How can you describe a "running behind/catching up" scene 3 times without using same words every time?
If you use a thesaurus, either online or in book form, it will help you to rephrase the same idea in different ways. For example, I went to Thesaurus.com and put in "late" (one word works better than a phrase) and some of the synonyms given were: , behindhand, behind time, belated, blown*, delayed, dilatory, eleventh-hour, gone, held up. The ones in blue then also link to other words with the same shade of meaning. those marked with an * are slang.
Other choices were: in a bind, in the lurch, jammed*, lagging, last-minute, missed the boat, out of luck, overdue, postponed, put off, remiss, slow, stayed, strapped*, tardy, too late. Hope some of these work for you!