5 Tips For Balancing Running With A Full Time Job

Get the most out of your training while still rocking your career.


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My first job out of college was not your typical 9-5. I did marketing (mainly social media) for a running specialty store, where I also worked on the sales floor. Running specialty is retail, but it’s like regular retail on steroids; you’re expected to not only stand for 8 hours while simultaneously organizing product, working with a customer, answering phones and covering the cash register, but you’re also expected to maintain an active lifestyle outside of the store so that you have the knowledge to supplement your sales skills. In that environment – where running everyday was literally in my job description – I was able to get in pretty consistent training when I was healthy.

Transitioning from a job environment that prioritized training and distance running to a desk job where frankly, no one cares whether I run or not, was a big adjustment for me. It turns out that it’s really hard to motivate yourself to take those first steps out the door after you’ve sat in meetings for 10 hours and you’re hungry and you’re sore from sitting (who even knew you could get sore from sitting!?). And turns out it’s even harder when you train by yourself, for yourself, with no coach or team to encourage you – which is how the majority of people train when they work full time.

After learning these lessons the hard way (the hard way for me was putting on almost 15 pounds in 3 months because I stopped doing any physical activity at all – oops), I eventually figured out some useful tips and tricks to get around them, and am happy to report that since learning how to balance my running with my full time job, I’ve been able to run a half marathon, lose most of the weight, and am back to putting in consistent 30-35 mile weeks.

Here’s what worked for me:

Workout Whenever The Heck You Want

There are morning exercisers, and there are evening exercisers. It’s totally up to you which one you are. I mean it! Instagram might make you feel like you’re only a true runner if you wake up at 5am to get your workout in, but that’s just not true. A runner is a runner no matter what time they run.

Some people actually function better when they can save their run for 6pm and run the stress of the day off. Other people function better if they knock it out first thing in the morning. There is no such thing as the right way to do it; there is only what is right for you. The real key there is to be honest with yourself about what that actually looks like and try not to force it either way, because you’ll only end up miserable by trying to force a big change.

Take Control Of Your Energy Levels

When I first started working a 9-5, I subsisted mostly on coffee, donuts, and takeout. I was working long hours, and I was exhausted by the time I got home at night. I ended up locked in a vicious cycle of eating refined, processed food because I was too tired to cook, and then feeling even more lethargic and sluggish from the steady diet of refined, processed food.

I think I knew that my nutrition at the time was a problem, but I didn’t understood how big of a difference it made until I fixed it. When I finally started cooking real food for myself, my energy levels literally soared. You don’t have to eat super clean to reap the benefits, either; just aim for protein, a vegetable or fruit, and a grain at every meal. Boom. Nutrition.

Use Caffeine

One of my friends is an elite runner for Asics GTC-Elite (Hi Kate!) and she turned me on to the 3 p.m. coffee. I always find myself lagging after lunch, and that little boost of caffeine a couple hours before I’m due to workout (I typically run at 6pm everyday) can be the difference between slogging home and falling asleep on the couch or getting myself out the door.

Similarly, when I know that I have to wake up and run at 5:30am, I’ll get up at 4:45 and drink a small cup of coffee. The caffeine not only makes me more focused and alert, my body has learned over time that the ritual of drinking my pre-run cup is a cue for it to start transitioning into run mode.

Take Care Of Your Feet

Dress shoes are the devil. High heels are the devil. Ballet flats are the devil. Any shoe without arch support is the devil and will leave your arch sore and fatigued by the end of an 8 hour workday. You should avoid wearing these for any period of time longer than 30 minutes, particularly if you’re standing or walking a lot.

“But Carolyn,” you say. “My office has a dress code!”

Well, then you need to get crafty. Here’s how:

Personally, I hide Oofos OOcloogs (which may be butt ugly but are actually the most comfortable shoes on the entire earth I swear to you) under my desk and wear them when I work at my computer. I have a second pair that I keep in my car and wear on my lunch break. The only time I wear dress shoes is on my way from the parking lot to my desk, or my desk to the bathroom.

