ARTICLE: The Perfect Athletic Day

The big challenge for us “amateur athletes”, who have to juggle our athletic aspirations against our work-life, while at the same time trying to shut out the noise of the large clock of time ticking against our best years, is how to get the best out of our time.

I have long tried to find a perfect formula for this, primarily because I rate my own talent as being extremely modest. I feel I have a propensity for running but not an extraordinary one. I, like many others, can only succeed through dedicated hard work over a very long time. For us, there will be no easy victories, so how do we swing it when work and other obstacles stop us from training as much as we could otherwise?

The Two Hour Rule

My own personal solution for autumn is one I call “The Two Hour Rule”. It is simple in design: Every morning I get half an hour to wake up and get energy in the system. The next two hours need to be focused on exercise.

Why two hours? Well, one big difference between casual runners and professional athletes is that professionals can fit in more additional quality work around there running such as warmup and cooldown, good stretching, technique drills, conditioning, and cross-training.

But running always has to be first, so by having the “two hour rule”, it means if you are doing a 2 hour run (or more), that’s you done for the day, No further work is needed. But on other days, say you are doing fifty minutes fartlek, you should dutifully spend another seventy minutes stretching, doing yoga, do some speed drills or whatever else you believe will supplement your program best.

Why this extra load, can I recover, you may ask? Well, you would need to be intelligent in the sort of work you add in. Warmups, cooldowns, stretches, yoga and other exercise tend to aid recovery not hamper it. Secondly, I have come to firmly believe that a large problem for our competitiveness in the west is the sedentary life-style that our jobs impose on us. Another challenge, stemming specifically from running, is that it can be hard to do more than 10-12 hours of running even for a seasoned athlete without breaking down. Yet I believe it is desirable to be physically active beyond 10-12 hours.

Beyond the Two Hour Rule

By having the two hour rule, you ensure that you are at least moderately active for two hours per day or 14 hours per week. It doesn’t have to stop there, in a perfect athletic day, I would suggest a further hour of light exercise in the evening adding up to 21 hours of activity per week as a minimum for a healthy human being. The extra hour should generally be spend on supplementary recovery exercise such as stretching, light jogging and similar easy activities, although serious competitors can obviously be more ambitious (and indeed, many triathletes would scoff at this whole notion as they are likely doing well more than 21 hours as it is).

Can this be done? Well, the three hours would be a challenge and if you work day is longer than eight hours, you’ll find yourself pushed into very late hours and in turn your sleep will be compromised, however, under reasonable circumstances you may just be able to pull it off.

Below is an example for a worker, with a one hour commute each way and eight and a half hours of sleep, using this philosophy:

Start Finish Activity Time
07:00 07:30 BREAK 0.5
07:30 08:00 TRAINING 2
08:00 08:30
08:30 09:00
09:00 09:30
09:30 10:00 COMMUTE 1
10:00 10:30
10:30 11:00 WORK 8
11:00 11:30
11:30 12:00
12:00 12:30
12:30 13:00
13:00 13:30
13:30 14:00
14:00 14:30
14:30 15:00
15:00 15:30
15:30 16:00
16:00 16:30
16:30 17:00
17:00 17:30
17:30 18:00
18:00 18:30
18:30 19:00 COMMUTE 1
19:00 19:30
19:30 20:00 TRAINING 1
20:00 20:30
20:30 21:00 BREAK 2
21:00 21:30
21:30 22:00
22:00 22:30
22:30 23:00 SLEEP 8.5
23:00 23:30
23:30 00:00
00:00 00:30
00:30 01:00
01:00 01:30
01:30 02:00
02:00 02:30
02:30 03:00
03:00 03:30
03:30 04:00
04:00 04:30
04:30 05:00
05:00 05:30
05:30 06:00
06:00 06:30
06:30 07:00


Anonymous said…
Interesting blog Rene. Funnily enough, I had a "two hour rule", +/- 15 mins as well - did my best running when I was averaging 1hr40-2hrs a day split between two runs. My rule was also a "no more than" to make sure I was disciplined and didn't let all the miscellaneous "not actually running" bits take up too much time.

Two observations:
1. I think when running this much, if you're living within say 12 mile of work, use the commute as training - it saves a lot of time! I trained with a national marathon champ who'd run 8 miles into work in the morning and longer in the evenings if he was doing a session - he reckoned he wasn't spending much more time than he would stuck in traffic. I lived 4 miles out and used to lengthen my commute by taking in a park or two! Lots you can do to facilitate this - run with a backpack, keep some clothes, towel, soap in work, etc. If you're a ways out, cycle halfway (good warmup), lock bike, run the rest. It's also very satisfying!

2. Considering how to manage work to maximise running is good, but managing running to maximise work is more important IMO, particularly if doing something mentally demanding. I found a 35-45 min run in the morning would freshen me up, but that a hard session/run >>1hr would take away from my mental sharpness and concentration - therefore I always did my "main training session" in the evening after work. People are different of course, but I think more often than not people underestimate how "off their game" a hard training session can leave them.

Sean O h.
Renny said…
Some great points Sean. I used to do a bit of running in and out from work, but since moving to Glendalough, the 65km hilly traverse has remained untested. Saw an article recently suggesting that runners who train in the morning are more consistent. That would mirror my own experience. A day is full of distractions.

I remember back in my pre-Lydiard days using Sleamaker's program often being so fatigued at work I'd almost fall asleep in the chair even doing the sessions in the evenings.

For myself, as long as the session is balanced reasonably and I get a good recovery drink followed by a good meal and can keep a reasonable sleep level, fatigue never reaches an unacceptable level but that's a lot of "ands", so your point is well taken and definitely something for readers to bear in mind if they like their morning workouts hard.

Lydiard's boys, of course, trained in the evening tide most often with only jogs in the morning.