Jul | 14
Running Tips

7 Steps to Balance Work, Life, and Ultra Marathon Training

I love ultra marathons because distance running teaches us that the only limits that can contain us are those we place upon ourselves.

To safely reach and push past these limits it is vital we train properly. Despite the rewards of training, the sheer number of hours requires sacrifice that may feel daunting and seemingly wreck any semblance of balance in our life.

In this post I’ll share seven tips that have helped me balance work, life, and ultra marathon training.


Step 1: Personally Prioritize

It’s critical to reflect on our priorities as a first step in achieving a balance between work, life, and training. Some activities must necessarily be deemphasized as training consumes a larger share of our schedule. In my case, I made the difficult decision to sacrifice some of my social time and reduce the number of evenings I spent out with friends.

Of course, our priorities can shift over time but a deliberate approach helps us jumpstart training and maintain focus once begun.

Step 2: Plan the Work. Work the Plan

Though I began running ultras in 2011, I’ve only been training with a coach since December. It’s made a huge difference by streamlining the planning process.

Ray Zahab made history when he ran 4,600 miles across the entire Sahara desert – a truly epic feat of preparation and endurance. Ray knows how to reverse engineer excellent results. We meet weekly to inventory progress, identify improvement opportunities, and troubleshoot challenges. We finish the discussion with a training plan for the week ahead to address weaknesses and build on strengths.

Once we’ve planned the work we only need to work the plan. It’s liberating and enables us to simply focus on the workout in front of us. This basic formula has enabled me to maintain 100% training plan adherence thus far in 2017 and I’m aiming to build a multi-year streak.

Whether you’re training solo or partnering with a coach or friend, plan your work and work your plan

Step 3: Start Early

Though I’m hardly a morning person, I prefer early workouts because I have fewer scheduling conflicts or distractions.

I aim to begin each morning the exact same way. I roll out of bed at 4am and chug a glass of water before knocking out a regimen of 100 push-ups, 50 air squats, and 20 chin-ups. After calisthenics I roll and stretch my legs before lacing up my Brooks Hyperions and hitting the pavement for my morning run.

For those of us just beginning distance running, start small and focus on building momentum. With consistency, we can surprise ourselves with the pace of our progress. I’m not a naturally disciplined person so I’ve sought to create a morning routine that leaves me less dependent on personal will power and enables me to push through mileage.

Morning training runs also yield a sense of accomplishment and momentum for the day ahead. So get started early.

Step 4: Enlist Support

It takes a village to achieve a big goal so it’s critical to get friends, loved ones and colleagues onboard.

Friends and family know that my morning training schedule requires an early bedtime so we’ve traded dinner for brunch. I’m a big fan of a long run to weekend picnics to catch up with friends, relax and feast on favorite foods before beginning the jog home.

Another Saturday favorite is putting in 15 or 20 miles before meeting up with a pal for an easy run to our favorite breakfast place. This is a fun way to reconnect and get fueled before putting in the back half of an ultra workout. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, this rest interval actually pays big dividends on race day by simulating an ultra aid station stop and conditioning our legs to get back into gear faster.

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Great got up early for a long run last winter before cruising to an early breakfast!

I’m also fortunate to have enormously encouraging colleagues. One of our workplace rituals is to set personal goals together each month and then review progress on Fridays. We’re then able to better support and encourage one another.

Ultra training can feel like a lonely pursuit so take a moment to enlist support.

Step 5: Obstacles are Opportunities

Before beginning each training cycle I ask myself, “What are the most likely reasons my training would fall off-track?” In my case, the primary culprit is travel. So far in 2017 I’ve completed six international trips and traveled thousands of miles on China’s bullet trains.

When I began ultra running, travel was a major obstacle to consistent training. Now, I’ve turned travel into an opportunity to supercharge. I pack my running gear including hydration pack, Brooks shoes, and muscle roller wherever I go. No matter how early my flight or train ride, I’ll wake up in time to complete my full workout, as planned. Then on the flight or train I’ll find a quiet nook and aim for 250 lunges and then wall-sit and air squat until exhaustion. My goal is to come home stronger and fitter from each trip and this structure enables me to do so.

