Training on a Busy Schedule: How to Make Running Fit Your Life

Training tips for the busy runner

I’m too busy is a common excuse for not pursuing your goals in running or even committing to a fitness routine. While there is such a thing as stretching yourself too thin, the issue isn’t always how much time you have but how much commitment you have and how creative you are with your time available. Training on a busy schedule requires creativity, commitment, and balance, but you can make it work! 

Back in graduate school, I constantly had a busy schedule: a full course load, thesis research and writing, a 20-hour per week assistantship, a long distance relationship (and wedding planning in my last semester), taking care of a puppy, and planning ahead for the next career step. Some days, I was on campus from before 9 AM until 8 PM. Yet I consistently ran 20-30 miles per week during my grad school years, including a weekly long run of 8-12 miles, and raced my first 10K during that final semester. Training on a busy schedule was hard, but not impossible.

If you look around, you likely know plenty of people who balance a busy schedule – whether you know them on social media or in person. Some of the most inspiring runners we know are those who squeeze their training into their lives, rather than shape their lives around training. And if you are training on a busy schedule, then hopefully these tips will help you balance running with work and family while still having time to enjoy life.

Training on a busy schedule: how to get your runs in while staying balanced and sane.

Tips for Training on a Busy Schedule

Focus on the Investments of Running

Yes, running may take up time in the day…but it’s time well spent. Running improves your cardiovascular health, manages your weight, boosts your immune system, and improves your mood – along with many other benefits. I rarely was sick in graduate school, despite the fact that GA offices are a petri dish for illness – and I believe part of my health was due to running.

Running also fosters creativity and improves cognitive function. Whether you are in school or at a job, a run gives you a break away from your work that can actually then improve your productivity and quality of work. Think of how many times you come up with a great idea or a solution while out on a run! 

Meal Plan and Prep

Nutrition is important for both overall health and for improving as a runner. You will feel more energized and healthier when you eat well, and you will also be able to fuel your running and recover from hard workouts. Yet often, eating well is one of the first things to go when short on time (I ate Annie’s Mac & Cheese more times that I would like to admit during grad school). The thing is – healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.

Meal prepping is the secret to eating healthy when you don’t have time or energy to cook every day. Prepare recipes in batches – frittatas, roasted chicken, baked potatoes, roasted veggies – so you can easily reheat healthy meals for the remainder of the week.

A good rule of thumb: if you are already cooking, try to cook more than one meal. Make lunch for tomorrow when making dinner that evening or double your dinner recipe to have leftovers for the next day. Prep breakfast when you cook dinner the night before. If you are making bread, soup, or anything that can be doubled with virtually no extra time or effort, double the recipe and freeze the extra half. Those freezer meals are what will make the difference between a nutritious, homecooked meal and takeout when you’re very tired from a busy week! 

Treat Your Run as an Appointment

This is a cliche piece of advice, but for a good reason – it works when you have a busy schedule! Write your workout into your daily planner, set an alarm for it, and honor the commitment.

Treating your run as an appointment means arriving on time and concluding on time, with all of your gear arranged and ready before hand. You wouldn’t show up late to an appointment, but you also wouldn’t overstay your time! Show up prepared, have an actionable plan (know what your distance, effort/pace, and route will be), and don’t procrastinate at the start or after the run.

Run Before the Day Runs You Down

My days as a grad student usually required that I be on campus by 8:00-9:00 AM, whether it was for tasks as a teaching assistant or for an early class. Some days I could go home by noon to begin on grading, research, and writing for several hours, while other days I was on campus until almost 8 PM. Morning runs were my solution to get in my workout before getting to campus and becoming quickly submerged in my work.

Training on a busy schedule: how to get your runs in while staying balanced and sane.

While this tip doesn’t work for everyone, morning runs will let you get your run done before the responsibilities of the day pile up on you. You don’t have to worry about having the energy or time to run after work. And if you do miss a run in the morning, there’s time later in the day to make it up! Not a morning runner yet? Try these tips for becoming a morning runner

Make the Most of Your Runs

Ditch the comparison trap: how other people train does not affect how you train. You don’t need to be running 60+ mile weeks and logging double workouts; you just need to do what will be effective and enjoyable for you. 

During grad school I could only dedicate 30-60 minutes to exercise – as is the case for most people with busy jobs. Social media may be full of people who seem to exercise all day long, but you can reap the benefits of training with 30-60 minutes of running on your training days. High mileage isn’t the only way to improve as a runner.  

Some of my athletes with busy schedules run only 3-4 times per week – but those runs are high-quality workouts that render the most benefits for the miles logged: aerobic fitness runs, long runs, and a hard workout. Be creative with these runs and commit to completing them. Ultimately, doing your best for your available time and abilities is what matters, whether you are training on a busy schedule or not. 

