[Editor’s Note: Robbie Britton is a British ultra-distance coach, athlete, and author of the new book 1001 Running Tips: The Essential Runners’ Guide. Based in Northern Italy, Britton has a Master of Science in Performance Coaching and recently completed the two-year International Olympic Committee Sports Nutrition postgraduate diploma. Learn more about Robbie on his website and purchase his book on Amazon.]
Ultrarunning is a time-intensive sport, not just in racing, but in terms of training too.
Fitting everything into a busy work, family, and social life can be daunting, and even though COVID-19 helped with the social side of things for a while, some thought needs to go into how we all manage that balance.
Increasing your running volume is one way of increasing performance, but it’s not a simple linear progressive scale, there is a little more nuance to it than that. The idea that you have to do X, Y, or Z amount of miles for any particular ultra simply isn’t true.
The question to ask isn’t how many miles a week you need to run to complete a 50 or 100 miler, but how many miles (or time) can I sustainably do without getting that balance wrong. This might vary week to week or month to month, and needs to take into account all other kinds of life stressors too. A tough day at work can hit you like a 10-mile threshold run, so chucking another on top in the evening needs to be considered as such.
Balancing Time and Life
If you were expecting tips for getting out the door or preparing your post-run snack in advance, those come later. First it’s important to sense check that you’re giving the right amount of time to your training in the first place.
Being busy means different things to different people and if you’re struggling to find time to get your running in there, you should ask yourself these questions: Am I doing too much? Is what I am doing sustainable?
As mentioned, it’s not simply as many miles as possible when training for ultras, but figuring out the right amount of time training for you.
What is possible for one day, one week, or one month can still be too much if you struggle to consistently stay motivated and un-injured. If you find yourself struggling for time to run, it might just be your mind trying to hold you back from doing too much. Levels of enjoyment can be a key indicator of overdoing it (as can more objective data like heart rate variability and sleep quality) but if your training is making you unhappy, then maybe you’re not too busy, but instead overtraining.
It’s not necessarily about having enough time to train, but also enough time to recover from that training too.
Work Versus Social Life
With more people working from home we have seen the boundaries between work and home life getting very blurry and people getting sucked into longer hours and less time for themselves.
If you think you might have fallen into this trap, setting stricter home times for yourself or inventing a run commute that you do from home (and then in a big loop back to home) could help with your mindset around work.
Are you short on time because of everything going on in life and training, or does social media come into it too? One of the biggest areas coaches will see athletes actively losing time in their day is from social media. Who hasn’t gotten lost in a video reel on Instagram or sucked into an endless Twitter thread, and suddenly lost an entire hour of their day?
One great tip from my coach recently was to set timers on my phone for different apps. Given that social media is part of my work I can’t just delete them, but limiting time to 30 minutes per app has made me a lot more productive with the time working on social media, and, if by the end of the day I’m on the couch with nothing to do and 15 minutes of time left on Instagram, I can still waste time watching some shuffle dancing if I want.
Making a Plan
Whether you have a coach or write your own plan, it’s still important to recognize the times in life that you’re going to be a bit busier in general and take this into account.
Whether it’s the end of the quarter that’s always a mad rush at work or the kid’s soccer camp means a lot more travel in the day, often we know this in advance but fail to adapt our plans accordingly.
If you have a coach, communicate this to them and they can build around your life. Don’t just pop races in the calendar, but add tiring travel days or stress periods at work so they are aware as well. If you write your own plan, then take this into account.
Don’t fall into the trap of writing off busy periods as rest though, as they’re far from restful. Often you see a pre-race rest day on the travel day and actually it’s probably the most exhausting day of the week for the athlete. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but keep in mind it’s not going to be as restful as you hoped.
If you are finding fitting ultrarunning and training life together difficult, then take a step back and think about why.
Finding the right amount of training volume for you isn’t something many people can get right straight away, and from the other side of life there might be improvements you can make around your time too.
Have a plan to improve things and make a note, whether in your training diary or on a bit of paper on the fridge. Then come back to it in two to three months time to see if you have improved. Even this simple action will hold you accountable to the improvements you’re striving for and could make a big difference.
Call for Comments
- What do you do to help create balance in your life as an ultrarunner?
- What do you do to re-set when things feel unsustainable?