Master the Lunch Run: How to Work Out During Work Hours

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By Stuart

Avid runner. 10x marathons. Daily 10kms. Award-winning journalist when not moving (about me)

Life has a habit of getting in the way of exercise.

Kids. Hobbies. Chores. Work.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One underrated way to fit exercise into your busy schedule is the lunch run.

Lunch runs not only offer a reprieve from the sterile office environment but can also energise your afternoon, ignite creativity and improve resilience. So much so, many people swear by them.

However, there’s an art to a successful lunchtime run. How to factor in food. Route choice. The optimum time to go. Even fitting in a post-run shower.

In this article, I’ll share the ultimate playbook for mastering the 30-minute lunch run and transforming your entire workday. Plus, your work-life balance.

The Benefits of Running at Lunchtime

Mirrored sculpture spotted when running at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Mirrored sculpture spotted when running at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
  • Breaks up your workday and keeps your training regime alive
  • An instant mood-booster and screen-free time
  • Find new angles and “awe run” inspiration for creative problem-solving
  • Run faster as you have a set time to get back
  • Encourages healthy eating to properly fuel your run
  • Return re-enerised for the afternoon shift
  • Have the rest of the day to rehydrate and snack guilt-free
  • Run while it’s still light in autumn/winter
  • Keep your family, social and work commitments intact
  • No need to wake up extra early or squeeze in a run after a tiring workday
  • Running during lunch breaks adds variation to your training

As Jack Kerouac wisely said: “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

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How to Master the Lunch Run (Without Getting Fired!)

Unless you’re working from home 5 days a week, running in your lunch break will involve a bit of planning.

A smaller time window means zero time for procrastination. A shared office making it harder to freshen up. A busy day creating other demands on your time.

All challenges that can be easily overcome with some preparation.

When planning a lunch time run, some things to consider are:

  • Scheduling: Block out the time in the diary, or somebody else will with a meeting. Or you might find excuses not to get out.
  • Distance: Choose a running route that fits within your lunch break. This will allow you to enjoy your run without worrying about time constraints.
  • Nutrition: Have a light snack pre-run and lunch ready for your return. This will give you enough energy to power through your workout without feeling too full or sluggish.
  • Running gear: Pack everything you need in advance to make your run as smooth as possible. Some people even insist on wearing 1-2 items under their work clothes.
  • Freshening up: There’s a few options for getting comfortable for the rest of your day – wet wipes, deodorant, or even a quick shower if possible

Let’s dive into those in a bit more detail…

Planning for a Lunch Run

Scheduling Strategies

Prioritise your lunch hour run time with these scheduling tips:

  • Block it out in your diary, as your would an important meeting
  • Build a new habit by setting a regular time and day of the week
  • Aim for midday-ish when breakfast has settled and the endorphins fuel your afternoon
  • Don’t be afraid to share your runs, so colleagues know to work round them
  • Aim for quick turnarounds either side of your run

Inspiring Route Selection

Running on York's City Walls when quiet
Running on York’s City Walls during my lunch break

You might be building a new running routine but your routes don’t have to follow a predictable path:

  • Preplan stimulating routes e.g. riverside paths, creative neighbourhoods, local parks
  • Use Strava to find routes that are both enjoyable and challenging
  • Get to know your surroundings and roam free away from the crowds
  • Visit historic landmarks midweek before the tourists flock there
  • Clear your head with an hour in the countryside
  • Find inspiration in new places as running helps you to think

From personal experience, running in the city makes me better at my day job in marketing.

The office environment is a bubble. Detached from the real world.

To counter that, I like to go incorporate an “inspiration safari” into my runs, to check out other’s advertising and find new sources of inspiration in the wild. I always come back from my lunch break with a head full of new ideas.

Check the Weather Before a Running Lunch

Be prepared with appropriate clothing for varying conditions, and always have a backup option.

As autumn/winter hits the weather starts shifting. The trees change. The shorter days draw in. This means layers and more visible clothing.

