Pro Runner Perspective: How to Balance Running with the Rest of Life


My name is Craig Leon and I am a professional runner.  I have finished in the top 15 of all three US Marathon majors: Boston (10th & 12th), New York (8th & 11th), and Chicago (13th). I have represented the Team USA at the 2015 Pan American Games and I have won 4 marathons in my career.  This May, I will take to the streets in Pittsburgh with you!

For the past 15 years of my life, running has been a full-time job.  Some of the job requirements have included commitment, persistence, ability to work in all weather conditions, a non-traditional work schedule including holidays and weekends, and travel.  In many ways, my life’s work to this point has been running.

But running has never been my only job.  Whether they were “real” jobs or side jobs, I have always been a multi-tasker.  Even in college, I juggled both running and schoolwork with small jobs on and off campus.  So, when people ask me today how I am able to balance being a professional runner with maintaining full-time job, the answer is simply I don’t know anything different. 

Today, my previous-life’s side jobs have been replaced with something more analogous to a career, where I spend my days in Eugene, Oregon as the MBA Program Manager for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business.  No longer does running get first priority everyday.  But just because it doesn’t get first priority, doesn’t mean running isn’t important.  

As most of you can attest to, balancing life’s various responsibilities with your running goals is not always a seamless endeavor.  Here are a few tips that I use to maintain some semblance of balance.

  1. You need a plan and that plan needs to be flexible.  As we build up for races, like the Pittsburgh Marathon, we all follow training plans.  These plans keep us focused and help us progress towards our goals.  But our lives are not static and inevitably we get pulled in various directions.  Maybe the workout that was originally scheduled for Tuesday needs to get shifted by a day or the run you had planned at X-pace needs to be modified.  No one ever had a bad marathon because of one missed workout.  Make the plan work for you; don’t try to force things
  2. Try and keep a routine.  When things are going well for me, I am going to bed around the same time every night, waking up around the same time every morning, eating meals at the same time, etc.  For me, routines help make a chaotic life seem less so.  I also find that when I am able to dial in routines in my “training” life, it positively bleeds over into other aspects of my life.
  3. Identify your pressure points and develop plans to improve efficiencies.  When you are working to utilize every minute of every day, there are bound to be trouble spots.  For me, that usually revolves around eating.  I hate coming back from a second run at 7pm and realizing that there isn’t food in the house for dinner.  Now, my girlfriend and I use Sundays to plan out our meals for the week.  Sundays are for long runs AND grocery shopping.  We all have one or two pain points that with a little bit of planning can alleviate stress in our lives.
  4. Always be ready for a run.  My work days don’t always start and end at the same time, which means the times when I can run also vary.  I keep an extra pair of running shoes and spare clothes in my office.  I also always have snacks on me for the afternoon.  The second run that I thought was going to start at 5:30pm sometimes doesn’t happen until 6:45pm and having an energy bar on hand so that I’m not running on an empty stomach after work is critical.
  5. Running should release stress, not add to it.  Running remains the favorite part of my day.  It’s my time to plan and think uninterrupted; it’s also my time to escape, daydream, and ideate.  Regardless of what running is to you, it should add value to your life.  If running is stressful, or becoming stressful, consider rethinking your training plans so that the amount time you put into running doesn’t cause imbalances in other areas of your life.

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