Running: Training Sans Time

Marine Corps Marathon 2013: On my way to a PR of 2:44. Feels like forever ago.

Marine Corps Marathon 2013: On my way to a PR of 2:44. Feels like forever ago.

In the past fifteen months, I’ve had my first child, begun writing again, entered a three year Master’s program, moved, deployed, begun home renovations and continued plugging away at work. I’ve come to the realization that when I used to say that I was busy, what I really meant was that I was “busy frittering away free time.” Time is now a precious commodity.

This is not a challenge unique only to me and my wife. The demands on time, with children or otherwise, are many. It’s safe to say we’re all in some kind of pinch. And the brutal irony of fitness is that gains accumulated over months of training begin to disappear in as little as three days. Which isn’t to say that taking three days off is going to kill your fitness. It just means that the body is always in search of homeostasis. Demand from it, and it will respond. Take that demand away, and it will respond in kind.

When time becomes scarce, we have to make choices regarding training, and it all begins with an honest evaluation of the time you have available to train. Once you do that, here’s what I recommend as a bare-bones, time-constrained training approach:

1) Three runs a week is the absolute minimum. Two of them should be some kind of speed work (intervals, hills, tempo, threshold) and one should be a long run. Some coaches recommend that the long run also include some kind of speed work as well, and in fact, that’s a great way to get more bang for the buck. Scheduling this is on you, but ensure you have at least a day to rest in between the running days. If you have time for more than three runs, you need to add in the following order: core/strength work, mobility/flexibility, and then some additional easy runs to aid recovery and build capacity.

2) Set goals and establish racing milestones.Races are great fitness benchmarks, as well as opportunities to identify our weaknesses. I recommend a training cycle of no less than four months before your goal race, with one race per month beforehand.

3) Have a training schedule: it’s hard to know where you’re going and if you’re going to arrive unless you know how you’re going to get there. Having a weekly schedule will allow you to control your training, make tweaks, and balance time as required. Next week, I’m going to put out a minimalist 5k training schedule that you can use, but there are also a host of other free resources available online, as well as a scad of training books available. All can provide complete training programs.

Let’s face it – few of us can run on four hours of sleep like Dean Karnazes. So it’s important to take an honest evaluation of your time and goals, and come up with a plan from which to vary as necessary. Sure, it’s entirely possible that you might achieve your goals through simply by going out and running, maybe even running hard once or twice. But unless you’re quite literally coming off the couch, that’s a low probability outcome. And odds are good that you’re actually spending more time doing something you didn’t need to do, when you could have achieved the same result with less time doing what you ought to do.

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