9 Quick Running Workouts for Busy Runners

If you have less than an hour to run, you can still get a quality running workout by doing workouts at VO2 max or Critical Velocity speeds, or running hills. I share 9 quick running workouts that make you fitter in 45 minutes or less. 

runner in green top on gravel path
These short running workouts get you fit in 45 minutes or less.

Short on time? Don’t worry! You can still get quality training even if you don’t have a lot of time. Thankfully, running is a dynamic sport in which you can adjust the time and intensity to get the most bang for your buck.

It doesn’t take a lot of running to maintain fitness either. So don’t stress if life got too busy for you to do longer running workouts or you’re on vacation and running isn’t very convenient.

Related: How Long Does It Take to Lose Running Fitness?

I got this idea for this article from two of my athletes this week.

One emailed me to tell me she was working eleven thirteen-hour nurse shifts in the next two weeks. A mom of young kids, she is the definition of a busy runner. I knew she would be exhausted and short of time. So I gave her the option to do one of the hill workouts below if she had the energy to—making her promise to be in tune with what her body needed. (She is good about listening to her body).

Related: Your Running Maintenance Plan for the Off-Season

My other athlete is going on spring break with her family and won’t have time for long running workouts. She is in peak marathon training—but I reorganized her schedule so that she had a down week that week and a running workout that was higher intensity, but lower in miles. This way she got in quality work without taking a lot of time. She also can follow that quality work with ample recovery and set her up for a big peak week before heading into marathon taper.

quick running workouts for busy runners pin
Pin these quick running workouts for busy runners for later!

For running, the higher intensity of the training (such as VO2 Max workouts), the lower the volume you want to do—and likely the more recovery you will need.

Related: How to Raise Your VO2 Max in 5 Steps

Below I am sharing 9 quick running workouts for busy runners that give you the most bang for your buck. These running workouts strengthen your cardiovascular system along with your musculoskeletal system so that you get a lot of quality work done in not a lot of time. In fact, all these running workouts can be completed in under 45 minutes!

Note: These running workouts are for trained runners who have already been doing speedwork.

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Running tips for being short on time:

  • Only runn easy miles if you’re also short on sleep and exhausted. Do strides to maintain neuromuscular fitness.
  • Cut your warm-up to about 10 minutes instead of 2-3 miles.
  • Shorten cool-down to about 5-10 minutes of easy running to walking.

Related: Healthy Meal Ideas for Busy Runners

9 Quick Workouts for Busy Runners

  1. Fast Finish Run

Start your run easy, then finish the final 1-3 miles at 30-60 seconds faster pace than your easy pace. So if you run an 8-minute mile, your final 1-3 miles could be 7:30-7 minutes per mile. Jog and walk a couple of minutes to cool down.

This workout is great for those who only have time and energy to do a base-building run, but still want a bit of aerobic stimulation. It’s not overly taxing but still opens up our aerobic system.

Related: How to Stay in Shape Without a Race

  1. Progression Run

Start your run easy and then pick up the pace about 10 seconds per mile each mile. Therefore, if you are running 7 miles—your final mile will be about a minute faster than the easy pace you started at.

This quick running workout helps build fitness in a non-stressful way while also teaching a runner the art of pacing. Learning how to pace yourself can help you execute workouts and races appropriately so you don’t go out too fast or leave too much in the tank.

Cool down for about 5 minutes.

Related: How to Pace Yourself in a Workout

quick running workouts for busy runners pin
Pin these quick running workouts for busy runners for later!
  1. Hilly Route

Hills are an amazing way to build both your cardiovascular system and your musculoskeletal system. Hill running forces your body to work hard, but because you’re going against gravity—the impact is lower. Therefore, if you are short on both time and energy, this workout doesn’t tax your body so much that you need lots of recovery—putting you at risk for injury.

I love this workout because it is unstructured, taking the pressure off. Meanwhile, it is fun and satisfying.

Warm-up for about a mile, then find some hills on your running route. Run the uphills hard and downhills easy. Cool-down for about a half a mile to mile. Focus on good hill running form.

  1. Hill Repeats

If you’d like a bit more structure to your workout, or you are limited on the number of hills you can run, run hill repeats.

Hill repeats are exactly what they sound like—you run a hill repeatedly.

Do your warm-up, and then find a moderate-grade hill that is at least 200 meters long. I like to do hill reps on hills that 200 to 400 meters long.

Run the hill at a harder effort depending on length. If the hill is only about 200 meters long, run it at an 8/10  rate of perceived exertion (5k) effort. If it is longer, run it at 7/10 (10k effort). Run the downhills easy to recover.

