Working Different Shifts

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 | By Hal Higdon
Email this article

Got a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I am a nurse who works 36 hours a week: all different shifts, all different times, all different days. I am currently reading your book, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, and my question is in regard to consistency and training. There are often weeks when my work schedule does not permit me to run many days in a row (i.e., 3- 4 days). I often work 12-hour shifts and multiple types of shifts in a single week (i.e., 7:00am-3:00pm; 3:00pm-11:00pm; 11:00pm-7:00am). I find it difficult to get consistent, quality training in when my schedule is so chaotic. Do you have any suggestions? I have run two marathons thus far, so I am not a complete newbie, but my training regimen could use some serious work.


If you work 36 hours a week and do 12-hour shifts, that suggests to me that you have 3-4 days when you are off work. In some respect, this makes it easier (at times) for you to train, since you have more days free, when you have ample time to get in a longer- than-usual run. One of the toughest workouts in my marathon programs is the sorta- long run on Wednesday, which peaks at 10 miles in Week 15. It's not the difficulty of running that far, but more finding the time to run that far while working the usual 9-to-5 schedule. That would not seem to be as much of a problem for you.

But the shifting sands in your life create other problems, since you can't stick to a program that basically prescribes what to do on each day week after week after week. So you simply need to learn to be creative in juggling workouts, allowing them to land on different days in different weeks.

Since you are reading Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, go to the index and look for “Russell Pate, PhD.” Find the point where I use Russ as my source for planning training. Dr. Pate says to first determine the most important workout of the week (usually the long run in marathon training). Place it on the day where you are most likely to have the most time. Then pick the second most important workout, which in my Novice programs would be the sorta-long run. Pick a day for that--but remember: it does not need to be the same day each week. As your work schedule changes, fit the workouts around work.

If I had a couple of hours, I could sit down and customize a program for you, but I suspect now you are smart enough to do it yourself. In many respects, your shifting schedule offers you some advantages that the 9-to-5 people do not have. And thanks for taking care of us when we get sick.

Get the latest news

Join Us