How to Maintain an Active Lifestyle with a Long Commute

How to utilise your long commute

Sitting on the station platform, watching the delayed sign flash next to my London Paddington train, I thought of all the things I would rather be doing, instead of drinking a Flat White at Twyford.

47 minutes delayed, a complete joke on a Friday morning.

It was the end of two long weeks of commuting, nearly four hours roundtrip each day, sometimes not getting home until 2am after dinner with friends. And my workouts and work was suffering. I love living in Henley but I’d had enough.

I took to twitter to get some reassurance that I wasn’t the only one with a long commute, and how those with long travel times squeeze in marathon training, blogging, work, life in to their day. It fit well with my ‘No Excuses’ motto for Tokyo marathon training.

How to Maintain an Active Lifestyle with a Long Commute 

  • Get up earlier 

When blogger, ultra runner and mum (aka superstar) Susie Chan, who lives 45 miles outside of London, was training for an ironman she would get up super early, cycle halfway to London, run 10K to work then do it all again in reverse. Neil May gets up at 4am, running then getting on the bike to the station. All of his workouts are designed to be done in an hour or less. ‘Doing it before work ensures consistency as leaving things until lunchtime risks work taking over.’ 

Michele from NYC Running Mama is proof that you can fit in longer running sessions before work, even with an hour plus commute. She is often up at 4am, fits in up to 10ish miles, gets her son’s ready for school, then gets the bus to her corporate job. She’s able to manage this with a 9pm bedtime – check out her blog post about her ‘normal day as a working, running mum’.

Ab got in touch with me to say she has a 1.5 hr commute each way, so she always runs before work as she feels like I have more energy and it’s nice getting it out of the way for the day. ‘Getting up at 5am (or earlier ) isn’t always appealing but I tend to feel sluggish/tired/hungry if I run in the evenings…. don’t think the commute helps! Also I feel that running first thing helps you make the most of your day, you have to be organised but that way it leaves your evenings free to spend time with family, boyfriend, friends etc and not miss out on fun things.’ 

Tom often works earlies, leaving the house by 5.15am, or earlier. I could easily get up with him on those days and either run on the treadmill or catch the 5.36am train to London to run/gym there.

Susie Chan ultra runner

  • Organisation is key 

When you’re getting up at 4am, you’re not going to want to waste any of that time in the morning with your kit etc. For Michele, everything gets laid out the night before and brought into the dining room, her work outfit, running outfit and her kids clothes and backpacks etc.

‘Planning ahead and preparing is also key. I make my lunch for work the night before, semi-prep breakfast and lay out both work and running clothes, this saves me time in the morning and gives me more time to train. If I do want to go out in the evening I’ll lay my gym clothes out on my bed so all I have to do is park the car, change and leave again’ says Kerry, a doctor who drives about an hour each way.

Carly Rowena

  • Fit it in while you can 

Carly Rowena, an awesome fitness blogger that regularly commutes from Norwich to London books classes near the station or meetings to squeeze a workout in before her train home or during breaks between her hectic days.

A lot of you guys recommended run commuting, and I don’t know why I hadn’t even thought of that now that we don’t live in London. Even if you can’t run the entire way to work, perhaps you could run part of the way. For me, I’ve realised I could run the 3.5 miles to Shiplake – the next station on the train line, or run the 5 miles from Paddington to Uni (or the other way around).

Matt Bodkin starts run commuting as his marathon training intensity ramps up, he gets changed at work and either runs from Uxbridge to Ealing (9 miles) or Uxbridge to Hammersmith (13 miles) before getting on the tube for the rest of the ride home. Craig Bowdery has a 2.5 hour commute each way, spends his lunch break running around Green Park and Hyde Park, or along the river as the roads where he lives don’t have pavements or street lights.

  • Utilise your commute 

I’m lucky to have wifi on my train, so I often try to work during my 50+ minute train journey, however it does become quite heavy lugging my laptop with me everyday (and not sure how it would work with a part run commute). It’s also a great time to read, listen to podcasts and audiobooks (look out for a fitness/running book club coming soon!)