When we identify our biggest challenges to consistency it enables us to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Step 6: Commute on Foot

I live in Shanghai, a sprawling city of 24 million inhabitants. Though the city boasts a top-notch metro, I prefer commuting on foot.

A lot of my work happens outside the office – whether meeting potential investors, partners, or prospective teammates – so I aim to optimize transit time. I typically schedule an 8 or 9 a.m. breakfast meeting and run across town to the venue. This early morning window is ideal for making phone calls to colleagues in the U.S. who are still in the office. I arrive for breakfast ten minutes early and wash my face before hand-combing my hair and changing into proper work attire.

I also run home after meals with friends, to weekend start-up events and social gatherings, and to the local sports bar for Seattle Seahawks games. Commuting on foot helps me log an extra 50+ miles each week and keeps my legs tuned up.

Step 7: Invest in Yourself

I’m always looking to level up as an entrepreneur and business leader. The hours required for ultra training provide an ideal opportunity for learning and personal development.

Audio books and podcasts are a convenient way to enhance our understanding. I aim to listen to one book each week and have recently read sales, marketing, strategy, and leadership books.

If I am dealing with a particularly tricky challenge at work, I frequently run without audio so I can concentrate on the issue, explore it from several angles and brainstorm solutions. We can achieve incredible clarity when our mind is channeled with sustained focus. Distance training can also become a mobile meditation where we relax and reach a flow state.

By investing in ourselves, the time we log in ultra training can become a springboard for personal growth.


Training for an ultra marathon can feel daunting or downright overwhelming. The rigors of training can wear us down and take us away from the people and activities that are a source of joy in our life.

But with the right approach we can maximize our training time to better enjoy and appreciate all the elements that bring meaning and fulfillment to our life.

Just like riding a bike, forward momentum helps us keep our balance. The first step is the hardest so it’s time to get started.

See you on the trails!

About the Author

Greg Nance is the Seattle Seahawks 12Ambassador and works to expand education access as Chairman of Moneythink and CEO of Dyad.com. Learn more at www.gregnance.org and connect on Instagram for daily training tips and ultra stories: Nance.Greg.


About Guest Blogger
The Brooks Blog regularly features stories from our athletes, running partners and friends who exemplify Run Happy.
  1. Ivan Mazour

    It’s all about having a coach. I recently discovered this as well – no matter how much willpower you’ve got, there’s only so far you can push yourself, and only so many things you can learn and spot without help. Loved reading Greg, thanks for sharing.

  2. Jamie Neill

    Fascinating read. I think this can be applied to more than just running. Time management and prioritizing your life is a challenge for every young adult. Greg’s case is on a macro level since ultra marathon running consumes so much time. Good example to get tips from. Thanks, Greg!

  3. WJG

    Immensely impressed by the runs to business meetings. Not sure that I would be able to pull off a professional appearance pouring sweat into my coffee. Agree on running without audio, the best problem solving time!

  4. Ben Hudgens

    Nice work. Interesting to hear about how coaching fits in to your approach. No matter what the activity, find a mentor!

  5. Marvin Mathew

    Loved how quick, clean & easy this list is. My favorite is plan your work, work your plan. Good reminder in a ever forward moving schedule to step back/take account/find room for improvement and growth. The weight of a coach & the early start are also top notch shares. I’ll think more on it. Thanks, G!

  6. John Paul Rollert

    I really appreciate the user-friendly list Greg has put together. I think most of who’ve done long distance running still can’t imagine what it takes to train for an Ultra-Marathon, but Greg has done a great job of making the process a little more straightforward and maybe even manageable.

