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Charlie Wakefield at middle distance race

The Balancing Act: How to Master the Athlete Lifestyle


I should start this article with a full disclaimer that I am perhaps simultaneously the least and most qualified person to write on a topic like this. As a distance runner and university student with ADHD, I have been trying to independently master the balancing act of keeping my life together whilst pushing for my goals in distance running since I started sixth form back in 2019. 

Now I'm 21 and in my second year of university, I’m not sure I’d say I’ve quite “mastered” it, but it’s a work in progress that I’m trying to improve on every day. It’s safe to say that the athlete lifestyle is something many people struggle with, as high-performance athletics and sports, in general, is a massive commitment. At times, it can feel like your training and competitions really do have a chokehold over your life. I know from personal experience the feeling of not being able to go to that party, family gathering or event you’re so desperate to be at because of a clash with your athletics – and it’s up to you how you get around those barriers and clashes between your sporting commitments and the rest of your life.

It is, undeniably, a balancing act where you’re constantly juggling and prioritising everything. Hopefully, this article will give you a few neat strategies for dealing with those injunctions and staying on course with your athletics as best you can!

Charlie Wakefield playing badminton

Work-life balance for busy athletes

Q: I’m finding that training is clashing with many of my other commitments, and I’m feeling a bit overloaded and confused about what to prioritise?

The simple answer is if you’re feeling overloaded, something must give. There is a point where you can decide what you drop or deprioritise, but if you find it’s affecting you and you keep trying to juggle everything on equal terms, chances are it will come crashing down at some point. 

Consider the things that are the most important to you, your career, your education, your sport, your family, friends, relationships, and personal life. There is no straightforward answer, and balancing everything will always be challenging. In a situation where two or three things that are important to you clash, ask yourself three questions:

Athletic woman resting on ground

How important are each of these things to me right now?

Rank order your priorities and stick to them as best you can (this can be flexible, but ultimately, having an idea of where your priorities lie is an ideal place to start).

Can any of these things be rearranged without any issues?

So your training clashes with a big event you’ve got planned. Can you rearrange your training or structure it to give yourself the time and the space to go to the event? Is the event worth missing training or a competition?

Long term, will I regret this decision?

The consequences of a decision to miss a plan or event over training might be worse than missing training itself. An example of this would be an exam, a job interview, a family event, or a medical appointment. The reality is that you’ll have to sacrifice something, and the saying that training should always take priority just isn’t true!

Something I strongly advocate when trying to manage an athlete's lifestyle is an outlook that includes the bigger picture. We all want to go as far as we can in the sport, be it at Olympic, national, or local level, but it’s vital to recognise that there’s a lot more to life than just training and competition. An unrelenting and undeterred dedication to training and competition (in my humble opinion) is not healthy. 

Charlie Wakefield competing in Cross Country (2015)

Balancing athletics & academics

Q: How can I manage my routine to accommodate work/school/university with my training and other commitments?

One trap I fall into quite often is procrastinating training until late as I’m caught up in other things. Sometimes I’ll find myself out at 11 pm on a shakeout run or still in the gym at 10:30 pm because I’ve put it off until the evening caught up in Uni work. On the flip side, my mum is out running 8-10 miles/day at 5:30 am every day, and as a distance runner, one thing I’ve learned as a bit of a mantra is:

"My day doesn't ever really get started until I've got back from my run."

It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest challenges when it comes to training, running, or gym work is just getting started. 

I often spend the whole day fretting about when I’m going to fit my run in, when in reality if I could be a bit more organised and sleep earlier the night before, I could’ve had it done and showered before my first lecture that day. Every time I can force myself out the door to “get on with it”, the moment I take that first step I see it as a massive win, and when I get home and showered, I feel that much more energised throughout the day that I can be a lot more productive and make the most out of my studies.

I won’t mention the occasional 3 pm crash (which can be avoided if you fuel properly), but getting up early, working out, and then taking an hour afternoon power nap is something I 100% advocate for, as do a lot of professional athletes, Galen Rupp being a prime example.

For the physiology of an afternoon nap, this article from Trail Running magazine is certainly worth a read.

Athletics coach writing a training plan

Building on the idea of having a routine, setting up a timetable/routine that you loosely or strictly stick to is a brilliant idea for some people. I schedule nearly everything I have planned on Google Calendar on my phone, and if you’re a bit clever with it, you can sync multiple calendars (such as Outlook) to show up and refresh on Google Calendar. I also have it set up so that I can see my calendar on my watch. 

A good smartwatch such as a Garmin, Coros, or equivalent is another tool I have at my disposal to keep myself organised. From sleep tracking, weather, timetables, activity and heart rate data to telling the time, my Garmin has definitely helped me stay on track with my routine. 

Athlete tying shoes

Developing an effective routine as an athlete

Q: What are some effective strategies for scheduling a routine so that I actually stick to it?

I recently attended a workshop with a sports psychologist who answered this very question – here is what I learned:

  1. Make your routine manageable by leaving appropriate gaps where possible to give you some catch-up time/time to make your next task/appointment.
  2. Be realistic! If you have an hour gap between classes or an hour lunch break, the longest workout you're realistically going to fit in is 30-40 minutes with time to change, eat, towel off or shower.
  3. Leave BLUE SPACE/put in a BLUE DAY. Blue Space is essentially the time that you schedule dedicated to precisely nothing. That means during this time, you can do whatever you want, whether that's socialising, catching up on some work, replying to some emails, sleeping, or simply nothing! It’s not a gap in your schedule, blue space is dedicated time that you don’t schedule over, and it’s important to give yourself this space to relax, catch up, or reset!
  4. Update your schedule every week and schedule a time to re-schedule – timetables change all the time, so give yourself some space to sit down at the start of each week with a coffee to work it all out.
  5. Keep it flexible, and don’t feel like it’s life or death that you must stick to your routine! Scheduling is meant to be a guide, not an imperative. 

Charlie Wakefield distance running

How can you live an athletic life?

In conclusion – trying to play the balancing act with your athletics and the rest of your life is always going to be a work in progress. If there are four key takeaways from this article, it can be summed up like this:

  • Prioritise
  • Schedule
  • Work out sooner rather than later
  • Remember that it won't be perfect, and give yourself a bit of a break!

As someone who has ADHD, this has been a particular challenge for me, and I should reiterate it’s always going to be a work in progress. Pairing a distance runner's lifestyle with ADHD, Asthma, and a degree is not something I would recommend to anyone lightly... 

However, take knowledge in the fact that if I can just about hold it all together, with the right strategies and tools at your disposal, you can become quite good at the balancing act, which will only enhance your ability to train and compete at a high level. 

If you have any questions you’d like answered, feel free to message me via Instagram @charlie_wako or email at

About Charlie Wakefield

Charlie Wakefield - Neuff Athletic blogger

Charlie is predominately an 800m/1500m runner, but he also runs 5K and cross country.

He is an active member of three different athletics clubs, namely Saint Edmund Pacers AC, Ryston Runners and UEA Athletics.

As part of our blog team, Charlie will primarily be making content focusing on middle-distance events.

His goals over the next 5 years include achieving an England/GB vest on the track and breaking the 4 minute mile!

Instagram: @charlie_wako

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