An even sneakier option is Superfeet DELUX Dress Insoles, which are smaller support inserts made specifically for men’s and women’s dress shoes. I have a pair of these and it works in any narrow shoes – from boots to flats to Keds to Toms.

Once I started taking care of my feet during the day, my runs at night got much, much easier. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes in your overall health, too.

Keep a Journal

After not keeping any sort of record about my running for YEARS (outside of my brain, which was not always entirely accurate) I received a Believe Training Journal for Christmas one year, and have been hooked ever since. There’s something about writing down what I did (or didn’t do) every week that satisfies both my inner-Type-A and  ultra-competitive nature.

If you aren’t a journal person, there are also countless digital ways to accomplish the same thing, ranging from low tech (the notes app on your phone or a free website like RunningAhead.com) to high tech (programs like Training Peaks that cost money to join).

While I feel like I’ve established a pretty good routine for myself at this point, I’m always looking for ideas to improve my process! If you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you as you balance training with a full time job, comment below and let’s start a discussion! Until then,

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How to Become a Morning Runner When You Hate Waking Up Early

Tips and tricks for getting yourself out of bed and out the door.

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Waking up early is hard for me. Like, EMBARRASSINGLY hard. Like, I will literally set 10 alarms spaced one minute apart each with a different threatening message and combination of skull emojis and still ignore every single one of them to sleep for 6 more minutes.

And honestly, that used to be fine. I worked at a running store that didn’t open until 10; I could roll out of bed at 8, run, sit with my coffee and oatmeal for an hour, then do the work thing. The store was 5 minutes from my house, and most days I wore yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a pair of running sneakers to work (I know…#blessed).

But these days, I work an 8-5. I commute to my job. I have to wear real pants (!!). And sometimes I know that I have a very long, hectic day ahead of me, and that I won’t get home until very late. And at that point, I will want a pint of ice cream. And probably a drink.

On days like this, it’s in my best interest to run before work, even if it’s PAINFULLY early. So I did what every girl’s gotta do eventually: grow the HECK up and figure out ways to trick myself into doing something I desperately hate.

That said, here’s the 4 things that have worked for me:

1. Lay Everything Out the Night Before

Or, if you have to, sleep in your running clothes. The less thought you have to put into getting out the door, the more likely you will be to get out the door.

2. Find People That Will Hold You Accountable

For me, this means EVERYONE AND ANYONE. The night before I know I have to run at 5am, I tell all my friends that I’m going to do it. I tweet that I’m going to do it. I post on my Tumblr page that I’m going to do it. When that first alarm goes off, I picture having to answer all those “so, did you do it?” texts with “no, I’m a baby”, and the thought of that shame is usually enough to get me out the door.

3. Do it for the ‘Gram

Ok, this is kind of terrible, and I will obviously never be able to do this again because of personal shame, but COME ON, who doesn’t enjoy posting a perfectly filtered pic of the sunrise to their Instagram page and watching the likes roll in? Do it for the likes, guys. Do it for the likes.

4. Bribe Yourself

Step 1: Think of a delicious food. Step 2: Wake up and drive to a place that sells that breakfast food. Step 3: Start your run from there so that when you finish you can go right from “I hate my life” to “I love bagels” or “I love pancakes” or “I love donuts”. Or, in extreme cases, “I love Rita’s water ice, even at 8am.”

Honestly, waking up before the sun to get my run in is still a work in progress for me. So far I’ve learned that workouts are a no-go at 5am because they take so much time and mental preparation for me, and I just don’t have it in the morning yet.But I can knock out a 5-6 mile recovery run fairly easily, and that is a huge step in the right direction.

If you guys have any more tips, I’d love to hear them. A girl can only post so many ‘grams before all her friends hate her, so the more solutions I’ve got, the better. Let me know, and until then, happy training!