I'm So Busy! How Do I Train for an Ultra?

This is a question I frequently get: With a large family, a full-time job, and countless other commitments, how do I find time to train for ultras and coach other athletes? The first answer is simply, "That's who I am," but clearly, there's more to unpack.

At the highest level, you must understand your life priorities, guiding principles, or simply your "why." My personal priorities are Faith, Family, Fitness, and Fellowship. These priorities ensure that at every decision, I'm reminded of what is important to me and strive to make those decisions in a way that supports that version of myself.

Keep in mind your priorities are likely different from mine but allow me to illustrate how my priorities align with my life.

Faith: I'm a Christian. That faith gives me a set of values by which I view the world. I strive to keep the tenets of Christianity, such as Bible reading, prayer, and worship.

Family: Mary and I have four wonderful daughters ranging from 9 to 18, and one black lab. If anyone wants to know what busy looks like, take four daughters, add in some extended family, and you've got chaos.

Fitness: Here's the magic of making time to train. I'm a recovering overweight guy not a high school track star. I started running to lose weight and somehow overnight (+ four years) I learned to love it! I've come to crave the challenge of ultra-running and the life applications I get from it. Most importantly, I run because I want to take care of this body God gave me, bringing the best version of myself to my family, in my job, and in all aspects of life.

Fellowship: I believe we were made for relationships. I prioritize the relationships that revolve around my faith, family, and fitness with a side benefit that these relationships strengthen the accountability to my priorities.

You will notice there are several things purposefully missing from my priorities. This is by design. I'm a Chief Engineer for the Air Force, a more than full-time job, in addition to coaching for Boundless. I'm the president of my homeowner's association. I have a large yard to maintain. The list goes on, but these are just things I do, not who I am.

Priorities are critical, but day-to-day is where the battle is won. There are thousands of hacks that you can employ, but ultimately, you must find ones that work for you. Here are some techniques I use to ensure I win the day.

Set goals: It is critical to have goals for each year. I fill my calendar with A, B, & C races, set mileage goals for the year, and participate in challenges. This helps ensure I can't slack off.

Early morning workouts: For my schedule, if I don't get my workout done in the morning, it has a diminishing chance of success. So, I get up some days as early as 4:00 am to get my run in.

Accountability partners: I have a circle of friends that I try to run with. We help each other because sleeping in or staying on the couch is hard if you know your friend is waiting.

Engage the family: Even if your family isn't into the same sports as you, they can still be a source of encouragement. I frequently hear, "Have you run today?" or "You need to run!" It's hard not to go when your family tells you to get out and go.

Cut the waste: I have put significant effort into cutting out wasted activities as I prioritize my day. TV, movies, social media, etc., typically bring little to no value to my life. None of them are zero, but I keep them to a minimum. Books like "Digital Minimalism" by Cal Newport have significantly influenced my thoughts on this topic.

Always connect with your family: I make it a point to spend just a little time with my wife and girls daily, even if my day is jam-packed. It may be as small as a good night hug or a short FaceTime when traveling, but it's a small connection to remind them I still love them.

Mental workouts: Sometimes you get a workout done, but it wasn't the ideal time, place, or conditions. My favorite example was when I had a wholly messed up day but still managed to get in a run. At 10:00 pm, after everyone was in bed, I went outside for 20 miles on the quarter mile stretch of road in front of my house. Nothing was pleasurable about it, but it was a "cookie in my cookie jar" doing mentally challenging things I can draw from later… because I got it done!

Learning and motivation: I spend my free time, such as car rides and plane trips, listening to audiobooks and podcasts focused on my priority areas. This helps me become a better person and motivates me to keep going.

Rewards: I love exploring trails. Unfortunately, there are virtually no trails where I live. I often must remind myself that I run on roads and paved trails to be ready when the opportunity arrives to take in a new trail.

Put yourself out there: The single best act of accountability I ever started was telling people I was a runner. I hang medals in my office, talk about my weekend run plans and races, encourage people to join me or be more active, and otherwise talk about running. I can't slack off when everyone I know is watching.

Have a coach: I've personally had coaches, too. Both formal and informal, having a coach is a powerful accountability tool. It's tough to miss workouts when you know coach is watching. An objective observer with more experience than you monitoring your training is always beneficial.

In all these things, flexibility might be the most crucial point. You won't always get it right, but don't lose hope. Sometimes, the right thing to do has nothing to do with fitness. Sometimes, the best thing is to go to bed and try again tomorrow. But sometimes cannot be every day.

Life is like an ultra-marathon. It's a long run. Sometimes, you are blissfully cruising downhill. Other times, it's flat, and you're just moving. But sometimes, you are on the back of Hope Pass chasing the cutoffs in a storm. If you're going to be successful, you must do the right things and control the controllables: Relentlessly make forward progress. Pace yourself. Utilize the aid stations and your fantastic support crew. Utilize fellow runners and pacers to motivate you along the way. And remember to check in with the Race Director.

Brad Stahlman is a Boundless coach, engineer, family guy, ultra-runner, and overall busy person who loves encouraging others to achieve their goals. Schedule a free consultation to start training with Coach Brad today!