  7. Dustin Popiel

    As a recently converted long distance runner (not ultra marathon distance, just regular human distance), it is great to hear the methods that you apply. I always run with music or an audiobook, but I love the idea of personally challenging myself to run without audio and think through an issue. I look forward to the challenge. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. Ryan Vogel

    Love the actionable, clear nature of this list — straightforward instructions to follow. I’m starting with Action 1 right now, reprioritizing my life to serve the goal of running the Nov 26 Seattle Marathon – my first one! Your tips will serve as my north star and road map ~~ big gratitude for your thoughtful shares, Greg.

  9. Bob Stewart

    Greg is one amazing guy. His article outlined exactly what he does. He “runs” the talk, so to speak and does not sugar cost it. Inside that skinny body of his is a great heart and fine mind which make this sort of dedication and discipline possible. God Speed my friend!

  10. Cheryl Marie

    Many things impress me about Greg Nance. Such as: Even though he’s not a morning person, he rolls out of bed at 4 a.m. to start his daily training; he sticks faithfully to a plan because, as he says, he’s not a “naturally disciplined” person; and he works his social engagements and fellowship with colleagues into his training schedule to become part of the big overall plan. And it’s being able to formulate the big overall plan, live by it, narrow it down to a science and an art, and articulate it point by point in this fine article that most inspire my admiration. Because Greg never hoards valuable information. When his brilliant mind finds something that works for him, you can can bet that he’ll be generous enough to share it. Great article!

  11. Ardevan Yaghoubi

    Greg your runs are truly extraordinary and it’s cool to see the process behind them.

    (BTW very happy Brooks glycerin owner here :-))

  12. Bobak

    Very inspiring to read about this level of focus/consistency. As someone who just recently started a workout regimen this inspires me to up my game! Also love to emphasis on making work/personal life coherent with each other.

  13. William O'Connor

    Nice read Greg! Having just started a training cycle to get more out of another sport – climbing – many of these tips carry over. Keep doing your thing!

  14. David Vioque

    Great read Greg! Starting to train for a couple of summits myself and these pointers are definitely useful for climbing too. Keep up the inspiring work!

  15. StratApps

    Great, actionable list for runners and those wanting to live well! Greg is thoughtful & inspiring. I try what he suggests as can we all!

  16. Melissa

    Great article! As someone who recently started training after making several excuses ‘not to’, I appreciate the third section, “Start Early.” As someone who works 14+ hour days, six days a week, if I am not working out in the morning, it just doesn’t happen. It also helps balance work-life because you can eliminate the stress that often comes with the job by working out consistently each morning. Although I’ve only been running for five weeks now, I’m already feeling healthier, happier, and less stressed! Good job!

  17. Lois Calderon

    Such discipline! You are a true sportsman, Greg Nance. By conquering your weaknesses, understanding your limits and pushing past them, you have mastered yourself. “Vincit qui se vincit”…

  18. Joseph Constanty

    Following your training and race debriefs over the years has been awesome. Having to travel a lot for work I find myself struggling to fit in workouts, but with your tips here I will begin to rethink my 10-12 hour long haul flights. Never stop daring to achieve new heights Greg!

  19. Vicky

    Greg, thanks for these tips.. though I am not an ultra marathoner, your suggestions apply to organizing everyday life! You are inspirational.

  20. Chris Walker

    I too have no ambitions of running ultra marathons, but found this to be a clear-headed and rational approach to pursuing other types of goals. There are many ways that the author could have been dissuaded, including the stresses on work, relationships and his own body chemistry, but he’s overcome those by crafting his own system. A reminder that we can create systems of our own for achieving whatever far-off and demanding goals we have.

  21. Brian Danzig

    Excellent advice and a must read, especially for those early in career and feeling overwhelmed. Form these habits early, adopt these habits whenever you have the need to do so.

  22. Kai

    “Then on the flight or train I’ll find a quiet nook and aim for 250 lunges and then wall-sit and air squat until exhaustion.”

    Love this. I used to feel a bit funny busting out air squats and push ups in public places, but I’ve gotten a bit more shameless about it since. It’s a great way to pack workouts into an otherwise hectic schedule. It doesn’t have to a be a big production. Perhaps someday we’ll turn around these outdated social norms!

