As many parts of the world start an incremental return to “normal” life, the prospect of returning to in-office work is being met with mixed feelings. For many runners, the question on many of our minds now is how do we go about maintaining running routines post-COVID? How do we achieve the level of work/life/running balance that we’ve come to love and appreciate? 

How Routines Changed (for the better!)

For many of us, the perks of teleworking have become very apparent – the lack of commute, the lack of dress attire (or at least dress pants), the cost savings of eating lunch at home, and the extra time and flexibility in many people’s days to squeeze in a longer workout. Working from home has allowed people to squeeze in morning workouts, to grab some miles over lunch, to clock out on time and pound the pavement or hit the gym.

While not everyone saw the pandemic as an opportunity to get fit, the overall trend over the course of March of 2020 to now has been one of increased time spent exercising. Early in the pandemic, people turned to running because it was considered a relatively “safe” way to exercise, as reported by CNN in April of 2020. Further statistics provided by Runner’s World at the end of 2020 showed that Fitbit users logged 22 percent more miles from March through September of 2020, Garmin users logged 31 percent more miles, and MapMyRun saw an impressive 68 percent increase in recorded miles.  Those are some serious metrics illustrating a serious commitment by many of us to making running as permanent in our routines as work and family obligations.

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But now what?!

And yet now, the realities of the daily commute are leaving us with the question: how will we still find the time to run when our free time is about to be curtailed? How do we find that work/life balance that has become work/life/running balance for many of us?  Unfortunately, adding “run 5 miles daily” to our job description isn’t possible for most of us. That said, with a little planning and a few deep breaths, it’s possible to maintain – even possibly maximize – our fitness while working that 9-5 job. 

Strategies for Success:

  • Keep your exercise bite-size: you may not have time in your average work day to get in an uninterrupted 10-miler, but what you probably have time for is several small chunks of exercise. So squeeze in 30 minutes before work, take your workout gear to the office and head outside for 20 minutes over lunch, grab a quick 20 minutes before dinner, take a long walk after dinner and pepper a few jogging intervals in. Even better, if your office has shower facilities or an on-site gym, make yours a running commute. Finding that work/life/running balance may require some creative scheduling, but it is possible!
  • Schedule, schedule, schedule: have your workouts planned out for the entire week on Sunday evening. If you use an online coaching platform like Training Peaks or Final Surge, make sure your coach has your workouts updated by Sunday for the rest of the week. If you work better with a paper schedule, tack a calendar up on your kitchen wall, write out specifically what you want to do every day, then make a point of crossing off each day’s workout once you’re done. Remove the guesswork of working out by planning it out as thoroughly as you do your family dinners.
  • Make an appointment…with yourself…once you have your workout schedule done, add a specific reminder every day so you’re less likely to let that run slide. Do you blow off that check-in with your boss at 10:00am every day? Probably (hopefully) not, if you want to keep your job. So think of your running/cross training/strength training appointment as another commitment you cannot shirk. Remember, balance your schedule, balance your life.
  • Reign it in. Your expectations, that is. This one’s hard. Really hard. And, as runners, we are all by nature tough on ourselves. Some might say that we enjoy abusing ourselves. But the reality is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and sleep is something you cannot, should not skimp on. So on the days you must commute to the office, work on acceptance. If you play your cards right, you should still be able to get a workout in on those days, but it likely won’t be as long as you’ve become used to. And that’s ok. Just be sure to remind yourself of that regularly and make a commitment to taking extra advantage of the days you still work from home.
  • Make a friend! We all know that accountability is key in keeping up with our fitness routines, and without as much flexibility in our schedules, it is going to be harder to convince ourselves to hit the gym at the end of a long day in the office. But if you are meeting someone there, the pressure is on. Need an extra level of accountability? Create a shared Google (or similar) calendar online, and take turns posting daily/weekly workouts for yourselves, including the time, duration, etc. You won’t want to let your accountability partner down. 
  • Sign up for a race! Another part of the return to normal (ish) life is that many races are being held in-person again. So find a race(s) that gets you motivated, and you’ll be more likely to stick with your routine if you’ve got an event – or events – on the calendar.

You’ve got this!

With a few tweaks to your schedule, you can have a balanced trifecta of work/life/running. But ultimately, if you try all of this and still find yourself struggling to adapt to being back in the office, it may be worth talking to your manager. The pandemic has led many companies to adopt more flexible work schedules, and employee wellness – particularly mental health – is being given higher priority across the board. So if your job is one that allows for less rigid schedules, you might be surprised at what your employer is willing to do to help keep you happy. After all, a happy worker is a more productive worker. And a happy running worker is even better!

Kate Marden is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Kate, check out her coaching page.