Even if you are training for a marathon or half marathon, you don’t need to run more than 60 minutes per day (except your weekend long run). Keep those 60 minutes or less varied: fartlek, easy runs, tempo runs, hill runs – and you will find yourself well trained for your goal and balanced in your life. You don’t need to run crazy high mileage to do well in the marathon.


Embrace the Treadmill

Running outside offers numerous benefits, from learning how to pace to the fresh air – but outdoor running is not always realistic if you don’t live in a runner-friendly area or have a busy schedule. If you have a treadmill at home, this can be your best friend when training on a busy schedule. With the treadmill, you can run any time of day, without adding on time of driving to a route and without worrying about who will watch the kids.

Training on a busy schedule: how to get your runs in while staying balanced and sane.

You can do virtually any running workout on the treadmill (with the exception of downhill training, unless you’re really creative). All it takes is a good playlist, podcast, or audiobook, some variety – don’t just set it to the same pace and incline the entire time – and a good amount of mental tenacity.

Hire a Coach

If your budget permits, a coach can keep you training through the busiest times of your life. As a running coach, I work with runners with all sorts of  busy schedules – stay at-home moms, working single moms, nurses, etc.

A coach plans your workouts for you around your schedule – so you don’t have to give any mental thought for when you will run and what exactly you will do. You’ll be surprised at how much time and energy you will save when all you have to do is run, not plan out your training!

As I said above, an actionable plan is key for fitting in your runs! Plus, a coach means accountability…you are less likely to skip out on your run when you are paying someone who is paying close attention to your workouts.

Let Yourself Miss a Workout

You do not need to complete 100% of your training runs to run a strong race or to stay fit and healthy. It takes more than one missed run every few weeks to detract from your fitness, but some days you just need to skip a workout to fit everything else in.

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner

How do you adapt your training for when you are busy?
Are you a morning, afternoon, or evening runner?

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21 Responses

  1. As I said yesterday, I find that running helps me so much when I am busy. I definitely used running to get through grad school as well. Like you, I had a crazy schedule as a full time student with a full time job/internship, and most weeks I had no days off from work/class. I would get to the gym when it opened at 5am to get my workout in before staring the day. I think learning to fit running in back then definitely helped me to make it a consistent part of my life. The only problem now is I am so stuck with being a morning running, that I find it pretty much impossible to run after work! So if I don’t get it done in the morning, its probably not happening that day.

    1. It is so hard to shift to afternoon/evening running once the habit is formed! I do think fitting it in back then made it easier to manage it now – especially harder training like marathon training that requires more commitment.

  2. The whole time I was reading I was thinking “it’s also ok to miss a workout or two” and BAM – nailed it! Sometimes I think we share a brain 🙂
    And, I always tell people to make an excuse as to why you CAN do it, not why you CAN’T.

  3. I don’t know anyone who can’t use this advice. The line that stuck out to me was “the issue isn’t always how much time you have but how much commitment you have and how creative you are with your time available.”. You are so right… there’s no excuse to just do NOTHING, everyone can carve out a couple hours a week to run or be active. Training isn’t necessarily about doing the most but getting the most out of what you can do.

    I also agree with you on super high mileage. Most runners can benefit from running more, but there is a “law of diminishing returns”. If extra running is compromising work or family time, it’s not really worth it just to shave a few minutes or even seconds off a race time.

  4. Great post! How do I adapt my training to fit my schedule? Well, I don’t make training plans because I never know what my day will look like day-to-day, so I very much fly by the seat of my pants. I do like getting up early to run so I can get it done, but I also really enjoy hammering out some hard and fast miles in the afternoon while Callum plays beside me. Flexibility is key. Actually, so is OCD. A solid mix of the two is the perfect recipe for a consistent runner. 🙂

    1. Yes a balance of both! Without that OCD, it would be too easy to skip workouts. But without flexibility, that important ability to adapt and adjust wouldn’t exist.

  5. During this season of life, I am most definitely an afternoon/evening runner. I hope that someday I could become a morning runner, but this is what works for me right now. Training when busy can definitely present challenges, but does not mean that it cannot be done…you just have to get creative. Biggest thing I keep in mind is that the time is a commitment to myself. I am a much happier person to be around when I get my workouts in. 🙂 Me and missing workouts is like oil and water….they do not mix.

  6. I just wanted to let you know that your posts help me more than any others that I’ve read. Starting out with running (again) is really hard but I get hope, inspiration, and great advice from your posts. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Meagan! I am glad that you are finding the posts helpful and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions! Good luck and happy running as you get back into it!

  7. I am so behind on blog reading that I didn’t even know I missed this post! we totally talked a bit this week about some of this lol. I am never too busy to run in the morning but we definitely don’t need to run all day long or a crazy amount of miles!

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