We know that for many people, running provides an essential wellbeing boost – both physical and mental. At the moment, perhaps more than usual, this makes running feel like an essential activity that needs to be included in our day. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to make time for running. Work, family commitments, home-schooling, and all the other day-to-day life admin can get in the way of running. If this sounds familiar to you, this guide on how to fit running into your day – including tips on how to make the most of limited time to run – might help you get out the door.
It’s easier to find time to run if you do so in advance. Spontaneity can be fun, but can also make it tricky to fit everything in to your day.
Look ahead at your routine and any commitments you have and work out where the gaps are. Hopefully, this will help make it easier to see when you can get out for a run. If there aren’t any obvious gaps, look to see if anything can be moved around to make some time.
Bear in mind, that it is usually better to fit running into the rest of your life, than to try and fit the rest of your life around running.
Rise and shine
If possible, going for a run in the morning can make it easier to fit running into your day.
Get your kit out the night before, and all you need to do in the morning is get dressed, drink some water, nip to the loo, and get out of the door. Then, get home, shower, eat breakfast, and you’re ready to face the day.
Crucially, you’ll have managed to get out and run before any unexpected events or other commitments pop up and derail your plans to run later in the day.
Half an hour can be enough
If you’re just starting out as a runner, following a Couch to 5K plan, you’ll find that you rarely have to set aside more than 30 minutes to get your run in, plus a little extra time for getting changed, etc. Those half hour runs are enough to get the training benefits you need to reach your goal of completing Couch to 5K.
The same is true for more experienced runners. Unless you’re training for a particularly long event, such as a marathon, you don’t necessarily need to be out for more than 30 minutes.
You can, of course, run as much or as little as you want. After all, even just 10 minutes of running is better than nothing. That said, if you’re at the point where you’re spending longer getting changed than running, it might start to feel like a lot of effort for little benefit.
More bang for your buck
We wouldn’t recommend running flat out on all your runs – unless you particularly enjoy it – as there’s evidence suggesting this isn’t the best way to improve your running fitness. The 80/20 theory states that only 20% of your running should be at a hard effort level, with the remaining 80% done at a slower pace. This is because long distance running is primarily an endurance activity, so working on your endurance is the priority.
However, if you’re pushed for time and want to work on your speed, then it’s possible to squeeze a useful training session into just half an hour of running. Here are some options:
Start with a warm up of easy running, for at least 5 minutes. Then, when you feel ready, push the effort level up to the point that it feels “comfortably uncomfortable” – the sort of effort level where you could get a few words out, but couldn’t sustain a conversation. It’s not flat out, but it’s not easy either. The benefit of tempo runs is that they improve your ability to hold a sustained hard effort, but without completely wiping you out afterwards.
If you’re new to tempo runs, then just a few minutes at this effort level will be enough. If you’re more experienced at faster running, then you should be able to hold it until the end of your run. If you can’t, you’re going too fast!
Unlike tempo runs, which require you to hold a steady, consistent effort level, progression runs start off slow and gradually get quicker. It’s up to you how you decide to structure the session, but aim to work through from a very easy warm up to a flat out finish. With time, these will help you improve not just your speed, but your pace and effort judgement too.
If you have a GPS running watch, set it to beep at regular intervals – perhaps every 5 minutes, every mile, or every kilometre – and use that as your prompt to speed up slightly.
If you want to get quicker – and reduce your 10K time, for example – you’re going to need to do some faster running. The problem is, running fast is hard! The best way to resolve this issue is to break up periods of fast running (known as “intervals“) with some easier running (“recoveries”). You’ll get the benefit of running quickly, but broken up into manageable chunks.
The combinations of intervals and recoveries are almost limitless, but if you’re pushed for time, the following session can be squeezed into half an hour:
- Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running;
- Run for 3 minutes at a hard effort level, then 2 minutes at a jog. Do this 4 times;
- Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
The aim is to run each of the intervals at roughly the same speed. If you do this, you’ll probably find that the first couple feel manageable, but the last two are getting close to your limit.
If you want to take the concept of an interval run to the extreme, then give short sprints a go. Cut the interval time down to 10 seconds or less, but turn the speed up close to your max. This will be hard, so make sure you allow plenty of time to recover between intervals. You can even walk between sprints if it helps get your breath back quicker.
Here’s a sprint session that will fit into 30 minutes:
- Nice, easy warm up jog for 10 minutes;
- Run as fast as you can for no more than 10 seconds, then walk slowly for 2 minutes 50 seconds. Repeat this 5 times;
- Cool down with a slow jog for 5 minutes.
The focus with these is to get your muscles firing, by working them hard for short periods of time. It’s a similar effect to lifting heavy weights, and can help improve your running form if you stay smooth. You might finish the session feeling like you could have done more, but will probably feel it in your legs the next day.
If sprinting is new to you, then ease it into it by holding back slightly, or limiting the number of sprints you do, as it puts a lot of pressure on your muscles and ligaments. A little goes a long way!
One of the best ways to mix up your training is to head for some hills. There’s two ways to approach hilly runs:
- Run at an even pace. This will mean you’ll work harder on the uphills, but will enjoy a relative rest on the downhills. It might even feel like an interval session.
- Run at an even effort. Your pace will slow on the uphills, but speed up on the downhills. This might feel like a tempo run.
One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but these two approaches do offer an opportunity for you to use different muscles and energy systems than you would if you were on flat ground. In this way, a hilly run can be a good all-round training session.
This wonderful word means “speed play” in Swedish, which describes how you should approach the session – play around with different speeds and enjoy it!
In contrast to the structured sessions described above, a fartlek run is a much looser affair. It’s not so much about hitting target speeds for specific periods of time, but running at a variety of different speeds to keep your body guessing.
Rather than ‘design’ a fartlek session in advance, have a go at leaving it to chance. Try speeding up or slowing down every time you pass a lamppost, or park bench; see a red car; cross a road; or glimpse a pigeon… whatever you like!
If you’re looking at your to-do list and thinking there’s just no way to get a run in, how about combining some of your tasks with a run? For example, you could run while exercising the dog; on the way back from walking the children to school; while commuting; or pushing a buggy.
You might not be as quick as when doing a normal run, but the effort level will still be there.
If you’re looking at the runs on a training plan and thinking ‘I don’t have time for a 60 minute run’, for example, consider splitting the run into two.
Double-run days, or “doubles” as they are often called, are a great way of fitting longer runs into your day. That 60 minute run could be a 30 minute run in the morning, followed by a 30 minute in the evening.
Doubles can be especially useful for commuters looking to turn their daily trek to work into a run-commute. You can take that time that you would have spent travelling into time spent running.
You’re not alone
Working out how to fit running into your life is something almost every runner has to contend with. There are loads of runners who are either dealing with the same conundrum as you, or have already worked out a solution. A lot of them can be found in the Lonely Goat Running Club community.
If you’ve ever got any questions about fitting running into your day, or making the most of limited time to run, remember to ask your fellow Goats. Join in the conversation in the Facebook Chat Group, Instagram, or Strava.