I’m a nurse and work 12- to 14-hour night shifts. Depending on my schedule and how exhausted I feel from working nights, I’m able to train a lot some weeks, and almost not at all in other weeks. Any advice for those of us who can’t adhere to a traditional training plan, and whose weekly mileage must often vary dramatically?
Know you’re not alone. Just because you have a 12-hour shift does not mean you cannot be a successful ultrarunner. I have clients and friends who are nurses, firefighters, frequent business travelers, parents of young children, students with heavy course loads, folks in areas with winter blizzards and others who cannot fit a traditional training schedule into their busy lives.
Think of your long days as part of your ultra training. They give you mental toughness and an ability to spend time on your feet that will serve you well in your races. Take advantage of the time you have. Those days and weeks when you have extra time are perfect for your long runs and even back-to-back hard runs. During the busy work weeks, cut back on the mileage and intensity, but keep up with core and stability work, as well as stretching. Find ways to cross-train.
Plan ahead what you’ll do every single day. When I knew I was in for a long, busy day, the first thing I did was to think of some training I could do before I got home. I knew that once I walked in the door and sat down, it would be oh so easy to tell myself I was tired and training could wait. Instead, no matter how tired I was, I told myself: every little bit helps. It’s those little things that add up to ultra success.
Use your meal or break time to get a few miles in or to make a quick trip to the gym. If you can’t get out of the building, bring a yoga mat and a few small weights or other items to work. If your building has stairs, walk or run some laps at the end of your shift. Initially your colleagues will think you’re eccentric and wonder what you’re up to, but they will be impressed when you tell them you’re training for ultras—ask them to remind you to do your training every day.
If you live within a runnable distance, run to or from work. Hit a gym. Get colleagues to join you on a walk. Get a couple miles before or after work. On your long days, be very specific and quality oriented. When I had a block of days with more time on my hands, I knew it was a good time to fit in long or hard runs. But, I also knew that it was the perfect time to catch up on sleep and to let my body recover from the stresses of everyday life. Remember, improvements in fitness come during the recovery from training. Lack of adequate recovery can lead to the long-term fatigue of overtraining syndrome.
Be creative. Top runners always find ways to get the job done. In the days before treadmills, when the weather was too bad to go outside Emil Zatopek, the famous Czech runner who in 1952 won Olympic gold in the 5,000, 10,000 and the marathon, threw wet laundry into his bathtub and ran in place for hours. That should be an inspiration for us all to find a way to get the job done.
If you don’t have the block of time needed to go for a run, a few minutes here and there throughout the day can be enough to do something productive. Push-ups, bird dogs, leg lifts, crunches, side planks, dips. Select a few basic exercises you can do whenever you have a few minutes free.
It’s easy to get discouraged when life gets in the way and the weekly mileage wouldn’t even count as an ultra. In his book Daniels’ Running Formula, Coach Jack Daniels has a quote that every runner should take to heart: “always try to achieve the greatest possible benefit from the least amount of training rather than getting the greatest possible benefit from the hardest training possible.” Sometimes I would have the luxury of enough time in the day to get my desired mileage. But when I was tight on time, I made sure every workout counted.
What’s so magical about a seven-day week anyway? Most training schedules are based on what fits someone working a traditional 8-to-5 job. When I was setting up a training plan for myself, I would build it around what I needed to accomplish next, whether that was a long run, speed work, race-specific work or getting plenty of rest. When life got busy I didn’t see any need to follow a traditional weekly schedule. So Nate, here’s another one of Ann’s little secrets: make your week fit your schedule, not your schedule fit your week!