The first rule I’ve learned when advising people on how they should carve out time to train is be careful on how you advise people about how they should carve out time to train.
Case in point: My sister and her husband disappeared from running for a good decade. On holidays and occasional visits, I would marvel about how they could fritter away an entire day just, you know, running around after their toddlers/tweens/teens picking up scraps of food, scooping up general toy and blanket and laundry detritus and in general just trying to get from meal time to activity time to nap time to activity time to baths to bed without passing out or strangling one another.
It was an alternate universe that never occurred to my trail running/skiing 100 days a year/traveling for races self that I would ever be a part of. And, on the occasion that they decided to reach into the catacombs of their closet and throw on their Clinton-era running stuff and join me, it was this kind of pathetic hurry-up-and-wait at every intersection for them to catch up thing. I tried my best to fake it, say a couple encouraging words ...and keep going.
Fast forward to the present and their oldest is in college, the youngest is a freshman in high school and they have, simply stated, oodles of time. Now they’re the ones ticking off races at a ridiculous pace of at least three a month, from 10ks to marathons to whatever those things are with the obstacle courses. They’re fit and hungry and, most of all, fast.
And then there’s me. The one who now has a toddler. The one who negotiates weekend long runs around who won roshambo to get to go during his naptime. The one who can go three days and wonder “have I had lunch yet? At all?” The one whose sleep and waking moments seem to blend together into one, long contiguous chase of sanity.
My found motto: “If I dream about running does that count?”
My sister and brother-in-law are constantly amused and not just because their mile pace has passed mine and is still steadily improving, but because they can wholly empathize. And that’s why I sought their consult in writing this.
Here then, are four tips from those who’ve seen the other side and come out faster, better, stronger on how to fit running into your busy schedule. (My sister also had the courtesy to ask, “This means more than just running back and forth to your car, yes?”)
- Manage your expectations...and distance: This isn’t to say if life throws you some stuff (work, family, personal, health) that you should just give up altogether, but be reasonable with yourself. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but one I put in the context of my weekend long-ish runs. Where it used to be 12-16 miles that were sometimes at race pace and sometimes simply to get out and be in the sun and the shade and near the beach or on trail, it’s now 4-6 miles of purpose-driven training. It doesn’t always happen like that, but I do always make sure when I do get out to plan my run ahead and run with urgency. I’ve found that when focused, those shorter runs can be just as physically and mentally taxing and purpose-driven as some of my longest endeavors.
- Run when you get a chance: My partner and I have work together which means we have a quick midday break where we can get outside together. Instead of grabbing a burrito and Diet Coke, we pack leftovers and try to get out for a half-hour to 45 minutes on the blacktop. Granted, the setting (the frontage road of a business park across from the airport) is a far cry from my Sierra Nevada mountainscapes of a previous life, but I am grateful for every step I get out there away from the four windowless walls and the constantly chirping intra-office chats.
- Streamline your goals, but stick with them: It’s important to have something on the calendar to look forward to or train for. I find when I have a race to look forward to, even if it’s a community food drive 5k, I tend to keep my training, or what’s left of it, on point. I may not be throwing down personal bests or traveling across the continent to enjoy a marathoncation but you better believe I’m sharper, more focused and more energized on race day than I’ve ever been.
- Ask for help: Rather, ask for HELP! I came from a running philosophy where I thought as long as I’m competing in a selfish sport, I have no right to ask anyone else to give up their precious time to help facilitate my addiction. My Joan of Arch (see what I did there?) mentality quickly subsided when work and homelife started to get the better of my time. Now I am unabashed and unafraid to ask for assistance. Family, friends and neighbors have all pitched in so I can get a run or two in. And, wouldn’t you know it, my sister and her husband especially have been kind enough to volunteer their time when we’re up visiting.
...And they even have the courtesy to wait at the intersections for me to catch up.