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Coach Culpepper: It Takes Balance

Learn how to manage your training with a busy lifestyle.

Learn how to manage your training with a busy lifestyle. 

Juggling all that life has to offer can be a challenge in and of itself. Now factor in your personal desire to stay fit, train consistently or really focus on a race goal, and you may feel overwhelmed before you start. As a father of four with a full-time job and obscure passion for running in circles as fast as possible, I can certainly attest to the need for balance and efficiency of time and effort. There are some simple and effective ways to find the balance necessary to train properly while not denying your family, work and personal obligations.

Time Is Of The Essence

A predictable schedule and training routine is the first step to staying focused on your running amid your other daily commitments and duties. Stick to a set schedule for training (even if it has to vary on some days). It will help eliminate potential lapses in self-discipline, ensure predictability in how you feel each day, and it makes your running a priority in your schedule.

Choose a time of day that works for you and your schedule, whether first thing in the morning at lunch break or in the evening. Be honest about who you are and what is really sustainable. Forcing yourself to train at a time of day that just doesn’t work will not allow a consistent routine to develop. You will be amazed at how much less mental exertion it takes to get out the door when you run at the same time each day. Sometimes a day-by-day approach can cause training to hang over you unnecessarily and become more of a burden and less of the joy. But, by running at approximately the same time each day, your body gets into a rhythm and you will have a much better grasp on how you feel each day. Our bodies love routine.

o Make it known to family or coworkers what time of day you’ve scheduled to train.

o Pick a time that fit best with your schedule, don’t force the training in where it just doesn’t work.

o Routine and consistency can compensate for some potential deficiencies in a program.

The Group Dynamic

Running with a group for specific hard workouts or long runs will help maximize the time you have dedicated to training. Even those who, like me, enjoy the solitude of running will agree that having a group to train with a few days a week raises the quality of harder sessions and helps the miles click off a little easier on longer runs. Groups are available in almost every city around the country, either through running clubs, specialty run shops or casual meeting locations at a track or trail. Running with others provides accountability and camaraderie with like-minded individuals and makes those harder sessions much less psychologically challenging. If you are choosing between an easy run with a group or harder session always choose the workout. Recovery days are best done solo to ensure you run your recovery pace, and having others to push through a tough workout will help you get the most out of the workout and the time you put in.

o Call your local running retailer for suggestions for groups or meeting locations.

o Surround yourself with runners of equal ability; find a group that can help elevate your workout while not making your run a race effort.

o Running with others just one day a week can help eliminate the burden of a hard workout or long run and make training not only more fun but more effective as well.

Quality vs. Quantity

There is ongoing debate over which is more important, quality or quantity. There is no hope of resolving this issue in one paragraph, but I can say with full certainty that there is a time and place for both. With all of the advancements in exercise science, we have come a long way from the days of simply doing more volume as a means of making up for a lack of proper training. That being said, it is clear that more volume leads to significant gains in aerobic development. The question we have to consider in our time-crunched realities is which one wins out in overall importance. Answer: It depends on the time of the year.

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In the off-season or during what should be a base-training phase, quantity should be the primary focus. If the choice is between a harder workout with less mileage and a moderate long run during the offseason, choose the longer run. There is simply no substitute for cumulative aerobic conditioning through more mileage over a period of several months. However, if you have made the transition into a more specific training block or race preparation phase than an emphasis on quality is appropriate. If you’re forced to choose one over the other, then a specific targeted workout, instead of maintenance mileage, will maximize the time you have allocated during your racing season.

o Don’t think of it as one versus the other, but both having a time and place.

o Quantity should be the focus during the off season; a gradual build up in volume can lead to huge gains come race season.

o Quality is key during the transition to racing or during the season.

Our lives are complicated enough, and your training should not be a burden to an already packed schedule. Designate a time each day dedicated to your training, find a group that can provide accountability and increased productivity to your workouts, and, lastly, appropriately concentrate on quality or quantity, which can all provide balance and efficiency to your running program.

This column first appeared in the July 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 


About The Author:

Two-time U.S. Olympian Alan Culpepper coaches runners of all levels through