Marathon training week 6: Being flexible

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!

Unless you're a professional athlete (and if you're reading this you’re probably not), life has a habit of getting in the way of your precious training time. Work, family, sleep, holidays, injuries, illness, going to the pub, boxsets, household admin, watching videos on Facebook of puppies being cute - actually, how do we find the time to run at all? Let's see how it can be done, and how to cope when it can't.


9 to 5

For many of us, work takes up around 8-12 hours of the day, five days a week. That figure may or may not include commuting, depending on how far you live from your job and how demanding it is. Sometimes we have busy periods with work and that's life. But if you have some semblance of a routine it's possible to maintain and even improve your fitness with a bit of planning and creativity.


Keep on running

The ability to use your commute as a training session will not only save you in travel costs, but also make the most of your time. Whether you can actually do it will depend on the distance from home to work but it is possible with a few key things in place i.e. showers at work (but if there are none, only run from work to home), and having a backpack that can carry everything you need. If you live too close, you have more time to go for a run before or after work so no excuses there! And if you live too far and travel by car, bike or train, stop early to create an exercise opportunity.

If run-commuting really isn’t an option, get up early one or two days a week, or use a lunch break a week to fit in a quick speed session. If you want to make it work, you will find a way.


Rock around the clock

In my first job, I had this idea of writing a novel but couldn't figure out when to do so (there was a lot of going to the pub in those days). So I started getting the train to work instead of driving. Suddenly I had 80 minutes extra a day so I used those to write.

If you you don't have time for a training session, use real life to get some exercise in. Make sure you walk where you can (I always walk up and down the escalators on the London Underground), get off the bus a stop or two earlier, or even walk all the way home or to a friend's house. While you're waiting for public transport or to meet someone, do some stretches. I can usually be found doing calf raises on train platforms. Although I draw the line at doing press-ups as I’ve seen some people do. Each to their own though!

Some of these you can do on the fly, but for other more regular things it might be best to have a repeat calendar alert. Whether that's 10 minutes of core work as soon as you wake up, or 20 minutes of stretching as soon as you get home, getting into a routine will make it far more likely that you get them done. Just as running becomes a habit, doing the essential but often overlooked complementary fitness routines will also soon be second nature.


The Powerline Trail, near Lake Tahoe, California

The Powerline Trail, near Lake Tahoe, California


Now and again you might be lucky enough to get a holiday. I've written before about my love of being a run tourist and this can be a good way of keeping the mileage ticking over while you're away. It might also be the perfect time to do even more running than usual. But... if you need a rest or your holiday is family or partner focused and that doesn't revolve around running (heaven forbid), don't worry about it. You won't lose that much fitness in a week or two and the extra sleep and rest you get (hopefully!) will be beneficial.


Make things right

As I mentioned last week, we all get injured once in a while. The same goes for illness - and the effects of a bad cold or flu should not be underestimated. The key is to take your time in getting better or you risk slowing down your recovery or making things worse. This is just common sense but the number of people I see trying to do too much too soon, while understandable, is shockingly high. So be (a good) patient and take it easy. Most importantly, don't try to 'catch up' on missed sessions. You'll most likely overload your already weakened body and won't gain anything from it. Forget it, and move on.



Sometimes life gets in the way. You have to work late, a friend has a crisis and beer must be consumed IMMEDIATELY. Missed training sessions happen. Here’s how to handle it.



  • Try to fit it in on the same day as another session; you will most likely break yourself.
  • Fret about what's happened (or not happened); you cannot control the past.



  • Be flexible; swap it with another session that week if you can.
  • Focus on the big picture.


In the grand scheme of things, a single missed session won’t make much difference. If it starts happening every week then maybe it’s time to reassess how many times a week you can realistically run. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If you’re constantly getting upset about missing sessions, it soon won’t be fun anymore.

One last thing. If you’ve yet to set out on your marathon journey and are worried that it will take over your life and be month after month of drudgery, pain and depriving yourself of alcohol, it needn’t be. I put off doing a marathon because of these very fears and like so many other people I know, quickly fell in love with the training. Far from being a drain on your time, it’s actually a great way to fill it with something new.

Read all my posts on marathon training