  23. MagicOfCaine

    Greg, Thanks for writing this. It struck me because I achieved flow this morning as I did my morning swim and water running for conditioning. As you write, “If I am dealing with a particularly tricky challenge at work, I frequently run without audio so I can concentrate on the issue, explore it from several angles and brainstorm solutions. We can achieve incredible clarity when our mind is channeled with sustained focus. Distance training can also become a mobile meditation where we relax and reach a flow state.”

  24. AustinB

    Awesome tips Greg! Do you have any tips for maintaining a 4am wakeup schedule? Is that an every single day thing? I like waking up early, but have struggled to maintain it over the long haul with dinner commitments and evening plans. It gets even tougher when I add in strenuous workouts and need more sleep.

  25. Nicholas Hasko

    Wow, thanks for advice. I’ve struggled with the early morning calculus, particularly because I don’t control my office schedule. I’m not a morning person at all, and while I like having that sense of accomplishment and “me time” before I hit the office, getting up so early typically makes me grumpy for the rest of the day. I love working out at night because, unlike some others who get amped up from hitting the gym late, I find it helps bleed off the stress of the day so I sleep well. However, as you highlighted, this creates some scheduling conflicts with social interaction prime time. Thoughts for the night owls among us?

  26. Addis Goldman

    Grego! Thanks for this. I would have to say Step 3: Start Early is maybe the most impactful rule to live by in my experience. One day can feel like two if you start at the right time. Thanks for the strong advice as always. Cheers.

  27. korbonits

    Excellent article! Your grit is inspiring. Plus, it’s clear how much thought and iteration you’ve put into perfecting your routine and integrating it into all aspects of your life. I can see there are positive feedback loops that come from such a tight integration. Keep it up. Now I need to go get some Brooks to up my running game in Seattle.

  28. Lonnie Stonitsch

    I am not a runner of any distance, ultra or micro, and yet I found several take-aways in this piece. Specifically, I like how you claim public space for yourself, and I admire the wisdom of plan the work, work the plan — can be generalized to most all of us in a wide range of activities. Great article!

  29. Jamelle Williams

    This is so inspiring, and a great article Greg! You continue to amaze all of us and make us so proud in how you continue to chase your goals. Cheers, brother! See you soon!

  30. Mike Nance

    100 pushups, 250 lunges, wall sits to exhaustion — but what about us mere mortals?
    Equally important to the physical prep, I believe, is the mental approach. Really big projects are are more doable if they’re broken into small parts and we keep a positive attitude. As for inspiration, I’m following your lead and taking on the Bigfoot 45 miler around Mt. Helens in a pair of Brooks trail shoes.

  31. Daniel Bicknell

    Thanks for the reflections and advice, Greg! I still struggle trying to shift my evening workouts to mornings; I’ll try the shift again tomorrow. Good luck training!

  32. Patrick Wauters

    Great tips! I love #5; great reminder on how it’s possible to take your focus with you wherever you go.

  33. Steve Mushero

    Great article and advice, even for us non-runners. You are amazing for running like this, even in the jungles . . . we’ll see you running across Africa or from Shanghai to Paris soon.

  34. Samuel Kidder

    Great tips in here for runners of all levels and abilities. Point #5 is particularly good — love the idea of turning travel from an obstacle into an opportunity!

  35. Jack Reis

    Great tips, Greg. Assembling and surrounding myself with supportive friends and family has always been a key to success for me.

  36. Ethel

    Love the tips – especially commuting on foot. For your next post, would be interested in hearing how you (actively) recover!

  37. Luke Jensen

    Great tips for discipline in general – especially like your commitment to sustained routine during travel! Keep it up

  38. Luca Servodio

    “Just like riding a bike, forward momentum helps us keep our balance.” — words to live by. Keep up the good work, Greg! Always an inspiration.

  39. Franziska Gonder

    Great post – Life Design at its finest, Greg! Point 7 totally hit home for me! Would be cool to read more about this in depth from you!

