll start telling yourself that you won't be able to finish marathon training or run that first 5K.
And for some, these thoughts often come into play during that first time, that first run or the first training run that didn't just go as planned. And you start doubting yourself in these thoughts popping into your head.
There's no magic pill that makes these go away. What seemed to work with people I've coached is that not allowing the thoughts to even get passed. I kind of allow them and understand that they're going to pop into my head, but then immediately put up a wall, deflect them and block them out. Again, these thoughts, they build on each other, they can create a snowball effect that when something else goes wrong, it just reinforces the negative thoughts and it just continues to go on and on and on.
These thoughts just really make you question your weaknesses. So, just stay positive, stay with it, and learn that those thoughts are normal and just learn how to redirect them.
Tips to Manage Your Negative Thoughts
If you have a hard time deflecting negative thoughts or they keep popping back in, here's a little tip that I found helpful if it can be done safely and you're on a trail.
Use your iPhone or Smartphone or iPod or whatever it is you carry around that plays music. On one hand, these devices can be annoying, but on the other hand, they can be a lifesaver. And so change the song, change something, push buttons, do anything you can to take your mind off the thought, use music, change the tone of the music, find uplifting music.
Conversation with Running Partner
If you're running with somebody, here's another tip. Force a conversation with your training partner. Talking to somebody will make your run fly by. But there are times during runs, especially when you start getting tired and you're having a hard time. A lot of times the conversation will go quiet and you just won't maintain that conversation. You go through periods of time where you're kind of internalizing things.
But if you're running with somebody and one of these negative thoughts pops in your head, you're starting to get tired or you're starting to fade, just start the conversation with the partner or change the topic.
Also, if your partner starts to complain that they're feeling sore, work it out with them ahead of time that you're going to change the subject and change it to something that keeps their mind off of it. You can often turn around your running partner's attitude simply by just changing the conversation and it creates a distraction. So I guess just to wrap it up, a positive mental attitude is a key.
Lack of Proper Training
Another factor that causes people to drop out of running programs is just a lack of proper training. There are so many resources available when it comes to training. But lack of training can lead to injury, frustration, and not progressing to your potential. It can cause you to go too aggressive, too conservatively.
So I recommend getting a coach, finding a mentor, listening to podcasts, reading books, learning different ways, and following proven plans.
Don't forget about nutrition. Try to experiment a bit and find out if low carb, moderate carb, high carb works for you.
I highly suggest a book I recently read, “Diet Cults” by Matt Fitzgerald. The biggest thing I learned from this is to stop believing that anyone’s style of eating is the only way to eat. Different diets, whether it's the Mediterranean diet or paleo or gluten-free diet, they all have their pros and cons. And there is no single way, no single right way to eat. There is only one way that only works for you. Just eat clean, eat healthy, and have a wide variety of foods, find out what does work for you.
And the biggest issue I have with some of these so-called diets is that most insist that they're the only way to eat, and that's just pure crap. Your way or my way or everybody else's way or the latest diet's way is bad, it's just that most are overhyped.
Variety, Balance, and Moderation is the Key
When it comes to training, moderation is the key. Just like moderation is a key to a lot of things, variety is even better. So I'm going to suggest that you don't just be a runner. And I'm the biggest hypocrite when it comes to this last point.
I love to run, but I often do it to the detriment of other things. You know, I used to love to hike the bike to fish. OK, so fishing is not really an exercise, at least not here in the Midwest. But I used to love doing things like lifting weights and so on, and I just don't have time anymore.
And I suggest trying substituting into your routine. Try things like yoga, rollerblading, whatever brings variety to your life.
These are all great things, again, if we do it in moderation. Find things that complement running, try to find things that are a combination of strength, mobility, and flexibility, and then combine that with some form of cardio, whether that's swimming, biking, or running.
One thing I have never tried, but I may try soon if I can get my nerve up to learn how to swim better is a triathlon. I think triathletes are some of the best athletes and they certainly mix it up between the three activities, cycling, swimming, and running. And because of it, I strongly feel that in most cases they're better athletes than runners in general. And, you know, the point of this is that we really need to change things up. We need to change our scenery. We need to hit muscles that we don't normally hit with running.
And, of course, stay focused and persistent and educated and keep learning when it comes to training. And if you do this kind of stuff, you'll stay engaged. You won't get bored with running, you'll stay active and you'll stick with your training long term. Run during all seasons. Don't take winter off, I mean, there's gear that will keep you warm. If you're cold, there's better gear that will keep you warm and you'll certainly warm up within the first half mile to a mile if you get going.
At least go to the gym and do something like take a spinning class, plot some sort of group exercise or even use a treadmill if you have to. And for me, I'd rather poke my eyes out, then run on a treadmill but that's just me. If you enjoy it, do it certainly.
So these are all things that I think could help you stay on track. The variety has been called the spice of life. It really gives us different perspectives and allows us to be more well-rounded.
And I hope you found this article helpful. I’ve covered these types of things that derail most runners. In order to stick to the program, you have to develop training skills, things like mindset, and habits, these are the things that are the hardest. If you can master the head game, you're going to master the physical one just by default.
So, keep it up, keep trying. And if you have a bad day, you have a bad week or a month, just try again. It's not the end of the world. Teach your mind and your body what it takes to win by being persistent and staying positive. Each month, each day you stick with it, it gets a little easier. And, you know, just be wary that you can fall off the running bandwagon even when things are going perfect. Even the most experienced of runners will go through phases.
So, be mindful, be aware, deflect those negative thoughts.
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