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.
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.