It is one of the problems we amateur runners have. By definition an amateur does not earn money unlike a pro. That brings us to the situation that we need quite some time of our week going to work. But still we as runners want to achieve our goals and working towards them needs a fair amount of time.
Check out this tweet I stumbled upon a while ago:
I meant to be training but I’m always busy now so have no time to run
— . (@lanaskam) 11. Oktober 2015
Does this resonate with you? It did with me! In my first years of running I was not only working but also studying in the evening. So I basically had 60+ hour work weeks and also a private life. And still I managed to improve my running constantly. Here’s how I did it.
I’m the kind of person that likes to analyze stuff. Sure you might have a totally different approach. If so take my view on things as just one possibility.
The problem here is simple: A day has 24 hours and a week has 168 hours. Let’s just find some hours you can then use for your workouts.
How many hours you need depends on your current fitness and your goals. We will focus on training a bit later in this post. For now we wanna find those hours.
Ok let’s have a look at your regular weekday. Take a piece of paper or download my free Excel sheet below to find the time distribution of the 24 hours of a regular day. Take some time for this and do it as detailed as possible. Look at it as counting calories and writing down everything you eat. But now write down everything you DO.
Try to prioritize your activities in mandatory, important and nice to have. Write down every major task of your day like sleeping, working, commuting, hobbies, family and friends, cooking & eating, running errands, watching TV, reading, smart phone use, checking the news, and so on. If you have activities that don’t affect every day, then divide the amount of time with five to get the average for every workday. In the end you should have a deep view on how a regular weekday looks like. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out the Excel sheet in the toolkit.
Obviously a week doesn’t only consists of workdays. As with any hobby also with your endurance training the weekends play an important role. For most people Saturdays and Sundays are the days with the most control as far as planning.
This means that your shorter workouts should be on workdays with at least one long workout or even two on weekends. You could do your weekly long run on weekends or combine strength training with a run and do an extended stretching on a Saturday or Sunday.
Yes you read right, bullshit hours. There is some stuff we just absolutely need to do like sleeping and eating and then there is important stuff like working (to earn the money for those new running shoes) and spending time with your family and friends.
But then there is a lot of time we spend on activities that are not that crucial in our lives. Now it’s time you have a close look at time of an average weekday that you’ve analyzed.
Alright I don’t want to come over like a moralizer here. But you need to be honest to yourself and question some of the nice to have points of your daily activity list. I’m sure you can go without some of those activities or reducing the time spend.
And this shouldn’t be to hard for you. The fact that you’re reading this very article proofs that you want to keep a running habit and achieve your goals. So you trade in something that you did to just fill some of the 24 hours of a day and get increased health, happiness, fitness, the sense of achievement, a great looking body, and so much more in exchange. Sounds like a great deal doesn’t it?
So why not cut back on TV, endless scrolling through social media feeds and playing Angry Birds and get out there running and do something good for yourself. Calculate how many hours a week you can get free for running by giving this not so important stuff a miss.
Ok this is all about efficiency and restructuring. We’ve talked about some nice to have stuff and now let’s try to squeeze some time around the more important aspects of your everyday life.
So I’d like to give you some suggestions on how to get some more hours free on these parts of your life:
Let’s be clear about this. You shouldn’t cut back on sleep to go running. But how much sleep does one need? The best way to find that out is some free days (holidays) where you don’t set an alarm in the morning. After a couple of days when you are recovered you can check how much sleep your body really needs.
If you are running you need a bit more sleep. As a rule of thumb try to sleep 30 minutes for every hour of physical exercise. For example after a two-hour long run give yourself one hour more sleep in the night to come.
Ok you need to work I know that. Whether it be paid work or managing a household or work on a voluntary basis, for most people the days are pretty much occupied. But here are some suggestions:
1. Run to/from your office
2. Make lunch break a run break
3. Work 1-2 days at home if you can. You’ll save time for commuting.
4. Check out if your employer has a running group and if so participate
The best in this department would be to convince your partner and friends to go running as well. Like that you can spend quality time together while running or even training for the same goal.
If you have kids, go running with them. Use a baby jogger when they’re young, or let them join you by bike when they’re older. When I was a kid we had a family run every weekend on a local trail. Basically that was where the foundation of my running career was set.
After going through your day and week structure and trying to free up some time for running by missing out on other stuff and optimizing the time you need, how many hours do you count? You should be able to have five hours or more you can spend with your endurance hobby.
In fact averaging over a whole year I don’t spend more than five hours a week with running and over the years I kept improving and am now running 10+ hours on Swiss mountain trails in a single day. As you will see in the next chapter the more hours you have, the greater goals become realistic.
Another thing you can do to save precious time throughout the day is to go running in the dark. For example you can get up early and do a short run before going to work. Or you go running in the evening after you put your kids to bed.
Running in dusk, dawn or in the dark can be a great alternation in your training but also comes with some challenges. If you’re not running on lighted road you need a headlamp. It takes some runs to get used to run like this because you only see the small light cone of your lamp. You need to be careful seeing any obstacles on your way.
Also temperature needs some consideration. When you running into the night, the temperature can drop by some degrees. So make sure you dress accordingly. And then there are some other dangers depending where you live and run. Make sure you’re visible to cars when running in the dark by wearing reflecting clothes. And don’t go running in districts where an assault might be likely.
Ok now you have the hours and it’s time to see what to do in those precious hours you freed up for running. At the beginning of every training planning you first need to be clear what the goal is you are training for.
