Training Tips For The Time-Poor Part 1

Last updated: 15-Oct-18

By Andy Mouncey

That’s most of us then – because most of us don’t get paid to do this ultra running lark. Most of us have jobs, a Significant Other and/or Small People, travel we have to do, deadlines we have to meet, bills we have to pay and a DIY list we have to get through.

And a finite amount of energy beans to spread around.

So this one’s for the majority.

Get A Job In Healthcare

Why there aren’t more ultra runners in this line of work baffles me. I mean, the key requirements are almost a perfect fit: You have to keep thinking clearly under pressure while sleep deprived and where the stakes are high while on your feet all day juggling increasing and often conflicting demands with shrinking resources.

Here are three leading examples just for those of you who think I’m kidding:

Limits As Leverage

Set your training boundaries first – and that may mean a discussion with your Significant Other because the ole ‘I’m going out and I might be some time’ routine will only cut it so far.

If that means 5 hours during the week with a max 3 hour window at weekends then your challenge is to make the most of what you have within 8 hours every week.

And for those of you who still need some convincing here’s why working to deadlines er, works:

To climb La Dura Dura (5.15c), I set aside six months. I thought having unlimited time would allow me to succeed faster. Instead, it made me lackadaisical….. Later, I limited myself to five-day windows. It made me try harder, and I finished the climb. Sometimes, setting boundaries is the best way to get things done. Otherwise you’ll get hung up on tiny, unnecessary details.’ Chris Sharma, Climber

Never De-Conditioned

That’s right – you are always in shape and the difference is just in how ready to race you are. This is one of the differences between those towards the top of the tree / semi or full time in the sport, and the rest of us.

They definitely DON’T run the pattern of dropping off the abyss after an aspirational race because it takes too much time, energy and effort to build back up again – and when at least part of your livelihood depends on your results that’s just self-sabotage writ large.

And a bloody great waste of time.

I see this pattern of peak and tough in many of the folks that come to me for help: They’ve been fine when there’s a big scary aspirational goal to shoot for, but the minute it’s over they fall off the cliff. And getting back up is HARD.

A solution is to get to a point where the process alone is enough: You simply enjoy the training for the training – at least for a while. The trick of course, is to find a combination that gives you the results you want/need without trying that hard or tying yourself in knots to fit it in.

Which is of course part of the coaching magic…

While The World Sleeps

You learn this one as a first time parent: The only window you can control is the one before everyone else gets up. The theory is simple enough:

  • Get up
  • Get out
  • Get it done

Whether you’re start starting and finishing at home or stopping off en route to work or using all/part of your commute as a training window.

The practice takes somewhat more organisation and resolution to make happen – and a key to doing so is to work on the basis that your early morning workout starts the night before:

  • Choose the workout and review the goals
  • Clothes/kit ready – with contingencies – in a room other than the one you sleep in
  • Ready any fuel and fill the kettle or coffee pot – and if you want to earn bonus points get the breakfast stuff ready for everyone else
  • Set a curfew alarm – a time when screens go off and you start to wind down ready to sleep

Keep The Basis Boring

This one is all about removing choice, reducing the faff factor and practicing the skills of an ‘A+B=C’ mentality. The process becomes shorter, faster – one of the reasons is because you remove the emotion around the subject – and very quickly you can do it all without thinking.

So ‘food’ becomes ‘fuel’ and just something that needs to do a job rather than an emotional experience that needs to be lingered over sometimes in the company of others.

As ever, some preparation is needed to make it happen as well as some honest appraisal about your current choices. Here are some examples:

  • Same weekday clothes. I don’t mean don’t wash ‘em – just have a uniform even if you’re not contracted to have one
  • Same weekday food choices – a limited menu most of which you can prepare in advance
  • Same workout kit (see ‘washing’ above)
  • Same start of week prep routine and same evening prep routine for the following day

Now it doesn’t take a genius to figure that if you lived most of your life like this all the time you’d very quickly be heading to Lonely Neurotic Asshole status.

So be smart and selective:

  • Where and what are your time pits?
  • Where have you made the simple into needlessly complicated?
  • Where could you start that would make a big difference quickly for relatively little effort?

If it helps, remember this:
‘You are not responsible for the hand of cards you were dealt. You are responsible for maxing out what you were given.’ Chris Sommer, Gymnastics USA

Focus on the sh** you can control, then.

Other articles by Andy Mouncey related to this topic:

How to train for ultras in the city

Twelve days of Christmas training plans


Outsideonline.comFour Things That Top Performers Do Every Day’ by Stulberg & Magness
Mountain Tactical Institute ‘Diet Straegies’ by Rob Shaul.

Who Is Andy Mouncey?
Andy does the training stuff for us. He is author of three books including ‘So You Want To Run An Ultra’. He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach since 2000 working across business-education-sport-lifestyle. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire (UK).

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Date Range

Global - Virtual


A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for

For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Endurance - Multi-activity


An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for

Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude)

Suitable for

Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.



Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat)

Suitable for

Experienced runners who have completed at least 4 ultras in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.



Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.



Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for

Runners who have completed at least one ultra in last 6 months or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.



Very little change < 500 metres

Suitable for

First ultra event. Runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running (>26 miles) in the last 6 months.