Carly also uses her 2+ hour train to London to write blog posts, edit video and post across her social channels. She recommends to ‘Use your commute wisely, time is precious and there are so many ways to up your knowledge, learn something new or chill out.’ Susie uses the time to catch up on Social Media, work, write blogs and read. ‘It gives me a nice buffer between work and home.’ 

Craig on the other hand catches up on sleep, watches TV on his iPad. His advice for long-distance commuters is to not feel bad if the time on a train or bus seems unproductive: ‘relish the head space and try your best to unwind, particularly if it’s been ‘one of those days’. And don’t worry too much if an over-running meeting or delayed train robs you of a run: there’s always another day!’

How to utilise your long commute

  • Try to get into a routine 

Apparently it gets easier if you wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday (although perhaps the weekend 5am alarms won’t go down too well). Having a weekday routine should speed things up, plus reduce the daily stresses and organisation.

For Carly, a routine isn’t possible, it changes every day due to the commitments she has on any given day. ‘I write a to-do list and I try to do as much of it as possible, however I always remember that life is not an emergency.’
 Neil plans his training schedule about 3 months ahead and gets all of the sessions in the calendar. ‘I hate to say it but I try manoeuvre work around my training and not the other way around if at all possible! Planning ahead helps. That said, I don’t stress about the odd missed session. So I am flexible where necessary.’
  • Recovery is crucial  
For Craig, the hardest thing is the loss of recovery time; ‘I’m pretty much always knackered and it takes me longer to get over long or particularly hard runs (well that’s my excuse anyway!)’ Neil is adamant that you need to manage sleep levels very carefully ‘no shame in an early night’.
It’s also important to eat well, although this in itself can prove challenging. Overnight oats, instant porridge and other portable breakfasts are useful on the train, as are easy, quick but nutritious dinners for when you get home. I’m starting to do my weekly shopping online so that I don’t have to stop by the supermarket on the way home. Rachael Daniel meal preps for the week on a Sunday. ‘Having everything prepared for the week means when I get home for training my dinner just needs a couple of minutes in the microwave and I’m not tempted to grab convenience foods.’
Sarah has a 2.5 hour commute three days a week, and works away from home 2 days a week. Her biggest issue was her diet, ‘my diet is very good but when your only option is a sad sandwich from the local Spa shop, it’s bit of a challenge! So, I make a big bowl of cous cous with roasted vegetables and pack that in a lunch box and take a few tins of sardines with me. Fast food at it’s best!’ 
  • Learn to prioritise 
Another area I’ve been struggling with is the fear of missing out (FOMO), especially from blog events that I wouldn’t think twice about attending, now have to be carefully considered. If it takes up to 4 hours round trip travel time, and costs up to £20, I can’t say yes to everything anymore. Carly gave me the advice to tell yourself it wasn’t the right event for you, or try to rescheduled and meet the brand on another occasion.
 Vuelio UK blog award winner
Recently I’ve worried that I’m not making the right decisions, for example I went to the Vuelio Blog Awards (where I was thrilled, stunned and overwhelmed to win Best Fitness Blog) but it ran late, meaning I didn’t arrive at my friend’s pre-wedding dinner until 10pm, and had to leave at midnight to catch the last train home, upsetting my friend and stressing me out massively. Additionally, I’ve just learned that another friend’s hen party is the weekend of the London Marathon – Tom thinks I should give up VLM, I think/hope I can do both.
Prioritising running and blogging may seem strange to many of my friends and family, and I feel torn by doing so, but it’s really important to me and I hope that eventually they will understand. I need to somehow balance friends, studying, blogging, working and running – and the long commute.