  40. Michael

    Awesome post, Greg! Prioritizing balance between work and personal life is really difficult for me and I know a lot of people struggle with it – whether they’re training for an Ultra or just trying to find relaxation and time with their family outside of work. Keep these tips coming – it’s great to hear how others go about prioritizing their lives!

  41. Jessica Michelle

    Great post with great ideas! As a working mom, exercise frequently takes a backseat to other obligations. Especially appreciate Tip #3, start early, which is key to most things these days, but especially exercise. Thanks for the good read.

  42. Ben Wilson

    Great post Mr. Nance! So much of what you say in this post could be applied in any area of life where you’re looking to establish healthy rituals and make positive changes. Good stuff!

  43. Ezgi Cubukcu

    Great post, Greg. As always, incredibly impressed by your tenacity and grit.

    While not even close to your level of athleticism, I plan on modeling some of my training based off yours and truncating it to fit with my goals, like doing a daily regimen of push ups, squats, and pull-ups in addition to your long runs.

    Good luck on your next run!

  44. gleslie

    Awesome post Greg, can definitely appreciate the audiobook tip and I’m glad you mentioned those days where a conversation with yourself becomes its own audiobook!

  45. Nathan D Ranney

    Thanks Greg! You’ve inspired me to plan a new routine for running to work. Kicking that off next week. Happy racing.

  46. Garrett Lund

    Thanks for passing along the insight and giving us a glimpse into how you train! As a recent transplant from the mountains to ‘city life’, I find myself trying to discover ways to train when you’re busy and further from the ‘trails’. These are all great points which I will look to incorporate into my training. Look forward to seeing what your next adventure is!

  47. Ryan Greenlaw

    Great advice Greg, especially as I’ve just recently gotten back into running! I also like running in the morning as you can’t beat the meditation/exercise combo. Have fun on your next ultra-race! With 100% adherence to your plan, I’m sure more top 10 finishes will be in your future.

  48. Austin

    Thoughtful advice from you, as always, Greg. Thanks for some inspiration to lead a more disciplined life, even for those of us not training for ultra marathons!

  49. Daniel Donohue

    Seriously awesome stuff, Greg! While not really a runner (let alone an ultra marathon runner), reading how you budget time in your days and do each part with purpose and planning makes me realize I am in serious need of some better organization in my life. So, thanks for giving insight into how you do it!

  50. Colette Boeker

    Fantastic post with incredible insight on ways to successfully execute on the goal. I love the idea of plan your work and work your plan (although accomplishing 250 lunges on a speeding bullet train in China is one high bar!). I appreciate ” the clarity that can follow sustained focus” when I exercise and am thankful that Greg articulates the process so well.

  51. Kerric Knowles

    Great article Greg! Definitely a lot of advice in here that is applicable to leading a productive life in general. Thanks for sharing!

  52. Dianna Pi

    Great read. Knowing that training for ultra-marathons requires not only endurance but also time Greg provides us with great tips on how to enhance your knowledge, deal with travel or a very busy schedule. Very inspiring and I look forward to Greg’s next article

  53. Dustin Roberts

    These are terrific, thanks Greg! All great points, but I particularly think #5 gets overlooked. So many idle moments in most of our lives that can be turned into opportunities for growth, if we’re creative. For the parents out there just trying to conquer their own households, let alone the world, toddlers make for tougher push-ups and babies make for excellent squats. Cheers!

  54. Luke Nln

    Awesome post Greg. You are an inspiration to all of us around and reading this post I have myself nodding and saying to myself, no excuse… it’s easy… 🙂 love the travel tips. Good discipline isn’t that hard when we’re properly prepared 😀 Catch you soon amigo!

  55. Mike

    Truly inspiring! It’s great to be reminded that the only limits that contain us are the one’s we put on ourselves, and that obstacles truly are opportunities if we’re committed enough to our goals. It’s great that Greg has clarified these steps for those of us. Looking forward to putting these tips to use!

