6 Tips for Juggling Life and Training

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Make your limited training time count


Illustration by Kevin Howdeshell.

For most people, running-related goals are in a constant dance with important commitments to family, work, friends and other elements of life. But—as long as you plan carefully—you can carve out enough time for training.

In The Triathlete’s Training Bible, acclaimed coach Joe Friel says that, “An athlete should do the least amount of the most specific training that leads to continual improvement.” Time-crunched athletes pursuing serious goals can take heart in this efficient scheme. Here are six tips to kick out the junk miles and maximize your quality training.

1. Eliminate Waste

In evaluating your time to accomplish certain workouts or a total training volume, you may want to reconsider your habits. Do you need to use your lunch hour to eat, or could you run at lunchtime, then eat at your desk? How many times do you check email and social networks on your phone, and could disabling the data stream open up another 30 minutes for training? How much training can you do before work? I know people who regularly get in three hours before 8 a.m. Do your workouts lack purpose, and could you spend your time more intentionally?

2. Be Specific

In planning your training, make time first for the key workouts that build your fitness and speed, which may include long runs, tempo runs, intervals, hills, skill-based runs (technical trails, etc.) and high-altitude runs.

If you find yourself simply doing the same run and pace on each outing, you probably will not improve beyond a certain point. The quality workouts in your program will ideally be balanced with recovery runs, maintenance runs and/or cross training and core/upper-body work, but if you are super crunched for time, hit the quality sessions.

Likewise, though it may seem obvious, include race-specific preparation in your time-crunched training plan; many runners miss the boat here. If you’re preparing for a hilly, technical trail race, do some training on hilly, technical trails. If your goal race includes long descents, integrate long downhills in your training. If you’re training for Badwater, run in the heat, even if that means laps around a sauna.

3. Ramp It Up

To increase fitness, you must run some workouts at a higher heart rate and faster pace than when you’re “just running along.” The pace of these planned chunks of intense running may be faster than in a race, and they generally occur in some form of interval over the course of a workout. Ramping up your heart rate in training is an important component of building fitness. Mentally, it can make your goal race itself seem less strenuous.

Integrate faster runs randomly, or get your heart rate up by running hills. For most folks, though, it is best to schedule interval workouts ahead of time, either alone or with a training partner. Since they are intense, interval workouts generally take less time than non-structured runs, and provide more fitness growth in less time.

However, if your mind and/or body are not in the right place due to stress or lack of sleep, save the quality workout for another day. Says U.S. Mountain Running Team athlete and new mother Brandy Erholtz, “There have been days where substituting an easy run for a hard workout is beneficial, and I shift my ‘workout’ to a day where I’m more focused or less tired.”

4. Race Weekend = Family Vacation

Scheduling races can generate conflicts with work and family commitments. Our family has found that connecting races with family vacations means less time away for dad and more fun for everyone. Yes, going camping with little kids the night before a race can mean less sleep, but if you’re a parent you’re probably used to that anyway.

If you like being outside and racing, you’ll be excited to expose your children to the trail-running lifestyle. I like to plan a vacation that begins with a race and leads into family time, because the days after a race are usually a good time to rest.

5. Seek Input

Both novices and elites can use a coach’s or training partner’s advice to simplify the process, decrease worry and avoid over training.

Charles Martelli, a Coloradoan who recently finished his first ultra, notes, “Having a coach is invaluable for keeping me focused on my goals, reminding me that it is OK to juggle around my planned workout calendar and helping me understand that it is still possible to get in quality workouts, even though life sometimes gets in the way.”

6. Make Time for Recovery

In his book, Friel points out that well-timed recovery is just as important as quality training. Being intentional about scheduling rest is important, because, as Team Salomon runner, physical therapist and professional mom Lindsay Krause says, “There is a certain importance of increased rest periods when you have increased work stress, family stress or decreased sleep, for example, when the little ones wake you at night. We can all forget that these stressors also require energy, which, when combined with hard workouts, may lead to over-training syndromes.” Remember, fitness growth occurs when you rest after a workout, not during the workout itself.

Eat Dirt for Lunch: Four key workouts to knock out while your co-workers chow down

Hill Intervals

  • Focus: VO2 max, strength
  • After a solid warmup and some strides, complete 8 x 2 minutes hard (you should be breathing very hard and praying for rest) on a steep hill with two to three minutes of walking/downhill jogging recovery.
  • If hills are not available, use a treadmill, which is an excellent option albeit not as fun.


  • Focus: Leg speed
  • Warm up with a jog to the track and then complete 4 to 10 x 400 meters at a high speed and exertion level (shoot for a pace you could hold for about two miles).
  • Recover between intervals with 200 meters easy jog.

Tempo Run

  • Focus:Aerobic endurance
  • After running easy for 10 minutes, transition gradually into a faster pace that positions your effort at high 3/low 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • Hold this pace for 15 to 30 minutes, ideally covering terrain similar to what you will encounter in your goal race.

Gym Quickie

  • Focus: General strength and stability
  • Complete the following circuit 3 or 4 times:
  • 10 to 30 push-ups
  • 2-minute jump rope
  • 45-second front plank
  • 3 to 15 pull-ups
  • 30-second side plank
  • 10 lunges
  • 8 to 12 dumbbell curls
  • 8 single-leg dead lifts (each leg)
  • 8 to 12 dumbbell rows
  • Other core/upper body exercises as desired

After each workout, cool down and follow immediately with protein, carbohydrate and fluid intake.

This article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue.

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