14 Comments

  1. 5th December 2016 / 4:17 pm

    A long time ago, I had a 1.5 hour drive one way to work. There was no way I was getting up at 3am to work out; nothing was open then (this was back in the late 90s). I would drive to work and was lucky enough for a good portion of the time I had said commute that there was a cafeteria onsite. I’d get an egg white omelette, toast and coffee before my shift and then had the option of a salad bar for lunch. I’d drive straight to the gym after work, workout, go home and have dinner, to immediately go to bed to repeat the cycle the next day. It was exhausting, but I was much younger then.

    I don’t think I could do it again now that I’m in my 40s! I will have to start thinking about employment soon, and I definitely don’t want a long commute. I’d rather move closer to my job if possible to save the time and stress of commuting, especially if I stay here in the UK as I don’t drive (now).

  2. 5th December 2016 / 5:13 pm

    Such a lot of good advice!! It’s so hard trying to fit everything into a day, let alone with a big commute, you’re a total star for fitting in as much as you do! My commute is nowhere near yours, but with a really hectic life I often find its the only quiet time I get, and I really appreciate the headspace it gives me. It’s the perfect punctuation to the day and a rare chance to do nothing (an undervalued use of time). Xx

  3. 5th December 2016 / 6:19 pm

    great advice. a long commute can feel like “wasted” time if you begrudge it the entire time.
    i also prefer sometimes to wake up early to run/workout over staying out late and it can feel weird socially. i think its nice to do some sort of combo – or make a running date in the am (whcih you definitely seem to do!)

  4. 5th December 2016 / 6:50 pm

    Great post. Thank you. As someone who recently went from a 15mns commute to a nearly 2 hours’ journey (and then back again), this was really helpful. The idea of leaving early and working out at a gym near work sounds great – also, saves me from the rush hour crush.

    I, too, don’t like to cart my laptop around. It’s not just because of the weight. It’s also because it is harmful for your back and posture. Plus, it may be tempting for robbers. Instead, I tend to carry a Bluetooth keyboard which I connect to my phone to reply to e-mails, draft a blog post, type some ideas, etc…

    The main reason I am commenting, though, is to pass on a tip that someone gave me. Someone told me to stop thinking about the journey as an interruption, or a hurdle that I must get through. And, instead, to reframe it as ‘free time’, in the sense that no one expects anything from me during that period – I had lots to do before I left, I will have lots to do when I get there, but no demands from me during this in-between period. So, do not feel guilty about just relaxing, or reading a nice book, etc… In my case, I try to do work stuff on the way in (e.g., plan a report, answer work e-mails), and then simply relax with a podcast on the way back.

    No advice on FOMO, though. I struggle with that since I moved out of London 🙁

  5. Hannah
    5th December 2016 / 7:57 pm

    Charlie I totally feel your pain with the commute. I moved to Somerset nearly 9 months ago to be with my boyfriend as he has a very demanding role but my job was based in Bristol. The commute was nearly 1.5 hrs either way on the bus or in the car, and I got so frustrated and demoralised tallying up the hours I was spending twiddling my thumbs in traffic or listening to terrible radio….

    Three hours a day that I could be having ‘me’ time or training. I was so tired when I got home that any runs or training were always at sub-standard effort and I felt lazy.

    Since taking the jump to being self employed I could not go back to the 9-5 grind where you are forced to have your bum placed on seat at 9am or earlier. Jobs are flexible now with regards to contract work and it feels so empowering to have taken control. I work when I want to work, I train when I feel like training (at max effort), I can put a wash on in the daytime, run errands at 10:30am and my time is mine.

    The lesson I learnt from the tiring experience was learning when to say no. I found myself still chasing my old ‘conveniently placed’ life and the frequency of my social meet ups whilst commuting, running a business, having a relationship and I was on the road to burn out hell.

