Motivation: Pay yourself to run

Wise investment of your running pennies can motivate you to pound the pavements. So flash your cash – it’ll pay off!



It’s easy to skip scheduled runs when you’re tired or time-squeezed, even though you know it will cost you pounds on the bathroom scales and seconds on the finish clock. But what if your missed runs impacted your bank account? While money may not buy happiness, literally investing in your running can push you to train more consistently, according to Darcy Strouse, a sports psychology consultant, runner and coach.

Studies have looked at what makes people choose healthy behaviour, and evidence shows that rewards and incentives can keep people engaged. ‘Biologically we are all more sensitive to immediate gains and losses, or costs, than we are to more delayed consequence,’ says Stephen Higgins, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Vermont, US.

‘Finding a way to pay yourself to run is a tool I recommend for runners who may need an outside push to adhere to their goals, or who need help with self-confidence,’ says Strouse. ‘It’s essentially creating a contract with yourself, and the fact that your money is on the line helps to solidify your commitment to the contract and the training.’ And in these tough economic times, it pays to use your cash as running incentive wisely. Here’s how…

Sign the dotted line

Registering for a race months ahead of time guarantees your entry, avoids late fees and, most importantly, commits you to the training because you don’t want to waste the cash. ‘This early investment in a race supplies you with motivation because it’s a concrete  step,’ says Strouse. Plus, signing up is about more than simply competing,  she says. ‘Being part of a race is one way to help individuals boost their self-identity as runners, and that’s an extremely powerful motivator.’

Investment plan
- Check the race website for pre-registration details. Popular events open registration – and sell out – months before race day.

Get in the money

You can’t let a £100 pair of running shoes gather dust. Laying out cash for a new running jacket, compression socks or that sweet GPS watch can perk up your training because not only do you want to get your money’s worth, it also makes you feel like you belong to an inner circle of ‘real’ runners. ‘Purchasing high-quality shoes and gear tends to make you feel more self-confident and more committed to your training,’ says Strouse. ‘The investment can be seen as a contract, which tells you, ‘I am a runner, and I am invested in the sport.’’

Investment plan - Specialist running shops may seem pricier than online or high street retailers, but you’re paying for the expertise of ‘real runner’ staff who put you in exactly the right shoes and gear. Plus, many small shops host weekly group runs and frequent training events, so you’ll feel like part of a tight social circle.

Pay tuition fees

If you don’t think you’re ‘good enough’ to deserve a running coach, how will you ever get good enough? You might like to look into a running club coach, a charity-team coach, an online coach or a health-club trainer for personalised guidance – the key is to find someone who fits your personality and needs. A good coach will tailor your training to your strengths, weaknesses, goals and daily schedule. The investment (which is usually a monthly fee) will push you, and so will the coach. And if you’re worried about a long-term monetary commitment, Strouse says that it’s common for clients to sign up for shorter, well-defined periods.

Investment plan - One way to have access to a qualified coach is by joining a running or athletics club – you can search for your nearest one on the UK Athletics website (uka.org.uk/grass roots/search). You can also find running groups using the runengland.org and jogscotland.org.uk websites. For online coaching, try Runner’s World columnist Sam Murphy (sam-murphy.co.uk) or Full Potential (fullpotential.co.uk).

Bet to lose

Having a financial incentive to lose weight could make you five times more likely to succeed, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008, which may explain the recent success of ‘social dieting’ websites that let you bet on yourself. When you lose the weight, you win the money – a classic win/win. ‘Nobody likes dieting, but everyone likes games,’ says Jamie Rosen, a New York City Marathoner who founded Dietbet.com, where you win a share of the ‘pot’ when you achieve a weight-loss goal in an online competition.

Investment plan - On StickK.com, you can commit to any goal, like running three times a week, and if you fall short, you can choose to have the money you’ve wagered go to a friend or even an ‘anti-charity’ (a charity you’re not a fan of to focus your determination – the founders of StickK say those who choose anti-charities have an almost 80 per cent success rate, the highest of all their users). Or you can go old-school by betting a running partner money on who will nail a shared race-time goal first.

Cash on delivery

Give yourself a monetary reward for, say, every mile you run, or for reaching mini-goals on the way to your main prize – race day, for example. ‘It’s highly motivating to see the change add up,’ says Strouse, who does this herself. ‘It’s an immediate reward system that’s very personal because it’s self-selected, self-monitored and self-delivered, which makes it intrinsically satisfying.’

Investment plan - Strouse suggests using a glass jar and putting it somewhere visible – on the kitchen counter or near your running gear where you’ll see it often. Vow to spend the money on a treat for yourself. Your running ‘tip jar’, she says, should be viewed as prize money to reward your efforts, not for paying the phone bill.


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