How to Find Time & Mental Space for a Tough Training Plan

Training for an endurance event can seem daunting. When I first read the Hansons’ Half Marathon Method book, which prescribes as much or even more mileage than other full marathon plans, I didn’t think it was for me. In my early 40s, with only a few years of running experience behind me, and with no natural talent, I doubted I could even do it. There were phrases in the book that went something like: We won’t sugarcoat it. This phase is very difficult, and you will be tired. Yikes! Last summer I took a leap into the scary unknown and tried the Hansons’ plan for my fall half marathon. I was so happy and proud that I successfully completed the tough training, which was a big accomplishment for me in its own right.

I’m in week 6 of the same training plan for my spring half marathon and am re-learning just how tough it is. I thought back to what worked for me the first time so that I can use it again this time. If you’ve ever really wanted to try a tough training plan but aren’t sure you can do it, trust me that YOU CAN. Here are some things that worked for me that I’ll be using again and that I hope may be useful to you if you decide to give a tough plan a go.

Don’t think about it.

Save your mental energy to get through workouts. Don’t waste mental space on decisions like where to run, when to run, and what to wear.

  • Some people’s fluctuating schedules don’t let them settle into a routine for when to run. But if you have a pretty set schedule, it’s best to create a routine for when to run (mornings, lunch, or evenings) instead of trying to plan it based on the weather the next day, unless there’s an extreme weather situation or unusual circumstances. Unless I plan to join my friends for an evening fun run or if a severe blizzard is forecast for the morning, I do all my runs first thing in the morning. It takes any guesswork out of when I’ll get my runs in and is one less thing to think about.
  • Lay out your running gear the night before. I lay out two running outfits–one for warmer temps and one for cooler–so that all I have to do in the morning is check the weather and grab my outfit.
  • Know where you’re going to do speedwork. If you plan to do your speedwork on a track, check any available school schedules to make sure a team won’t be practicing when you plan to be there. If you plan to use a treadmill, make sure you pick a time that’s least crowded at your gym if the treadmills fill up. I do a very flat section of the trail near my house for speedwork between our baseball and footballs stadiums. Sometimes that section of the trail floods or is icy in winter, but there’s an equally flat sidewalk between the stadiums on the upper level that I use as a backup. The stadiums always clear their sidewalks in winter, which I greatly appreciate!
  • Have a plan for extreme weather. Whether it’s scheduling long runs early in the morning of a summer heat wave or planning to use the treadmill when snow and ice make your usual running route unavailable, having a backup plan will save you from wondering what to do when you wake up to a blizzard.
  • Program your workouts into your watch, if your watch has this capability. I have a Garmin Forerunner 220, but my very old Garmin had this capability. I find it invaluable. My Garmin will both beep and vibrate to tell me when to start a repeat and when to rest. It eliminates mentally trying to wonder what repeat you’re on, especially when you’re doing a lot of them.
  • Print out multiple copies of your training plan and hang them up where you can see them and/or enter your workouts into every calendar you have. I have copies of my training plan by my desk at work and on my refrigerator, so at any time of the day I know what I’m doing the next day.
  • After you create your training plan, print it out, and know where and when you’re going to do all the runs, don’t look at more than one day out. Seeing all the tough workouts, all the miles, and just how much more I had to do in the plan was mentally taxing for me. So I always kept my focus on the next day in the plan. It’s kinda like a race–you don’t want to be struggling at the 5K mark of a half marathon and start thinking about how much farther you have to go.

Treat every run like race day.

I often read things like this on social media from my running friends: “Such a great run! Felt like I could run forever!” “Legs felt great!” “I felt really good, and my legs just wanted to go.” I very seldom had a run like that while doing Hansons. Nearly every run was tough. The SOS (something of substance) workouts were super tough, and even the easy runs were hard because my legs were tired from the cumulative fatigue. Hansons’ changed my perception of a “great run” from feeling easy and good to being very hard but still being able to get through it. I got through them because I pretended every day was race day. Did I want to take a walk break after running at only two miles at race pace during my race? No. So I didn’t do it in training. When I was tired and didn’t feel like getting out the door to run, I reminded myself that I’m going to be tired at the end of the race. The difficulty of the training was great practice for the difficulty of the actual race–both mentally and physically.

Seek out flexibility in your schedule.

Training would be much easier if there wasn’t life and work to also have to deal with! I work full time for an organization that offers a flexible work environment. I use that flexibility to my advantage when I’m training. Many organizations are offering better benefits and flexible schedules these days, so if you aren’t sure whether you could have a flexible schedule, ask!

  • My longest weekday run is on Tuesday. I get up at 4 a.m. to get this run in, but I’m still going to be late getting into the office. I created a block on my calendar for Tuesday mornings so that no one schedules meetings first thing on Tuesdays.
  • My second longest weekday run is on Thursday. I can work from home one day a week and chose to work from home Thursday to accommodate that run. I work a long day on my work-from-home day to make up the time I come in late the other days.
  • I run my schedule past my coworkers so that everyone knows what my schedule is.

Note: I don’t have kids. I’m sure there are many other running moms with great advice on how to juggle running with child care!

Prepare your family and friends.

My husband and I like to spend a lot of time together. We are not the kind of couple where each does his and her own thing. And yet, I run a lot. He does not run. Even though I run first thing in the morning, I need to do my foam rolling, yoga, and strength in the evening, which cuts into our time together, and then there are the weekend runs. I try to arrange things to interfere the least with our time together. I get home about an hour before he does, so that’s when I do my strength training and foam rolling. But I know there will be times when I can’t avoid cutting into our time together. This year my plan is to prioritize my free time. If I have only one free hour in an evening, I’m not going to blog, clean the house, or cook. I’m going to spend that time with my husband. I also let my husband know in advance when I’ll be spending a lot of time training.

I let my family and friends know my training schedule if it conflicts with their plans that involve me. My family has a huge Halloween party ever year, and my fall half marathon was in October. I told them very early my race date so they could plan around it. I wouldn’t ask everyone to move plans around, but I do want them to know why I will have to leave their party by 8 without drinking.

With these strategies, I’ve been able to fit in the training I want to do. If there’s a will, there’s a way!


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