What to Wear on a Lunch Run

Maximise your running time outdoors by being run-ready:

  • If WFH, put your running gear on first thing so there’s no getting out of it
  • If working in the office, many people put 1-2 items on (e.g. sports bra) in the morning to firm up their commitment and change quickly
  • Remember to avoid overdressing, as this can lead to excessive sweating and discomfort afterwards at work
  • Store a spare set of gym clothes and shoes at my desk or in my locker, to avoid worrying about forgetting something important

When it comes to layers:

  • Wear a moisture-wicking base layer – fabrics like polyester, nylon, or merino wool for your base layer. These materials help to move moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry and comfortable on your run
  • Outer layer – Shelter when running in the rain and wind with a waterproof and breathable outer layer. Look for jackets specifically designed for running, as they often have features like ventilation panels and adjustable cuffs to prevent overheating, especially when running in the hot weather.

Find a Lunchtime Running Club, Or Set One Up!

Most cities will have lunchtime running clubs that welcome all running abilities.

Joining a running group or community can be a great way to make running more fun and social. There are many benefits to running with others, including motivation, accountability, and the opportunity to meet new people who share your passion for running.

I have personally found that joining a running group has helped me stay motivated and on track with my running goals. It’s much easier to get out in the rain when you know there will be others waiting for you. Plus, it’s good to bounce questions off of others in the running club – be it about a recurring running problem, running form, or to assess your fitness levels.

There are many different types of running lunch groups and communities out there, so it’s important to find one that fits your needs and preferences. Some groups are focused on training for races, while others are more social and casual.

Check out the RunTogether website to find a lunchtime running club near you.

If nothing shows up, then consider setting your own up. All it takes is a post on your intranet or canteen notice board.

Nutrition for Running at Lunchtime

Pre-Run Meals: Best Fuel for a Lunch Run

A big breakfast often provides sufficient energy for my midday exercise. Ideally, it contains protein and fiber, which keep me full for longer and provide nutrients crucial for muscle recovery. For instance, one of my favorite breakfast choices is a smoothie with eggs and avocado on whole wheat toast.

If you run a little later than midday you might want to opt for an additional light elevenses to see you through to lunch breaks.

Post-Run Meals

Protein-high post-run sandwiches from Shambles Kitcken, York
Protein-high post-run sandwiches from Shambles Kitcken, York

Top tip: Make sure your lunch is ready for when you get back.

After a running lunch, it’s essential to refuel your body with a healthy, well-rounded meal. Repair and rebuild muscle tissue with a protein-rich lunch, such as a poke bowl, tuna niçoise salad, burrito bowl, or falafel wraps.

Top Snacks for a Lunch Break Run

Of course, we all know that busy schedules sometimes don’t allow for lengthy, nutritious meals. That’s why I always have a few on-the-go snack options in my bag, such as:

  • Cereal & energy bars
  • A yogurt with fruit and granola
  • Whole-grain crackers with hummus
  • Raiding the office fruit bowl

How to Run at Lunch Without a Shower

Don’t fret if your office doesn’t have shower facilities.

I’ve found that a small towel, face and body wash, baby wipes, and dry shampoo are lifesavers for a quick post-run clean up. All will fit in a small gym bag or wash bag. Don’t forget a separate carrier bag for your dirty running clothes.

I’ve gotten the turnaround on a quick change down to five minutes by focusing on what’s essential to fresh up.

With virtual meetings now the norm, it’s also totally ok to not have a shower straight away if you’re only dialing in. Your co-workers will never know.

In Summary: Making Lunch Runs a Regular Thing

Whether it’s for added work-life balance, active socialising, or just a moment’s escapism, I’m convinced you’ll love running during lunch breaks as much as me.

Incorporating physical activity into my daily routine has allowed me to clear my mind, refocus, and tackle tasks with renewed energy.

It also beats the old routine of eating premade sandwiches at my desk hands down.

But you must schedule time for it before the work day takes over.

There’s also something a tiny bit rebellious about running on your lunch. It feels like a secret life hack that only runners know about.

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