Probably the one thing that most differentiates a really successful amateur runner from those who struggle is that the successful ones have found a way to integrate running into their life. Very very few of us have the luxury of a lot of free time to train, we almost all have jobs, family commitments, social engagements, other hobbies, and so on. It’s not easy training at the volume you need to, but it is possible. Here are some of the small things I’ve done that have made a big difference.
In London, you’ll see us everywhere, especially along the embankment from about 7-9am and 5-7pm. The run-commuters. Half of us seem to have OMM bags (which are brilliant, by the way – incredibly lightweight but rugged) and most of us are adept at weaving in and out of foot traffic as we pound a familiar path home.
I used to commute about 7.5 miles to work every day which, due to the ridiculousness of London public transport, took roughly 50 minutes door-to-door. That is also almost exactly the same amount of time that it took me to run it, meaning that if I ran home I would arrive no later than usual, but having already done my exercise for the evening, giving me an extra free hour to cook a proper dinner, see friends, do work, or whatever. Longer runs I’d generally keep for the weekend, and do a mix of tempo runs and intervals for the run-commutes.
Run-commuting isn’t suitable for everyone, of course. The location of your work, the time you have to be there, the availability of a shower, etc may all make it harder or impossible. However, it’s well worth considering even if at first it doesn’t seem doable. If the location isn’t ideal, consider using public transport some of the way and then running from there. You can do the same driving, but then you’re fairly committed to running both ways. Equally, if you don’t have showers at work, simply do the run on the way home rather than on the way back.
The main thing that will make all the difference is forward planning. If you want to run into work, pack your work clothes neatly in your backpack the day before, and lay out your running kit. Or, if you have to wear a suit or something that doesn’t lend itself to being shoved into a backpack, take a spare outfit in the day before and leave it at your desk or in a locker. That way, it’ll be as easy as possible to just get up and run in, no matter how unappealing it might suddenly seem at 6am on a dark, rainy November day.
If you’re running back from work, make sure you take everything necessary with you, and think ahead about what you’re going to do with your work clothes. On a summer day everything I usually wear to work can easily fit into my 15l OMM pack, but once I start wearing a winter coat or heavier shoes it gets more tricky, so some forward planning is needed. One option is to run home from work on, let’s say, the Monday, leaving coat and shoes at work. On Tuesday wear a different coat and shoes to work. Then on Wednesday run into work, without coat and shoes, and use the ones you left on Monday. It’s all just logistics but, as I say, if you plan ahead you’ll make it easy so you don’t have any excuse not to just do it.
Run to the gym
I’m always amazed by the number of people who drive or use public transport to the gym. Sure, those who are just trying to get big don’t like to do too much cardio because it affects their ‘gains’, but for those of us that actually want to get fit, you may as well jog to the gym. It’ll be a bit of extra exercise and, if nothing else, it’ll act as a warmup, saving you time at the gym.
Alternatively, consider running back from the gym. It may be unappealing if your muscles are exhausted, but running short distance on tired muscles is good training for longer runs.
I used to work in an office that was extremely supportive of runners; we had lockers and showers in the basement, and taking a full hour for lunch to go for a run was not only accepted but encouraged. My boss and a couple of other colleagues and I often used to go and, if they didn’t, I’d go on my own. Although the runs were inevitably shorter than usual (four or five miles maximum generally, to allow time to change and shower) it was a fantastic way to fit in a bit of extra exercise, especially on a day when I had social plans that evening and knew I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do anything.
I miss the lunchtime runs to be honest, and I’m able to do it less often now, but it’s still a brilliant way to squeeze in a few miles, whether you go on your own or in a group. In many cities there are even lunchtime run clubs organised by places such as Runners Need if you want to find some companions to go with. Many offices even have organised lunchtime running groups and, if yours doesn’t, consider setting one up. All employers ought to be eager to encourage healthy activities so they should be supportive.
Make an adventure of it
Balancing the need to do long runs with social and family commitments is always hard. A decent 20-miler, say, will take most of us a good three hours or so, plus preparation and recovery time. That’s likely to write off a whole Saturday, which can be a hard sell to loved ones who would like to spend time with you.
One compromise I found as I got more and more in to trail running in preparation for the Marathon des Sables was that I would get up early, get the train somewhere (see this post for some of my trail running routes) and then run to a nice town such as Winchester where I could meet my other half, mooch around, have a nice recovery coffee or lunch, and then head back. They feel less abandoned and more involved, you get to do your run and then recover with a hot meal somewhere nice, and it’s also very pleasant after a long run to be welcomed by a friendly and supportive presence, so everyone’s a winner.
Of course, you’re not necessarily in the best state to be sitting in fancy restaurants after a 20 mile trail run, but if the person meeting you brings a clean shirt, some deodorant and some wet wipes then that ought to be enough to at least get you through a pub lunch…