5 Ways to Stay Motivated for December Runs (According to Science!)

As the temperature drops and the holiday season picks up, even the most dedicated runners can find their motivation waning.

December brings shorter days, colder weather, and a busy social calendar – all of which can make sticking to a running routine more challenging.

However, the benefits of running during the winter months are numerous, including maintaining your fitness level, managing holiday stress, and even combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with regular exposure to natural light during daytime runs (Mayo Clinic).

Set Specific December Running Goals

Goal setting is a powerful motivator. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals can give you a roadmap to success and a huge psychological boost.

Research shows that setting specific exercise goals can lead to increased physical activity, which can be especially beneficial during the sedentary winter months (American Journal of Preventive Medicine).

How to Set December Running Goals:

  1. Be Realistic: Consider the unique challenges of December, such as holiday obligations and inclement weather, and set goals that are attainable within these constraints.
  2. Make It Measurable: Whether it’s total miles run, number of workouts, or consistency in running each week, having a quantifiable goal will help you track your progress.
  3. Stay Relevant: Align your goals with your long-term running ambitions, whether that’s building endurance, speed, or simply staying active.
  4. Time-Bound: Give yourself the month of December to achieve your goals, creating a sense of urgency and purpose.

Practical Tips:

  • Start Small: If you’re new to running or getting back into it, begin with shorter distances and gradually increase your mileage.
  • Plan Your Runs: Schedule your runs like any other important appointment, ensuring you prioritize your running time.
  • Track Your Progress: Use a running app or journal to log your runs and celebrate each achievement, no matter how small.

By setting clear goals for December, you’ll have a roadmap that can help you navigate through the temptations to skip runs and instead, keep lacing up those running shoes all month long.

Create a Running Advent Calendar

Embrace the season with a fun twist.

The advent calendar is a beloved holiday tradition that you can creatively adapt to your running routine.

Instead of opening a door to a piece of chocolate, you can reveal a new running challenge or route for each day leading up to Christmas. This approach not only adds an element of surprise to your runs but also keeps you engaged with a daily dose of novelty and excitement.

How to Craft Your Running Advent Calendar:

  1. Mix It Up: Include a variety of workouts such as interval training, hill repeats, long slow runs, and recovery runs.
  2. Get Festive: Plan runs that take you past holiday decorations or through festive neighborhoods.
  3. Involve Others: Invite friends or family members to join you on certain days, turning your run into a social event.

Practical Tips:

  • Prepare in Advance: Pre-plan the calendar to avoid decision fatigue and ensure each run has a purpose.
  • Visualize Your Calendar: Create a physical or digital advent calendar where you can check off each day’s run, giving you a sense of accomplishment.
  • Be Flexible: Life happens, especially during the holiday season. If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off, no guilt necessary.

A running advent calendar is not only a fun way to count down to Christmas, but it also provides structure to your running schedule, helping you stay on track during one of the busiest times of the year.

Join a Running Group or Find a Running Buddy

The Power of Community Running with others can provide a significant motivational boost.

According to a study by the Journal of Social Sciences, participants tend to extend their workout time when exercising with a partner, especially when that partner is supportive (Journal of Social Sciences). December’s chill can be more easily braved with companionship and the shared commitment of a running group or buddy.

Finding Your Running Tribe:

  1. Local Running Clubs: Many communities have running clubs that host group runs. These clubs often cater to all levels and are a great way to meet new people.
  2. Online Communities: Virtual running groups can offer support and accountability. Platforms like Strava or Reddit have active running communities where you can find virtual running partners.
  3. Running Stores: Check with local running stores for group run schedules. They often have weekly meetups and welcome newcomers.

Practical Tips:

  • Commit to Regular Meetups: Having a set schedule with others will help you stay accountable.
  • Set Shared Goals: If possible, find a running partner or group with similar goals to keep each other motivated.
  • Stay Connected: Use group chats or social media to encourage each other and share your running experiences.

Whether it’s the camaraderie, the shared struggle against the cold, or the simple act of scheduling, running with others can make a significant difference in maintaining your motivation through December.

Participate in Holiday-Themed Runs or Challenges

Add a dash of holiday spirit to your runs! 

Holiday-themed runs can be a fantastic way to spice up your running routine.

Many cities host Santa runs, jingle bell jogs, or New Year’s resolution runs that can make your December workouts feel more like a celebration than a chore. Participating in these events not only contributes to the festive mood but also gives you a concrete goal to work towards.

