Sneaky training: exercise hard without ruining your life (and everyone else's)

Most people say they would like to exercise more (or at all) but they don't have time. Well, pretty much everybody's got time to exercise; it really just comes down to how they choose to spend it. It's a question of priorities, not time.

How do motivated exercisers make time to fit everything in, with training being just one ingredient in their life mix? How do they make sure they're doing all of it well?

Professional athletes have the 'luxury' of training and racing for a living, but age-groupers don't - particularly if they have a partner, kids and a full-time job. When a race goal beckons, it pays to have every base covered in advance. Here's some tips, gathered from canvassing a few enthusiastic age-groupers, on how to train hard without the wheels falling off your life.

1. Communicate goals

Communicate clearly to anyone who might be impacted by your need to train more. Log your holidays early with your boss for time off. Tell your partner; and put it on the family calendar. Warn them that they may be seeing less of you as the long runs get longer. Plant the seed of a holiday where the race just happens to be. Put your friends in the picture - that way if your best friend is thinking of getting married, they'll know not to schedule it on your race weekend.

2. Plan to train

Have a manageable training plan. A coach is ideal; a dedicated program tailored to your life schedule is worth every cent, even if you don't see your coach every week - although some form of regular contact to give feedback and get guidance is useful. Systematic progressive training plans can be found on apps that can be followed in gyms, using proper equipment in a motivating atmosphere. The recently launched North Face Mountain Athletics app, for example, has an excellent six-week running training program with YouTube video support. And be sure your training program has recovery weeks built into it: good for the mind and the body.

3. Get organised

Get some gear out the night before for early morning training, and who cares if your socks don't match? By setting out your kit you're restating your commitment to your goal; you're giving yourself one fewer reason to stay in bed when the alarm goes off and you're doing your partner the courtesy of not waking them up pre-dawn to ask if they've seen your favourite running shorts anywhere.

4. Manage your time

Use incidental time to train, or rest, or stretch. If you can ride a bike to work or wedge in a run at lunchtime, do it. Use TV time at night to do some stretching and maintenance on the roller; likewise at work, standing at your desk is a good time to fire your glutes, stretch your hip flexors and hamstrings, or roll your foot over a ball. Avoid work emails before bedtime - before you know it, you've lost an hour of sleep that you'll wish you had when the alarm goes off.

5. Manage fatigue

This is the hardest. You've used up all your energy on a long morning run and you get home and the family day has only just begun. When there's no window for a couch moment, learn to put the fatigue aside and deal with it later (at bedtime). Don't complain about how tired you are; that's a surefire way to lose the support of those from whom you most want it. And it's really boring to listen to.

6. Keep it to yourself

On that note, don't talk incessantly about your training. It might be front and centre of your life, but it's not for those around you. Well, it already is without you reminding them. This might come as a surprise, but most partners and friends are only feigning interest when you tell them you needed to go to the loo at the 20km mark of a run, or that your heart rate was at threshold by the fifth interval. Training diaries, not loved ones, exist for this purpose. And apps like Strava. But where the family and work is concerned it usually counts against you. And that is negative brownie points towards your goal.


7. Food matters

Don't become obsessed by food. If you do want to change your diet or give up the booze for a period, have the decency to talk about it with your partner first. Yawning through dinner parties, making moves to leave at 9.30pm or piously declaring that your body is your temple and therefore you have turned Paleo, are all no-nos.

8. Be flexible

A lot can happen between when a goal is set and when it's executed. As the saying goes, the hardest part of the marathon is getting to the start line. Have a long-term view of your training and work around issues that crop up; be they your own health setbacks, or work demands, or other peoples' needs. It's not all about you, after all.

9. Smile

You want to do it all, right? Well, enjoy the opportunity to give it your best shot and be thankful for your multi-layered, richly textured life.

Pip Coates is a running tragic who knows the euphoria of training for and completing a major race, but also the heartbreak of injury and every bend in the long road back. In between runs she is also the deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review Magazine.