  56. Louis Demetroulakos

    Boom! Absolutely love the advice and very relatable to runners at all levels. Especially appreciate the section about staying on track while traveling. We all have difficulty maintaining our routines on the road, but Greg’s advice makes me want to drop all excuses and go for it. After reading I want to head outside for a run!

  57. Cesar R. Hernandez

    Training while you travel? You are a beast ! Congrats on all your hard work and dedication makes me want to step my game up!

  58. victorjih

    Thanks for the advice! I can’t imagine doing an ultra, but I agree that finding ways to sneak running in as a way of getting places or on your way to meeting friends, etc., is a great and easy way to pack in those miles. I just started doing that and it makes getting mileage in each week much easier. Now air-squatting and wall-sitting while in public or on a train… NAH! :). You’re crazy!

  59. Chantal

    Love the idea of running as mode of transport. Its a great way to get around, get to know a city and not feel daunted by the long distance running. Will practice that habit! Thanks, Greg!

  60. Fergus

    Great tips Greg! I like the idea of converting the obstacle of travel into a training tool. Air squats and 250 lunges in a busy Chinese train must be something else.

  61. Sameer Karim

    Great article. I’m not sure about 4am but I know when I get those mornings in I’m way more likely to not miss my sessions. Lots of good advice here!

  62. Fabien Moureaud

    Super interesting article. I like the approach of running as a meditation cause it really is at some point! Keep it up Greg! Cheers

  63. Mike Jank

    Awesome Job Greg! Looking forward to applying some of the same principles…without the ultra marathon part! Keep it up!

  64. Grace

    Lots of wisdom here that is relevant for anyone balancing hobbies/work/relationships. You’ve got my support (Step 4: check!)

    Thank you for sharing, Greg!

  65. luis

    I love the plan to work and work the plan approach one of my favorite approaches that i use to this day for my marathon in October. KEep it up Greg!

  66. Kelcee Lynn Azure

    Loved this article Greg! Words I strive to achieve in my everyday life as a single mother! Running was and always will be a huge outlet for me. Staying active and taking care of myself is key in my sanity and ability to be a good parent and mother. :). You’re such an inspiration! Thanks for sharing this!

  67. Angela Yang

    Thank you for sharing this Greg! Absolutely love it especially as I grapple with how to fit more running into my life. Your routines and dedication are incredibly inspiring!

  68. Jessica Schumann

    Greg, you did very well to outline a successful plan to make the most of your life, work and ultra-running. You summed it up perfectly when you said “Plan the work. Work the plan”. When on contract I work a 7-day week, roughly 11 hours a day for 4 months at a stretch without a single day off. By following the same if not similar steps you described I manage to train for ultras and meet my daily obligations at work and in my personal life. I race when I am on leave. Most anything is possible if you commit to achieve it and then follow through. Thank you for sharing your advice and insight. You remain a constant inspiration to me and many others. I look forward to hearing more about your many adventures.

  69. Ted Gonder

    Greg! This piece was a useful and an insightful read. It is always hard to imagine how top athletes balance a dayjob with the hard work of their training, but this makes me believe it is possible! You don’t have to quit your job to find the time to operate in the upper echelons of your sport! Inspiring as always. TG

  70. Joni Garcia

    Nice tips Greg! Taking time to exercise during the morning really sets the tone for the rest of the day. Thank you for sharing!

  71. Heather Tyner

    Awesome article! This can definitely apply to a lot of areas in life. Thank you for sharing! You are inspiring!

  72. Lori Hurvitz

    Greg, I don’t know how you do it and find time to write about it too! No ultra-marathons in my future but your advice can be applied to many areas of life.

  73. Diego Gonzalez-Medina

    The “Get Up Early” tip is everything! I forgot about the chugging a glass of water trick (which I used to do for 4:30am crew practices). I’m not a natural early bird, or highly motivated by nature, so all these reminders are putting a nice little gust under my wings 🙂

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