    I wasn’t enjoying the work, nor the training and had no motivation. I knew what I had to do, and that was to say NO. I explained to friends that when we meet for dinner they have a 15min stroll home, thats an 1hr 30min drive for me and if we finished dinner at 10pm I wouldn’t be in bed until gone 12am, then up at an obscene hour to start again, so I started to change how I socialised. I prioritised my days around meetings when I had to be driving to the city and tried to meet friends at a decent hour straight after work or during lunch. If they couldn’t make that evening then I would wait until the next time it was convenient for me and I was back in the city, and if they didn’t like that I always suggested they could make the 1hr 30min drive and back in one evening to me instead, and funny enough I didn’t have many takers on that plan.

    It’s knowing when to make the effort and when to put you and your well being first. I now arrange catch ups with friends at park run, on the bike, out running, at a gym class so I get to see the people I care about but still train.

    Good luck and it’s ok to be a tiny bit selfish every now and again. Just listen to yourself and your body and you’ll figure out the balance.

    Hannah x

  6. 5th December 2016 / 8:11 pm

    Great tips, as ever. It can be a struggle, particularly with marathon training which is so time intensive.
    When I lived in London I used to run the 6 miles home from work a few times a week – it took the same amount of time as the tube and meant I didn’t end up skipping a run by getting home late, sluggish and hungry. It was a bit of a faff at the start, making sure I remembered all my work and running stuff (like the time I had to run home in my normal bra because I’d forgot my sports bra, whoops), but you get into a routine after a few goes. I definitely recommend run commuting.

    Now I’m in Brussels I’ve been either cycling or running in or home, and love incorporating sport into my daily commute.

    My big challenge now is fitting in runs with my dog, so I don’t have to walk him separately, something I wrote about on my blog https://archieinbrussels.wordpress.com/2016/12/04/training-up-my-running-buddy/

    Sometimes an audiobook or podcast on the bus is a nice change of pace though – definitely agree that there’s a lot to be said for just relaxing sometimes 🙂

  7. 5th December 2016 / 9:37 pm

    Getting up early to workout always seems like such a great idea to me, but then I often have insomnia when I know I have to wake up early, because I get worried about not getting enough sleep which causes me to stay awake…it’s an evil cycle! I have a very short tube commute this year (most of my commute is walking to the station) which I appreciate most of the time, but I do miss my long commute last year when I could read on the train.

  8. Chiswickmum
    6th December 2016 / 5:26 am

    Life is not an emergency – love that and need to remember it! Thanks.

  9. 6th December 2016 / 7:47 am

    Oh wow now I feel motivated to stop faffing about in the mornings and reignite my pre-work run/gym mojo! Great post, loads of amazing advice!

  10. 8th December 2016 / 10:14 am

    I agree with Craig in your post. There are lots of things to do at home and lots of things waiting for you at work. Try and take the commute time to relax. Don’t see it as wasted time, see it as “me” time. You can’t control traffic jams and train delays, just have the things you need with you (book, iPad, iPod) and don’t beat yourself up about it.

  11. 8th December 2016 / 6:19 pm

    Love this post so much! I don’t have nearly this commute, but now that I live in a city, I do have to commute all over town. This summer I got really into run commuting. Even if it was one way, and then Uber-ing back home. Not having to deal with parking was awesome! Running with a laptop is challenging, but I just got a new running backpack that’s water proof and has a laptop sleeve. It’s awesome!

  12. 12th December 2016 / 11:42 pm

    This post is SO useful. I struggle with fitting everything in, and running is usually what gets forgotten about. I think I need to aim for earlier bed times and earlier mornings!

  13. 28th December 2016 / 7:18 pm

    These are great ideas. I live in a rural area. My husband has a 35 mile commute and often bikes part of the way. He parks several miles away from work and rides on in. This forces him to go for a second ride on his way home. Me? I’m just struggling with lack of daylight and icy roads!

    • charlotte
      Author
      29th December 2016 / 1:22 pm

      Icy roads sound no fun at all – lack of daylight is definitely an issue. i’ve just been in New Zealand where I’ve loved my gorgeous, light 6am runs! Back to England and cold, dark and wet morning miles sadly.