Finding the Right Event:

  1. Local Event Calendars: Check community bulletin boards, local newspapers, or city websites for upcoming holiday-themed races.
  2. Running Clubs and Stores: Ask about any special events they may be organizing or sponsoring during the holiday season.
  3. Virtual Races: If you can’t find an event nearby, look for virtual runs that allow you to participate from anywhere while still being part of a larger community.

Practical Tips:

  • Dress the Part: Embrace the theme by wearing holiday attire, such as a Santa hat or reindeer antlers, to add to the fun.
  • Set a Festive Goal: Whether it’s to run a personal best or simply to enjoy the experience, having a goal for the event can keep you focused.
  • Recruit Friends and Family: Encourage others to join you. The shared experience can be more enjoyable and can help build lasting memories.

By incorporating holiday-themed runs into your December calendar, you’ll have fun, themed goals to look forward to, which can make all the difference in keeping your running shoes on.

Reward Yourself for Braving the Cold

Positive reinforcement works wonders.

It’s important to acknowledge the effort it takes to get out the door when it’s cold and dark outside. Setting up a reward system can be a powerful motivator.

According to research, immediate rewards can increase intrinsic motivation, making you more likely to stick with an activity like running (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

Ideas for Post-Run Rewards:

  1. Warmth and Comfort: Plan a cozy reward for after your run, like a hot shower followed by your favorite warm beverage or a relaxing session by the fireplace.
  2. Treat Yourself: Occasionally, indulge in a small treat like a piece of chocolate or a warm pastry – something to look forward to during your run.
  3. Running Gear: Reward yourself with new running gear after hitting certain milestones. This not only serves as motivation but also ensures you have the right equipment to stay warm and safe.

Practical Tips:

  • Immediate Rewards: Choose rewards that you can enjoy right after your run, so the association between the run and the reward is strengthened.
  • Keep It Healthy: While it’s okay to indulge a little, try to keep most of your rewards in line with your overall fitness and health goals.
  • Mix It Up: Have a variety of rewards to keep things interesting and prevent your post-run routine from becoming stale.

By treating yourself after braving the cold for a run, you’re not just rewarding your body for the physical effort, but you’re also reinforcing the habit of running, making it more likely that you’ll stick with it throughout December and beyond.

Reflect on Your Progress and Celebrate Success

Take stock of how far you’ve come – reflection is a key component of maintaining motivation. By looking back at your runs, you can see the progress you’ve made, which can be especially uplifting during the challenging winter months.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that people who tracked their progress towards their goals were more likely to achieve them compared to those who did not (Journal of Clinical Psychology).

How to Reflect on Your Running Journey:

  1. Keep a Running Log: Document your runs, how you felt, the distance, and the conditions. Over time, you’ll see patterns and improvements.
  2. Celebrate Milestones: Whether it’s increasing your distance, improving your time, or simply sticking to your running schedule, recognize and celebrate each achievement.
  3. Share Your Progress: Sometimes, sharing your progress with friends, family, or a running community can provide a sense of accomplishment and further motivation.

Practical Tips:

  • Use Technology: Apps and wearables can automatically track your runs, making it easy to reflect on your stats over time.
  • Set Mini-Goals: Breaking down your larger December goals into smaller, weekly targets can make progress easier to recognize and celebrate.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Remember that progress isn’t always linear, especially during the hectic holiday season. Celebrate the effort, not just the outcomes.

By regularly reflecting on and celebrating your running achievements, you’ll build a positive feedback loop that reinforces your running habit and keeps you motivated throughout December.


Wrap up and look forward as December winds down and you reflect on the strides you’ve made, remember that the motivation techniques you’ve used this month can serve you well into the new year.

Whether it’s setting goals, creating a running advent calendar, joining a running group, participating in themed runs, or rewarding yourself, these strategies are designed to help you maintain your running momentum.

Final Thoughts:

  • Carry the Momentum: Use the energy and habits you’ve built in December to propel you into a strong start for the new year.
  • Be Adaptable: As the seasons change, be prepared to adjust your strategies to suit the conditions and your personal circumstances.
  • Continue to Celebrate: Keep recognizing your efforts and progress. Each run is a step towards a healthier and happier you.

Encouragement for the Road Ahead: As you lace up your shoes for the last runs of December, take pride in the commitment you’ve shown in the face of winter’s challenges. Your dedication to running is not just a seasonal phase but a testament to your resilience and passion for the sport. Carry these experiences with you as you step into the new year, ready for more miles and more memorable runs.

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