Runners with high-stress jobs share their advice for fitting running into the workday

When Alison Boudreau, who lives in California’s Bay Area, was working a corporate admin job she loathed, trail running was her only solace from the daily frustration and chronic stress she felt. So when it came to selecting a topic for her Ph.D. dissertation for her degree in organizational philosophy, the obvious choice was to take at her current struggles.

Her research on uncovered just how trail running helped women  employees to reduce their stress and increase their productivity and success in the workplace.

The tricky thing for many runners, however, is finding the time to run, even though they were well aware of its benefits to their health and performance at work. Even if you know that your day flows better when you run, it can still be challenging to squeeze running into the workday, especially when you have family commitments or other activities before or after the workday, or an ever-changing schedule.

I recently asked some busy career women about how they fit running into their demanding workdays. Here’s what they shared:

1. Make it a fixed appointment on your schedule

Running at the same time each week is easiest when you work a regular schedule and you have some control over your time. Whether you run before work, at lunch or after work is less important than making it a fixed appointment on your schedule takes a lot of the effort out of planning runs.

Just as you’d never bail on an appointment with a client or staff, make your run a non-negotiable fixture on your weekly calendar. If, however your schedule changes frequently, take this tidbit from Mary Smithberger Tilton, a nurse from Byesville, Ohio: “Once a week I sit down and plan my runs around my shifting 60-hour work schedule, which makes me committed to getting runs done."

2. Always have access to a packed running kit

If your work schedule is less predictable or you like to be spontaneous, then always be prepared with a gym bag packed with your running clothes, shoes and accessories (don’t forget the shower wipes to freshen up afterwards). This way, you can knock out a few miles whenever the opportunity presents itself.

“I just try to be flexible and use every minute I can,” says Jen Floyd, mother of two from Maryland. “I home school and during these winter months when it is dark and freezing in the morning I use the kids’ lunch break to go for my run.”

3. Commit to running with a friend or group

You’re more likely to blow off a solo run than a run with a buddy. When you know someone is counting on you to show up, it’s easier to fulfill the commitment you made. “The only way to guarantee I get my run in is to go at 5:00 a.m. Knowing my running buddies are waiting for me gets me out the door!” says Pam Serpico, a special-education teacher in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

4. Do it first thing in the morning

Running before the sun’s up seems to be most common strategy women use to fit running into their workday. “If I don’t got at 4 a.m., I can’t get it in and I want to accomplish my race goals,” says mom, blogger and website services professional Jill Whitaker, who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“In winter, I get up at 4:15 a.m. on weekdays and hit the treadmill. In the spring and summer, I run outside around 5 a.m., or as soon as it gets light and am home by 6 a.m. I am tired all the time but wouldn't trade my running for anything!” says Tiffanie Sgritta of Stamford, Connecticut.

Having your running clothes laid out the night before is key to making the bed-to-road transition as mindless as possible, say the early risers.

5. Treat your lunch break as non-negotiable YOU time

If you have a bad habit of skipping lunch breaks, it’s time to start taking them. Every. Single. Day. Whatever you feel you gain in terms of immediate productivity by working through lunch, you lose later in the week when you’re too burnt out, lethargic and unmotivated to work well.

“I use my lunch hour to run and if necessary split my workout between lunch and after work,” says ultrarunner Amanda Ingram-Cotton of Barrie, Ontario, who works in television production.

6. Find another way to satisfy your exercise craving

If going for a run isn’t possible or practical for whatever reason, is there another sport or form or exercise you can substitute? It may take just 15 intense minutes on a spin bike or a playful Zumba class to reach the positive mental state you normally get from running.

7. Take your vacation time. All of it!

Americans have relatively little access to paid vacation time compared to other industrialized countries. What’s worse, according to one study, employees only use 51% of their eligible paid vacation and time off. You’ve earned your vacation time, so you should use that time to make investments in your health and well being.

Consider taking a trail running retreat with friends like the ones we offer in Moab or Iceland, or spending time with the people you love. But almost any kind of vacation—even a “staycation”—is far more beneficial to your long-term health and productivity than working non-stop.

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