If you are a regular, everyday runner, you will have a limited amount of time you can dedicate to training. The key is learning how to make the most of that time!
Every runner has different running goals, some of which have nothing to do with racing. Whatever your goal is – whether to improve your fitness, relieve stress, lose weight, or hit that target goal time on race day – it can be hard to fit your training into an already hectic daily life. Juggling work, family time, some semblance of a social life and exercise, can be tricky. But it’s not impossible, if you are smart with your time.
We’ve all come across those inspirational (but irritating) multi-taskers, who work full time, have kids, participate in a plethora of extracurricular activities and manage to train for a marathon – all at the same time! And there’s no reason you can’t match or beat them. The quality of your training sessions will be the key to your performance. Don't put yourself under too much pressure with your weekly mileage. Training with limited time and/or low weekly mileage works, if you vary the intensity and go for the right duration.
Here’s some advice to help you make the most of limited time:
Define the time you'll have available for training
Before planning anything, start by asking yourself the following questions: How much time are you keen to spend training every week? How much time are you able to spend training every week?
For instance, for marathon training, a minimum of 3 sessions a week is ideal (see below for the type of sessions required). If you can do more (4 or 5 sessions) you will improve more quickly.
When you've defined what time you'll have available for training, you can then set a realistic goal.
Set your goal
If you’re not training for a race or event, then your goal might be reaching a certain distance (5k or 10k) or running more regularly (perhaps 5k 4 times per week). Once you know what you're aiming for, you can train accordingly.
You must start by assessing your current fitness level and your running experience, keeping in mind your goals. Are you starting from scratch? Have you been running consistently for a while but never challenged yourself to a set distance or specific time? If you are training for a race, what’s your goal for the race? Will you be happy with just finishing? Or are you gunning for a specific finish time?
The four factors
On the basis of these factors – the time can commit to training, your current fitness level, your running experience, and your goals – you will be able to create solid training plan, around a goal you can achieve and commit to it, over a set period of time.
For instance, for marathon training, we'd advise beginners to take a safe, gradual approach, slowly building their distance over a period of anywhere from 18 to 22 weeks. Experienced runners, on the other hand, can generally get race-ready in 12 weeks, but will need to commit to speedwork and strength training if they want to achieve a PB or goal time (say sub 3:45 marathon).
You can use these Runner's World Pace Charts to calculate the pace you’ll need to hit to achieve your target time for common race distances.
Create your training plan
Define what sessions you want/need to do every week – including the type of training, distance or duration. Then fit sessions around your family and work commitments. I would advise against allocating fixed days for set sessions in advance. Keep your plan open and flexible and focus on completing the sessions, whenever you can, within the week. Day-by-day plans quickly become very restrictive.
A good way to keep track of what you're doing is to write down what you've done in a planner – using good old fashioned pen and paper, or an excel document.
Here are a few tips to help you build your training plan:
Vary the intensity
It is all about the intensity! There is no point running high mileage during the week if you don't change the effort. You'll plateau quickly if you run at the same pace all the time. Vary the intensity, try new type of sessions and get your heart rate up!
- Easy runs: You can start the week with a normal easy run (comfortable pace and distance).
- Tempo runs: Add in a shorter but faster paced run each week (try a mix of flat and hills). This run is your hard session of the week: you need to run quicker than your normal pace (30-60 seconds faster than your normal pace).
Intervals: Complete a series of intervals at goal race pace, over a set distance, with a rest in-between. Change the distance every week. For example:
- 4 x 400m at pace/30 sec rest
- 6 x 800m at pace/60 sec rest
- 3 x 1 mile at pace/90 sec rest
Long runs: End the week with back-to-back runs or a long run at the weekend. To build speed and endurance, incorporate pace-based work into your long runs, varying the pace throughout. For example:
- 10 miles: 2 miles easy/2 miles at pace /2 miles easy/2 miles at pace/2 miles easy
- 12 miles: 4 miles easy/ 3 miles at pace/1 mile easy/3 miles at pace/1 mile easy
- Strength & Conditioning: A weekly strength and conditioning session will work wonders, if you can fit it in.
Try strength training or yoga
The advantage of this type of session is that you can do it at home. You only need 20 or 30mins to make it worthwhile. Strengthening the main running muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and calf muscles, will make you a more efficient runner, improve your resilience and help keep you injury free.
Do not underestimate the importance of this session! You may not feel the benefits straight away. But after a couple of weeks, everything will fall into place and your easy runs will become easier and faster.
Shop our wide range of Injury & Recovery products including resistance bands, foam rollers, pedi-rollers and massage balls.
If you need to do a longer session but don't have time to run for more than 1 hour, you can do what we call ‘back to back' runs. Run for 1 hour one day and for 1 hour the next day. You’ll work already tired legs which will be really beneficial!
Your 'A' race will be your main goal (for example London Marathon). 'B' races are events that you can leverage as training races on the lead up to your ‘A’ race. Running a 5k, 10k or half marathon to get used to actual, real, timed races and gauge how your training is going is highly advisable!
Check out our Sponsored Running Events page to find an race near you.
Parkrun is also a great weekly event to use for your training. Friendly, fun and over in a flash, parkruns are a good reason to get up early on a Saturday morning! You can enjoy a social run with friends or family, or use it as a speed session.
Look for inspiration everywhere! You can find the motivation in books, stories on social media or videos on YouTube. Watching or reading about the achievements of amateur or elite runners can give you that spark to get out there and run!
For many runners motivation also comes from... post-run rewards. After a hard training session, there’s no harm in treating yourself to a sweet treat, or that Nike t-shirt you’ve been ooggling for weeks!
Remember to always be mindful of what you eat before, during and after exercise.
Over to you!
The points made in this article are there to help you build a flexible training plan.
Life can be hectic! With already busy daily lives to contend with, we don’t want you putting unnecessary pressure on yourself when it comes to running and exercise. Before anything else, make sure you are ENJOYING what you’re doing. Never actively undermine your personal, loving relationship with running by overreaching in your training. Of course, you'll have highs and lows, but every run should be an escape from everyday life – regardless of the time, distance or speed clocked.