Getting the Most Out of Your Training

We all have our excuses as to why we can’t get out the door — especially this time of year. It’s dark and cold. I’ve got to get the kids to soccer. I have too much work. Who’s going to get dinner ready if I go out for a run? Whether it’s family, work, or sometimes just a lack of motivation, there’s always going to be something tugging us back to the couch. So, what’s the difference between those of us that get out for that quick ride or run, and those of us that don’t? How do they find the time and motivation? That’s what I’m going to get to the bottom of in this issue. How do YOU make the most of your training in that precious short amount of time allotted in your busy schedule?

“Doing more with less” should be a motto of us hearty Northwest endurance athletes. I asked four of the busiest (and most dedicated) people I know how they balance family (kids), work (full time and then some), and high-level running.

Jeff and Katie Caba, 2011 and 2012 Mixed Masters TransRockies 6 Day Race champions, physicians assistants, parents of three boys, and Jeff is currently also going to school.

Tom Brooks, Former Oregon Track Club Elite steeplechaser, father, and full-time Nike employee.

Bret Schoolmeester. Elite Nike athlete, Nike Global Brand Manager, family man with two kids, two horses, two goats, six chickens, and five turkeys, and ran a 65:30 half marathon this year.

The easiest way to jump to that next level is by putting in more time on the bike or more miles on the running shoes. A motivated athlete (with an unlimited amount of time) can easily spend extra time on the ancillary aspects of gaining performance — like core work, massage, cross training, etc. But what if you don’t have that luxury? Are there ways to get more fitness benefit with the existing amount of time you have dedicated to exercise? Sure there are. Does it take more planning? Here’s what Katie says: “We have to plan ahead each week to fit our training in. In our case, since Jeff is trying to balance more (work, school, family) we figure out when Jeff can run/train first, then I get creative filling my training in after that.  Often I have entered a week accepting that I may not get a run in for several days, but get blessed by a last-minute opportunity to run. I will get dressed in running clothes at the start of the day just hoping something will work out, and it often does.” Now that’s planning ahead.

Mix Up the Intensity

So many of us get stuck in a rut. Falling into the trap of a standard 5-mile training loop will get you really good at that 5-mile training loop. But the body needs stress to improve and grow. By removing the stress of time-sucking easy miles, the overall intensity can be increased to gain fitness. As elite athletes, these four know that adding more intensity into their training program is what will get them fitter than just going out for a daily jog. Tom says, “ I almost always run by myself because it allows me to be the most flexible with my schedule. It also allows me to be the most flexible with my pace, because many of my runs are done at a ‘perceived’ effort level. I try to run as much of my weekly mileage at threshold pace supplemented with some easy mileage and strides.“ Tom adds, “Don’t be afraid to do a lot of high-end aerobic running. As long as you don’t red-line, you’ll recover much faster than you think.” Jeff increases his intensity during his 7-mile commute to work a couple days a week by “either riding hard (like a time-trial) both directions on a bike, or running each way at a tempo pace.”

If just running as hard as you can to work seems a bit mundane, consider this. Bret did some experimenting with some of his workouts from college. He adapted them to fit into his schedule by shortening warmups (but getting them in during the workout) or by inserting his workout into his run to work to mix it up. “Instead of formal tempo runs on the track, I did a lot more progression runs out on the road. Instead of formal interval sessions, I added in a lot more fartlek. When I did have the time to workout big on the weekends, my long runs weren’t just long runs, I added in some harder work (I.e., mile pick-ups), so I theoretically got an extra bang for my buck. Coincidentally I found that some of these things worked well enough that I would incorporate them into any training program, even if I did have the luxury of more time.“

Katie has been a master at figuring out how to get the most out of her training, even when it’s hard to hit the weekly mileage number she’d feel comfortable with going into big races. “I just make sure that I get the most out of the time I dedicate to training by incorporating tempo runs, progression runs and speed. Running less allows me to increase my intensity on days I get to train.”

Time Savers

The addition of intensity to your training plan will have the single biggest impact on your overall fitness and allow you to see performance gains. Next, figure out how to log more time on your feet or your pedals during a hectic weekly schedule. Many athletes will full-time jobs find themselves up pre-dawn to get in a spin around the neighborhood or a quick ride to work. All four of our athletes say this gives them a jumpstart on the day and makes them more productive.

Being flexible with their training is another key aspect to all of these athletes’ training plans. “Flexibility is critical!” says Katie. “As parents, we simply can’t follow a rigid training plan. There are too many unpredictable obstacles that get in the way of a set plan. Often, my one long run of the week has been cancelled for a sick kid, husband working late, or babysitter who cancelled. Rather than assuming my training will fail, I try to keep things in perspective. It is particularly important not to get caught up thinking there is only one plan that works. I’ve learned that I can still be successful and even run my best with only 5 days/week of training and relatively low weekly mileage.”

Katie and Jeff have been the most creative at getting their workouts in. Jeff regularly rides or runs to work. And Katie has a whole list of options for finding the perfect time for a quick dose of exercise, from swapping the kids with friends to getting her core work in while the kids play at the park. Check out the “Get Creative” side bar for more ideas.

Even when it seems impossible to add one more thing, exercise is one part of their day that these athletes are not willing to give up on. And as Katie put it: “It is like brushing my teeth — my day is incomplete without it. It helps keep me balanced and more productive in other areas of my life, from work to mothering and homemaking.”

Get Creative

Add intensity to your normal routine where you haven’t before. Mix it up between fast and slow, but focus on high-end threshold training. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.

Run or ride to/from work. It saves a lot of time.

Social hour. Get together with like-minded friends at the track instead of the coffee shop.

Play time. While the kids are at the park, use the play structures to get in a quick core workout. It’s like an outdoor gym.

Resistance training. A jogging stroller adds a whole new element to the term resistance. Try it on hills.

Babysitting budget. If you and your spouse both fit in exercise time, use that babysitting budget for a workout together instead of a movie.

Kid swaps. Take turns with friends watching each other’s kids while one of you goes for a workout.

Interval training groups. If there’s a training group in your area that meets at a park for intervals, just bring the kids along if they’re old enough. You run, they play.

Originally published in 2013 Print Issue