Do 8-12 hill reps with how much time you have. Cool down about a mile.

Related: What is RPE in Running?

  1. Tempo

Tempo runs where you teach your body how to clear lactate while running (so you aren’t slowed by its burning build-up in your legs) is useful during any phase of training. If you have only 30 minutes to run, do a tempo!

Warm up for about 5 minutes. Then run 20 minutes at a moderately hard effort (7/10 on the RPE scale). At this effort, you can speak in short sentences but can’t carry on a conversation. Cool down for about 5 minutes.

If you have more time, you can elongate a tempo up to 30 minutes, or do two by 20-minute intervals with a 2-minute rest in between.

Related: What is a Tempo Run?

Busy runners can still get fit by running VO2 max, hill and critical velocity workouts that take less than an hour to run.
  1. Fartlek

Fartleks aka speedplay are fun doses or speeds that can be unstructured or structured. Your effort for these intervals is around a 5k effort.

In an unstructured fartlek, you would warm up as you normally do. Then run faster to a spot you see in front of you, like a mailbox or tree, for example. Then ease back into your running pace for a minute or two, and repeat.

For a more structured fartlek, you can do the following:

  • Run hard for 1 minute, recover for 1 minute. Do this for 10 reps or whatever you have time for.
  • Run hard for 2 minutes, and recover for 90 seconds. Repeat 5-6 times. You can elongate the workout time however long you would like, but have about 2 minutes of easy running in between.
  • You can also do a ladder workout such as running 5-4-3-2-1 hard with about 90 seconds of jogging in between each hard running interval.
  1. Critical Velocity Workout

Critical Velocity is an amazing speed workout that allows you to improve speed endurance without having to need as much recovery time.

It has benefits across all running fitness boards (running efficiency, strength, and aerobic) with the added benefit of recruiting type IIa muscle fibers that other workouts don’t. This dynamic type of muscle fibers can be used in both slower and faster running, making you a better runner at all distances.

Critical velocity is an effort that lies somewhere between a tempo effort and a VO2 max effort. Whereas a tempo effort may be a pace a runner can hold for 60 minutes, critical velocity is a pace they can hold for about 30-40 minutes.

Because you are running faster, you can run less and get more bang for your buck.

Time-strapped runners can try this quick workout:

  • Run a 10-minute warm-up
  • Then do 6 reps of 3 minutes at CV effort with a 90-second jog in between.
  • Cool down for 5 minutes.

If you have more time, you can do 8-10 reps –as long as the quality work does not exceed 10 percent of your overall weekly mileage.

  1. VO2 Max workout

If you are short on time but not short on energy and really want a satisfying workout in not a lot of time, a VO2 Max workout is your workout. These workouts are fast running that help your body work on speed and turnover—teaching your brain and body to communicate well in how to move most efficiently.

Most importantly, VO2 max running workouts help your body become more efficient at using oxygen. These factors improve running economy which is an overall best predictor of long-distance running performance.

VO2 Max is typically a pace you can hold for about ten minutes. It is all out. Therefore, these are workouts that are given well ahead of a race (not during the peak phase of training), in smaller doses, with ample in-workout and post-workout recovery.

It takes about two minutes to reach your VO2 max, so most VO2 Max workouts are about 1-5 minutes long. If you do a shorter interval, then you cut the interval time so that you more quickly hit max effort in the succeeding intervals; if you run for a longer interval, your recovery time is equal to the intense interval time.

If you are too busy for a longer quality session, try this VO2 Max workout:

  • Warm up for about 10 minutes
  • Then run 8 by 2 minutes hard effort (think close to mile pace), easy jog for two minutes in between.
  • Cool down for 5-10 minutes.

If you have more time, you can run a couple more intervals as long as the total volume of work does not exceed 8 percent of your overall weekly mileage.

  1. Time Trial

Finally, if you are short on time, then it can be a great time to race against yourself in a time trial. Time trials serve as a great way to gauge your current level of fitness and inform future training. They can also help runners perfect the art of pacing.

These are best run on a mostly straight and flat surface. The amount of time you have can dictate how long your time trial is. If you are very short of time, a 2 or 3-mile time trial can be doable for most runners.

Here’s how to do a time trial:

  • Warm up for about 10 minutes.
  • Then run 5k as hard as you can.
  • Cool down for 5-10 minutes.

It is so important for running to fit your life—not to have your life try to fit around your running. I hope these quick running workouts allow you to stay fit (and sane!) when you don’t have the time, energy, or ability to train hard and long. Happy running!

If you want guidance with your running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:


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