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How to Run Your Best While Working Full-Time

Tips for reaching your potential while juggling everything.

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Full-time work, inside and outside of the home, places high demands on runners. 

“The biggest obstacle is not [having] enough time in a day,” says Jay Ell Alexander, owner and CEO of Black Girls Run. This includes finding time to run and a crew to run with, plus keeping yourself disciplined. “Trying to train, eat right, manage a family and career can be difficult,” she says. 

Photo: Courtesy of Jay Ell Alexander

Honestly, it’s amazing what goals runners accomplish when you consider everything on their plates. What’s more, we face urgent challenges of a global pandemic and racial injustice around the globe. Clearly, such issues take precedence; health, safety, and freedom of movement are priorities for all humans, not just athletes.  

For those who can safely run outside, the fresh air, movement, and time away from technology are stress-relieving privileges. Plus, any physical exercise adds up; don’t discount the fitness you can build with a little consistency. 

Recognizing that training to reach running goals is a gift, we gleaned tips from successful runners—amateurs and pros alike—that can help you reach your potential. Their insights will help you make the most of your time, energy, and resources. Oh, and sleep! 

While recreational runners might daydream about having fewer obligations, some professional runners opt to work full-time. Elite runners Mary Cain and Nick Willis recently joined the running apparel brand Tracksmith in a partnership model that includes working full-time positions while they train for whatever racing season is ahead, including the upcoming Olympics. 

Appreciate the Perspective

For Cain, her marketing-and-athlete position has provided more pros than cons. Having a day job lets her feel more at ease about the lack of a racing schedule this year. Without the Tracksmith position, she says, “I wouldn’t be as zen knowing there’s no races in the future.” The job also provides another pillar of self-identity, which can help any athlete become more resilient. Cain says she’s someone who’s faced “difficulty separating their personal worth from their running performance in the past, based on my history with coaches and teams. It’s important for me to have other outlets where I’m working on other skills between my running.”

In addition, even if running is your job, you can’t do it all day. “Being a pro runner, I used to hate to admit this, but there’s only so much you can do. We’re not swimmers, we’re not cyclists. This is a high-impact sport, and that’s not to say we’re not working incredibly hard, but a lot of our hard work has to be recovery stuff,” Cain says. 

Mary Cain

Photo: Courtesy of Tracksmith

Do Two Things at Once

Still, there’s lots of ancillary work that can benefit runners, and successful, busy runners prioritize the most important aspects of training and work to fit them around and into work time. Cain multitasks to fit high-reward “little things” in. She stretches and paces the living room on phone calls and uses her Air Relax compression boots (off-screen) during meetings. Her biggest non-negotiable while working weekdays? Physical therapy appointments. “It’s not all about mileage. It’s not all about the times you hit. It’s not always super quantitative values,” says Cain. 

Willis has multitasking tips, too. To save time, for example, he’ll do ancillary work—think drills, strides, and/or dynamic stretches like high knees, butt kicks, and toe touches—during recovery or aerobic runs. “Rather than doing that after my run finishes on my street or at the track, when my watch gets to about 15 minutes to go, I’ll do one of those exercises every 90 seconds, with jogging in between. It might affect what your Strava log says or what your watch says in terms of speed, but you’ve got to forget about that and think your heart rate is still being maintained at that time,” he says. 

Photo: Courtesy of Tracksmith

Seize the Minutes

Here’s another way to reclaim less-productive time from a busy schedule: As a parent with two young kids, Olympian Willis has developed a routine of running late at night. The key? An earlier, easy-to-digest dinner. “That can be quite a rejuvenating experience, running in the evening when it’s dark, if you can find a lit up route,” he says, “Especially after you get the kids to bed, it’s [like], ‘Finally, I get to go for a run.’”

Willis also utilizes the windows afforded when his kids—who’re 6 and 2 years old—are sleeping during the day, swapping his previous 90-minute nap with a 10-minute power nap, which keeps him alert for the rest of the day. 

Alexander, a full-time entrepreneur who’s currently nursing a child, looks the other time direction to fit it all in. She recommends waking up early. “I also have the privilege of having a run crew that needs to get their runs done by 7 a.m.,” Alexander says. 

Work Around Work

When Willis washed dishes for six years before he moved to the U.S. from New Zealand, he too would fit training in before work. “It’s much harder to get yourself laced up and out the door after being on your feet all day at work.” 

For those who feel fatigued after shifts on their feet, he recommends getting your blood circulating to combat that achy-feet feeling when blood pools. Try a walk, jog, or meeting training buddies to get yourself moving (and feeling better) after a long day.

Magda Boulet, vice president of innovation, research, and development for GU Energy Labs, has worked full-time throughout her world-class career, with the exception of a few years. She’s been sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE since 2014. Her work environment, she says, is very inspiring and active, and allows the flexibility to jump into training at different times of the day. 

While most pros have enough time in their day to commute to ideal running routes or trailheads, most of us need to run from our front door. Whether you run-commute to work (once it’s safe again) or need a break from a home office, running from home boosts efficiency.

Woman running and drinking from water bottle.

Magda Boulet at the 2019 Leadville 100 Run. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer

Small Changes, Big Gains

Incremental behavioral changes can go a long way when you’re ramping up training amidst a busy life. Vivan Vassall, an RRCA-certified running coach and attorney who has shaved 30 minutes off her marathon time so far, identified at her vices and made slight swaps.

“Training for a big race requires a lot, so trying to overhaul my entire diet or social life on top of long hours of training is setting myself up for failure. Instead, I specified small changes and stuck to them,” she says. For example, she still enjoys decadent meals and drinks with friends, but not the night immediately before her weekend long run. To stay hydrated, she chooses water over pop, juice, and tea, and follows any alcohol with water and electrolytes. 

Vassall’s approach included changing her mindset about obstacles to sticking with her running routine. At first, it can be hard to distinguish an excuse (“It’s raining!”) from a legitimate reason to skip a workout (“My foot has been aching for days.”). She says, “This comes with practice, as well as having a coach and/or accountability buddies, whether IRL or on apps like Strava. Once you push past an excuse, you’ll never be able to use them again. Once you do your first run in bad weather, that won’t stop you.”

Remember the Big Picture

Boulet encourages runners to embrace the value of the process, not just achievement. She says, “We are all better people when we live our lives with purpose and have goals, so don’t give up on them, and don’t be afraid to dream big. But don’t be too hard on yourself, either.”

Elizabeth Carey is a freelance writer and running coach based in Seattle, Washington. Her first book, GIRLS RUNNING, co-authored with Melody Fairchild, is forthcoming from VeloPress.