Your goal can be anything from having fun or loosing weight right up to finishing a (ultra-) marathon or steadily crush your PBs on any distance. If you have troubles finding an accurate running goal, you might find help in this post:
Is there a dream you have when it comes to running? Do you dream of finishing a marathon one day? Or do you dream of having an athletic body? Or like me do you dream of running a specific event and finish in the top 10%?
This dream should be your long-term running goal. The thing that keeps you motivated for years and you really are ready to work hard for to achieve it. Obviously this goal shoudn’t be to easy and should keep you occupied trying to achieve it for some years. Depending on your current fitness and the amount of time you can spend training each week, it will take you shorter or longer to get there.
When you have a long-term goal you can divide it into different short-term goals. I usually plan out my running year and divide the year into junks of 2-4 months in which I try to improve a specific part of my running abilities like speed, endurance, injury prevention or preparing my body to perform under special conditions (surface, elevation, temperature, etc.)
If you know where you wanna get and train for your intermediate goals, you can slow and steady work towards fulfilling your running dream and don’t need much more than some hours each week.
Now you should have the amount of time you can spend for running and your big dream and some short-term running goals. In order to keep improving towards your goals with just a few hours a week, it is key to know how an effective training looks like. For that reason I’d like to give you a short overview of the basic training structure and the most important workouts you should do.
I trained a maximum of three hours per week and it made me a sub 2h half marathon runner within some months
For me I divide my training into three different categories:
3. Learning, analyzing and planning
The minimum you should do in the running category are two runs per week. One should be a longer run at a low intensity to build your base endurance and one should be a speed workout to increase your pace. When I was training for my first half marathon that was all that was needed. I trained a maximum of three hours per week and I was able to transform from a couch potato to a sub 2h half marathon runner.
In the cross-training department I strongly recommend you to do some stretching. Ideally you should get into the habit of a 15 minute stretching routine after your runs. To increase your body‘s resilience and to prevent injuries, some strength training (1-2 workouts per week of 20-30 minutes) are recommended. Focus on the muscles to strengthen your problem zones (feet, knees, hips, back). I also like to exchange some workouts with other endurance sports like riding my bike, swimming or hiking.
And don’t forget to keep learning. Learning about endurance training in general but also analyzing your efforts and how you improve over time. And also keep planning your training in advance.
The basic training structure I outlined above can change over time. As a beginner you should spend more time building strength, stretching and learning. Basically in the beginning every minute spend on injury prevention is crucial to keep you healthy and establishing a running habit that lasts.
When you improve over time and set the foundations for a successful running habit, also your training evolves. In my experience the time spend on learning, analyzing and planning decreases because you gain the know-how you need and everything becomes a routine. Depending on your next goal also strength training doesn’t need the attention like in the beginning.
Because your training structure changes it makes sense to outline your running year in advance. That’s what we talk about in the next chapter.
As mentioned above at the end of every year you should look back at what you achieved and start planning the year that is ahead of you. You don’t need to plan the whole year in great detail before the year’s even started. But I recommend you to at least define the goals for the year and divide it into quarters in which you set a specific focus.
I tend to look at a running year as another chance to work towards my running dream. Based on what I achieved in the past year I define a realistic goal for the year to come. Normally I make 12-week training plans to work towards a specific improvement such as speed or endurance or train for a specific race. That means I can divide the year into four training periods with some recovery weeks or holidays in between.
The advantage of this approach is that you don’t get overwhelmed thinking about your long-term goal and start training too much or to intense. That will only result in overtraining and injury. So this will help you go one small step after another.
To know when to start your training periods you should set the dates where you want your form to peak. For many runners that means find races where you want to participate in and try to achieve your goal. From these race dates plan 12 weeks backward to know when to start your training period.
When I was running half-marathons and marathons I usually did races in spring and fall where temperatures in Switzerland are ideal for endurance running. Since I started participating in ultra trail races I try to peak in summer. You can also do two races within two weeks. In between try to recover and just maintain your fitness. When I did this with my first two half marathons I managed to run the second one almost ten minutes faster than the first. Like this you can double your success or give yourself another chance if you had a bad day on your first race.
Ok we talked a lot about planning your endurance training but you should also plan your recovery as it is the most important part. I plan at least one recovery day per week where I don’t train at all. And every third or fourth week I throw in a recovery week where I cut back my mileage to about 50%. The recovery weeks are not only important to give your body time to adapt but give you also the chance to „allow“ busy weeks in your training plan. I try to make the weeks where I have a lot of appointments and stuff planned (e.g. weekend abroad) a recovery week.
When you outlined your running year and started your 8 or 12 week training plan, try to fix the exact times of your runs or other training activities for the next two weeks. I usually do this on Sunday evenings. I sit down and put every run for the weeks to come into my calendar.
That has three big advantages. First it creates anticipation. When I‘m doing this I usually want to go out and run right away! Second it blocks your calendars and reminds you to go running when you want to book another meeting at that time. And last but not least it makes sure that you stick to the plan you made yourself.
Ok that’s about it now it’s your turn. I’ll try to give you some action steps to get you started with planning your training into your busy life:
1. Drop me a mail with any questions and concerns and what you miss in this article.
2. Download the free planning toolkit below.
3. Follow the instructions in the mail you get and start planning right away.
If you like this information and the toolkit it would be a big help if you’d share it with your friends on social media. This will help keep this blog up and running.