By Ashley HigginsonPeople often ask me how I manage to balance school or work and running. While I have always found that school and running are actually great to pair together, this summer I had the opportunity to intern at a law firm. After only a few months of full time work and full time training, let me tell you, all of you out there working and working out : I SALUTE YOU!
Typically, a professional track athlete’s summer is an important time for racing and is often spent travelling in Europe (sounds rough, I know). This summer, however, I was faced with a new challenge: finding a way to prepare for big races while balancing a full time job and the expectations of my potential future bosses. While I am still no expert, here are some cardinal rules I took away from the experience. Hopefully they can offer some motivation too!
(ps: you should NOT debase yourself by “deskercising”, working out at your desk? . . . no, just no)
1. You and your alarm clock.Not sure if anyone is like me, but my relationship with my alarm clock is not working. Unfortunately, we cannot break up. I have quickly learned you need to keep it at (further) than arm’s length. Your alarm clock does not belong in bed. If you need to physically get up to shut your alarm clock off, you are much more likely to stop your snoozing and get your body going in the morning. Moreover, those 8 minute intervals you snooze at are doing nothing for you – a workout will make you feel much more rested! (even just one 8 minute ab session.)
This summer I also realized that while it never felt great to get up with the sunrise, it is best to be on a schedule. Even if you have a shorter run or a planned day off, get into the habit of always waking up at the same time during the work week. Your body prefers to be in a regime and the days you have a little extra time for yourself, rather than rushing from workout to shower to work are wonderful. (Your coworkers will notice the extra ten minutes you took on your outfit that day too!)
2. Morning Glory.
I always considered myself a morning person, I enjoy light reading with some coffee and then I often stretch and do some core, watch some television, and prepare to do a run or workout by about… 10:30. Then, I was introduced to the morning commute, traffic, and a 9:00 am latest start to the day. On top of all that, by 9:00 I am suppose to look like a civilized adult with dry hair and a corporate casual outfit.
While I am not perfect and it took a few weeks to adjust, I like to think I am a morning person again. Get up! For one thing, if you have the option of showering and changing at a gym, you can roll out of bed in running clothes, grab your kuerig coffee, and miss the morning commute! This helps your mind and body wake up a little bit and forces you to plan your outfit, snacks, and regimine for the day (or week) ahead of time. Without the chance to try on 13 different options for the office, I saved a lot of time. Moreover, rather than sitting in traffic I would enjoy a beautiful trip into work.
Unlike 5:00 pm, where you may end up needing to stay a bit late, finish a project, run an errand, or grab dinner, no one messes with your mornings. I always accomplished more when I finished the main part of my workout with the sunrise. I was happy it was done and I could enjoy my evenings as well! Most importantly, I never felt rushed or stressed at work to head out and get a workout finished, making me a more approachable person throughout the whole day. It is great to be the person at the water cooler who can talk fitness and look effortless balancing the two (even if it is a lie). It is not great to be the person sprinting out of the office with one sneaker already on and unavailable to chat for three minutes in the elevator.
Nutrition is always a hot topic, but add in a hectic schedule and suddenly you have lost control of your day to day diet. It seems like my day begins with a banana, a run, about 3 cups of coffee and then . . . I fall off a cliff. It is easy to fall into bad habits, such as a lunch break that ends in useless calories, or accidently skipping dinner because you get home too late to cook something nutritious. Eating with coworkers can also be tough, as you do not want to look like the “lame” eater in the bunch. Planning ahead and having some emergency meals in the fridge for the week came in handy. For example, make a large container of quinoa for the week, so that all you have to do is pick the veggies you want for the evening and you can mix it up. (For me, mexican always wins, but it is easy to get some red peppers, basil, and tomatoes, or stir-fry instead). Bringing some healthy snacks to have in case you are running late or have to skip lunch is also important. Do not let your busy schedule be an excuse!
I also realized how nice it is to be mindful of your meals. Typing away or researching while you munch on something may not fill you up. Take some time to sit and enjoy your food, it will help you reset and will make you take ownership of what you are choosing as fuel.
Your mind and body need to be flexible if you want to train at any level and avoid injury. This summer, some wacky things occurred to my body that I had never had to deal with before. For example, at a recent trip to the chiropractor, the doctor told me three ribs were out of place. My neck is also apparently in constant spasm. Sitting at a computer all day is not ideal for a runner. Remember to take breaks and walk around.
Another issue for me was the sudden influx of time spent in high heels. This was, at first, exciting. Then, it quickly became terrible. I currently have four pairs of heels under my desk that I change into when I get to the office. On my way in and out, I wear Birkenstocks. I gave in, you should too, because most of the time no one really is noticing.
Imagining finding more time to stretch when you are already barely finding the time to run seems difficult, but it is crucial. I know I had a strict objection to deskercising, but keep a tennis ball in a drawer someplace. After new pains emerged after the first few weeks of work, I made a point of doing trigger points and rolling my feet out on a tennis ball. No one really notices either!
Last, you need to be flexible mentally. Training and fitness takes regimen, but it also takes an ability to roll with the punches. Some days, traffic will be bad and you will only have time for a 40 minute run instead of your hour ritual. Do not give in and skip the run all together. The shorter run is still a valuable part of your training and a way to practice things that may interrupt you in a race in the future!
5. Rules were meant to be broken.
Even the best plans need to be thrown out the window sometimes. Yes, this contradicts every earlier tip, but sometimes a glass of red wine at happy hour will help you reset, remind you that you do have a social life (sometimes), and maybe even land you a great opportunity at work. If you need some me-time, it is completely okay and can go a long way, and sometimes rest trumps everything else… even red wine
Ashley is a nationally ranked American steeplechaser and a member of the Saucony Racing team. As a Princeton Tiger, she was a ten-time Ivy League champion, finding success in Cross Country, indoor and outdoor track. Ashley now competes around the world as a professional athlete while also pursuing a law degree from Rutgers with a planned graduation in 2015.