Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 12 Sep 2004 09:31:29 -0400

Balancing Acts


(rerun from September 2001 RW)

Running is my job. On its best days it's a dream job, working at what otherwise would be a hobby. On its worst days it still beats any other career path I might have taken.

My workdays aren't filled with running, but instead with pressures and temptations not to run. The writing requires sitting for long stretches, the same as if the subject were coin collecting. When I go to races, it's usually to talk about running and not to run myself.

I have a wife who doesn't care to spend all of her spare time traveling to races. I have children who haven't yet left home for good and don't deserve a dad who's always out running. I have friends who don't run and don't want to talk about it constantly.

Running has always been, and remains, a big part of my life. But each run occupies a small part of my day. I am decidedly a part-time runner.

Reg Harris wrote a book by that title, The Part-Time Runner. Published in the mid-1980s, it disappeared too soon to tap into today's huge running market. But his title and message apply more than ever, as high-mileage training programs ask us to spend more time running -- while we have less of it to squeeze from our busy days.

Most of us are part-timers. We have families, jobs and other interests pushing our running into small corners of our day.

We aren't given the time to run; we must MAKE it and protect it. We must also stay flexible and conservative with that time in order to keep the peace between running and our competing obligations.

Adopting several rules-of-one has helped me manage this delicate balancing act. These include:

-- Schedule only one big day a week. "Big" means a long run that might train you for a marathon or a fast session that might prepare you for a short race. These days require so much extra focus and effort, if not extra time, that they're best taken infrequently and on days off from your job.

-- Run no more than one race a month. Races are available much more often than that, but you risk tipping your life out of balance by entering too many of them. Factoring in travel and recovery time, a race is an all-day, or even all-weekend, commitment that can be less fun for the family than it is for you.

-- Rest at least one day per week. If nothing else, the planned day off frees you from thinking you MUST find time to run every day. Make this a free-floating day of rest, available for days when your running must yield its time to other duties that can't wait until tomorrow.

I've held the most important rule-of-one for last: Average less than one hour of running a day. This doesn't mean never going beyond an hour, but if you do go longer one day then restore the balance by doing less in the days that follow. Averaging an hour a day keeps running in the realm of a hobby. Beyond that it seems like a second job.

Give yourself an hour on weekday workdays. Into that hour fit not only the run itself but also its surrounding activities. These might leave as little as a half-hour for running.

Not enough, you say? I agree that a half-hour run can be absurdly easy for an experienced runner.

But it also can be brutally hard for the best of runners. A world 10K record can be set in less than a half-hour, with time left over for a victory lap or two.

Half-hour runs can be any degree of difficulty you want to make them. In the time it takes not to watch a sitcom or not to eat a fast-food meal, you can gain and maintain basic aerobic fitness.

This is enough time but not too much to run on recovery days. It's long enough to train for speed and to race well for at least a 5K.

Whatever you do in the allotted period, you always finish at the same time. You're back home or back on the job before anyone had time to miss you.


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