I’ve coached female runners for more than 15 years. And it seems nearly all of them struggle with the same thing I do: how to squeeze in a run between so many other commitments. As women, we have a tendency to do things for others first, and ourselves last. It’s a habit that leaves us fatigued, stressed and even unhealthy. But we don’t have to let our personal goals suffer because of other obligations. It is possible to balance work, exercise and time with friends and family; it just takes patience and careful planning. To help, follow these eight strategies I’ve developed to find time for running while maintaining equilibrium in my own busy life.
Life tends to resemble a river, with both calm and treacherous waters. Examine your year and try to anticipate where the rapids will be, whether they’re project deadlines or the holidays. The determine what seasons will most likely be calmer, like summer. Try to plan your running goals and races around this pattern. Train for long races that require more time-consuming training during the calmer times of the year, and save the shorter, more frequent runs for the super-busy season. You’ll end up ebbing and flowing with the cycles of your life, and you’ll have an easier time maintaining balance.
If you are in financial debt and want to create a plan to dig your way out, the first thing you need to do is evaluate the amount you earn versus the amount you spend. Achieving a healthy, balanced lifestyle is no different: You need to determine where you are “overspending.” To do this, record your time spent working, exercising, sleeping, eating and socializing for one week. You’ll quickly begin to see the areas of your life that are off-kilter.
Next, plan your day by prioritizing your activities, making sure that those that release stress and improve your health get top billing. Label each activity with an “A” for “I have to get done first,” “B” for “I need to get it done at some point today,” or “C” for “I need to get it done this week.” Create a daily plan that organizes all “Bs” and “Cs” around the “As.”
Make your errands active—you’ll feel great about your eco-conscious choice and you’ll reap fitness benefits. Run to the bank or to the market to pick up an item. Or make your daily commute work for you. Chicago business executive and mother of three Heather LaFreniere, 40, rides her bike to work for Ironman training. “It’s the perfect way to make the most of my commute and balance my day so I have time for my kids.”
Be An Early Bird
As hard as it may be to wake up early and run, it revitalizes your energy levels, boosts your metabolism and sets the tone for the day. A recent study published in the Journal of Workplace Health Management found that employees who worked out before work or exercised during lunch were happier, suffered less stress and were more productive. Plus, if you’re training for a race, your body will be better prepared for an early morning race start.
Evening workouts often get scrapped due to fatigue from the day, social pressures and last-minute meetings, so avoid this potential pitfall by getting your run in early. “If I don’t run early in the morning before my day begins, it just doesn’t happen,” admits Chicago-based endurance runner Shari Wolf, 49.
During your busiest weeks, plan to run more frequently, but for less time. Instead of trying to run 45 to 60 minutes three times per week, get in 15 to 20 minutes six or seven days that week to maintain your training momentum and muscle memory. It’s better to run—no matter how long—than not at all.
Keep It Simple
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of racing and to commit to running several races during the year; however, the outcome of over-extending yourself tends to be poor performance and fatigued motivation. For the time-challenged, it’s better to pick one or two key races a year and follow a structured progressing and tapering training schedule. You’ll end up training smarter, running stronger and having optimal time to recover after each race. Less is more when you’re busy.
Make The Most Of Short Runs
When you have a killer week ahead, think shorter, quality runs—I call them better-than-nothing-runs—to make the most of your limited time. Thirty minutes of hard effort running will not only connect the dots between your last run and your next, it may help you run faster. Shorter, harder speed or hill workouts can actually help you improve your form, speed and running economy. Take a few minutes to warm up, and then run two- to three-minute intervals at 5k pace with equal rest between each. Cool down for a few minutes.
Break It Into Two
If you have to get in a longer training run but don’t have the time, divide it into two runs—half in the morning and half later in the day. It’s not the optimal way to build endurance but it beats missing a run altogether. Marathoner Terese Grondin, 52, used this strategy to train for the Boston Marathon while vacationing in Italy. It allowed her to get in her long run and sightsee with her family—everyone was happy.