Keep making the same mistakes over and over? Here are tested strategies for breaking the cycle.
Most runners have at least one or two bad habits they’d like to ditch. Here’s how five athletes changed some of their most ingrained practices – for the better.
Bad Habit: Going out too fast
How I Broke It: Buddying up
As a track and cross-country runner for Chicago’s Loyola University, Ally Spiroff frequently started races too swiftly, only to fade by the finish. Her coach, spotting the trend, advised her to shadow a training partner with a similar pace but superior racing strategy. Under her teammate’s tutelage, Spiroff learned that if she started slower, she was able to kick it into high gear at the end and finish strong, Spiroff says.
The strategy stuck with her after her 2015 graduation. At the Chicago Marathon last year, she started the race with a training buddy. “Because she helped me keep my chill in the beginning, we were able to feel solid throughout and run a 3:06 marathon debut,” says Spiroff, now 24.
Bad Habit: Sleeping poorly
How I Broke It: Putting down the phone and picking up a book
Alia Gray, who runs for the Roots Running Project, loves connecting with the running community on social media. But routinely scrolling Instagram or checking work emails (she’s also a freelance copywriter) before bed exposed her eyes to glowing screens and her mind to stress. “If I see an email at 9:45 at night that I know I’m not going to do anything about, it doesn’t tend to do anything good for sleep and recovery,” she says.
During her ramp-up to October’s Chicago Marathon (where she came in 10th last year) Gray set a target bedtime of 10pm. And when she gets there, she reads an actual book, on paper. She gravitates toward nonfiction about overcoming challenges – recent picks include Grit by Angela Duckworth and The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday – or poems like those in The Essential Rumi.
Already, she feels more rested and better equipped to handle gruelling marathon training. The next step for her and her fiancé? “We’ve been talking about getting a regular analog alarm clock and setting the phones out of the bedroom – but we’re not quite there yet,” she says.
Bad Habit: Letting myself quit hard workouts
How I Broke It: Finish it, no matter how slowly
Lauren Paquette knows that long repeats, like 1000m or 1600m, play a key role in preparing her for her primary event, the 5000m. But about once a month or so, she’d struggle to complete these types of sessions. “If I was having an off day or struggling to hit the paces I felt like I should be, I would just end the workout prematurely – not finish it at all,” she says.
She realised letting herself off the hook in workouts was giving her licence to do the same on race day, leading to a string of disappointing performances.
So she promised herself she’d complete every workout, even if it meant slowing down. To stay focused, she’d remind herself that 30 to 35 minutes of discomfort on the track meant she wouldn’t endure hours of beating herself up for not trying her hardest later.
The shift has paid off, she says. After several years of struggling to crack the top 10 at races, the Paquette, 31, ran 15:25.06 to place sixth at a recent national championship event. She’ll test her fitness and mental strength again at another 5K championship event in November.
Bad Habit: Not flossing
How I Broke It: Starting a streak – which helps with other routines, too
The Australian Dental Association recommends flossing once per day to remove plaque brushing can’t reach. Scott Dawson knew it – but still didn’t take the extra step. “It was uncomfortable, so I didn’t do it,” he says.
Determined to change his ways, Dawson began using an iPhone app called Streaks (A$7.99/NZ$8.99, iOS), which tracked his progress in numbers, charts and graphs. “The satisfaction of checking it off and seeing my streak count grow gave me added incentive to not skip,” he says.
Now that dental hygiene is a no-brainer, Dawson has used the app to boost other daily habits – for instance, doing pushups, setting aside time for writing and learning Spanish. Streaks allows you to track up to 12 good habits you want to start – or bad ones you’d like to break – at a time. Don’t have iOS? Try HabitHub, free for up to five habits; Android.
Bad Habit: Lousy eating
How I broke it: A meal delivery service
While at university, middle-distance runner Drew Windle found it easy to eat well-balanced meals in the dining hall. But when he graduated and joined the Brooks Beasts, he struggled at first, eating too-large portions and too few vegetables. He gained weight, slowed down, and struggled to recover from his training.
With the help of Brooks team dietitian Dr Kyle Pfaffenbach, Windle began tracking his meals, aiming to fuel his training with the right balance of carbs, fats and proteins. He also learned to cook a few simple recipes. As his racing schedule intensified, he signed up for a delivery service, Hello Fresh. “This made eating a low-stress and low-energy activity for me,” he says. “I could mindlessly pick meals that would be sent to me.” The directions were easy to follow, and the meals were well balanced. And they tasted good.
Thanks in part to his improved diet, he believes, Windle had a stellar year – he came from behind and ran a personal best 1:44.95 to place third at the USA Track & Field Championships in June. On July 6, he logged a new PB of 1:44.63. And he’s feeling great: “I find that my recovery between workouts is better than ever before,” he says.