Imagine this: You are granted an extra two hours in a day, and suddenly you have time to train as much as you like, without getting up before dawn or feeling that you are neglecting your family and friends in the evening.
Now, the reality: Your working hours are creeping up, and your partner is picking up the slack so that you can keep your average mileage at the arbitrary level – 40, 50, 60 miles a week – that has become your benchmark. As Pete Kennedy (RW member Tmap) discovered, something’s got to give.
When Pete realised there simply weren't enough days in the week to do the running he wanted, keep on top of his unpredictable working patterns and see his wife and three children, he knew he'd have to radically overhaul the way he trained. In 2004, he dipped inside the magic three-hour mark for the marathon, but since then, he has had to re-evaluate how he trains to be as time-efficient as possible.
"If I could, I would run every day, maybe twice," he says. In reality, if he manages 30 miles in a week he feels he's ahead of the game. Despite such 'minimal' mileage, his rate of return is impressive: he has recorded a 1:22 half-marathon and a 37:07 10K so far this year.
"I do fairly well on little training," Pete admits. "But the old cliché that you get out what you put in is certainly true." With a background of years of rowing and running, he is well-versed in training techniques, and has found that learning to be more in tune with his body helps him make the most of it.
"I think that my improvements are almost all down to simply getting really good at pacing, rather than actually getting quicker. After a while you can hit mile splits within a second or two and judge your effort to perfection," he says.
It's not chasing a PB that has motivated Pete this year. He's recently joined a club, and says it has opened a whole new dimension to his running. With club handicaps, and events like the Green Belt Relay he's found that running can be a team sport. And bizarrely, he's entered London to Brighton (L2B), the oldest ultramarathon in Britain.
"I'm not quite sure why I'm doing it," he confesses. "The idea of another city marathon just didn't appeal at all; I found myself drifting aimlessly after my sub-3 and needed a new aim. It's something different and I suppose I just want to see if I can do it."
Inevitably, Pete's mileage will increase as he prepares for L2B, but he won't be doing the number of miles that most ultra-runners do. He plans to do his long runs at weekends, and do his mid-week training by running home from work whenever he can.
It will give him plenty of time to think up his next challenge – since going sub-3, he's found that while striving for PBs can be rewarding, chasing times doesn't concentrate his mind as much as it used to. He's taking a more holistic view of running now.
"I certainly think it's worth people realising that you can enjoy running and even do quite well without putting in the kind of time commitments that even "get you round" schedules call for," he says. "It's hard to say how suitable this would be for others, as the more I run, the more it seems to me that it's your cumulative running over your whole lifetime that makes a real difference. I may not run much, but I've been running on and off for my whole life."
If you have limited time to train, make every mile count. Exercise physiologist Duncan Malcolm agrees that there is a cumulative effect once you have been running for three or more years uninterrupted.
"You can maintain a level of fitness with less running than it takes to build it," he says. He says that if you know that your time for training is going to be limited every run has to count.|
"If you want to keep running the same times, you really have to think about quality, think about your goals and be specific about what you are doing." Not a mile can be wasted; Malcolm believes that far too many runners include too high a volume of training, without thinking any further than ‘the more miles the better'.
You have to care with low volume, high intensity running of course. "There is more potential for injury," Malcolm says. But if you've got several years of running behind you, and want to reorganise your time, it doesn't have to mean the end of being competitive. And if your running isn't conflicting with your home and work life, everyone will be happier.
Tmap's story is one of an occasional series of real-life success stories that we are publishing on the website. If you have a story to share that could inspire others, why not read our guidelines for submission, and get in touch?