The most important workouts to focus on if you’re a busy runner

When was the last time you had an uninterrupted 4-6 hours to work out? If you’re like me, that hasn’t happened in a long time!

Busy Runner

Time is life’s ultimate luxury. As we get older, this limited resource gets more scarce and we’re forced to decide how we spend our dwindling time.

As runners, we carve out a precious hour or two to devote to our passion. It’s what keeps us sane, gives us our valuable “me time,” and lets us do our best thinking.

But sometimes life gets in the way of our training goals. Family and work responsiblities might cut our workouts short or we may have to skip runs entirely.

To me, this used to be sacrilege. Skip a run? Over my dead body!

But now that I have a family of my own (these girls keep me on my toes…), I understand that running isn’t always a priority. Sometimes, delaying a run or missing it altogether is necessary.

And if that’s the case – if you truly don’t have time to include every element of smart training into your plan – then you have some hard decisions to make.

You’ll have to ask yourself:

  • What workouts are the most important?
  • If I have to skip a run, which one is “ok” to miss?
  • Can you still run a successful race if training is cut short?
  • Should I skip my strength training if I’m busy?

That brings us to the latest episode of Q&A with Coach!

Busy? Focus on these “Training Pillars”

In an ideal world, we’d have 3-4 hours to complete our workouts. Most runs would include:

But who lives in an ideal world?! Sometimes, time is short and you have to cut a run short.

When that happens, what are the most important aspects of training to focus on?

Watch Q&A with Coach #18 to find out:

Show notes:

:45 – “Priority workouts” vs. easy days
1:00 – What a typical college track workout was like
2:10 – Your goal race dictates the most important session per week!
2:35 – What’s wrong with some marathon training plans?
3:15 – How to overcome limits of aerobic capacity
3:55 – Workout priority specifically for marathon training
4:25 – Prioritizing injury prevention (here’s how) for faster race times
5:00 – The “secret sauce” of long-term success
5:15 – Tom Foreman’s My Year of Running Dangerously
6:35 – The 3 most important training elements for any race

Want to get your running question answered on the show? Just tweet it to me on Twitter!

Short on time? Use these 3 quick strategies

Sometimes, we all have to choose another priority over running. And that’s ok!

Here are three ways I’ve been able to plan great training for my runners who are also busy parents and professionals:

1. Maintain strength work (but keep the workouts short)

Strength sessions don’t have to be elaborate 90-minute workouts at the gym, complete with a round-trip commute. That’s why most of my strength routines are just 10-15 minutes (and can be done anywhere).

You can also download PDF guides to most of these routines by joining the team here.

2. Run fast finish long runs

If you don’t have time for your normal long run, cut it short but run the final 2-5 miles at about marathon pace (or slightly slower than tempo pace).

The distance of your long runs is important, but sometimes sacrificing volume for quality is just as effective at building endurance.

3. Run “mini-workouts”

If you want to race fast, you have to train fast. But if you have to sacrifice a workout, then try shortening it and running a “mini-workout.”

Skip the long warm-up, run a fraction of the faster session you were planning to do, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time. But maintaining some fast running can help maintain your fitness.

Now I’m curious: what strategies do you use to stay fit when you’re short on time?

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  1. world_runner says:

    What is your opinion on breaking up the long run? I have some days when I can get the long run mileage in but I have to break it up. I will run 5 in the morning, get the kids off to school and then head back out for 13-15 more.

    • If it’s split up by less than an hour, it’s just about the same stimulus. But if you’re training for a marathon or similar long race – and the LR is split up by more time – you’re reducing the aerobic benefit of the run. And since it’s the most important run of the week for long distance runners, it’s not ideal.

  2. Paul Deveaux says:

    If I am short on time I will change an easy run to a rest day. Another strategy I use is changing the format of the workout to keep the purpose the same but not the details. So instead of driving to the track to do intervals I may head to the trail (closer) and do a fartlek or hills.

    Understanding the purpose of the workout and what else can achieve that purpose is key for me.