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Maintenance Running Plan: A Guide for Off Season Training

Following a maintenance running plan often isn’t something runners think of. While just about all stick to their 10k, half marathon or marathon training plans – the in between time is usually all about flexibility and rest.

However, all runners can benefit from focused training during the off season. Whether they’re just beginning or are recovering from a key race, utilizing an off season running plan can be beneficial. And the best part – it doesn’t have to be strict or exhausting.

How do you maintain running in the off season?

The off season is usually a time when runners take a step back, allow their bodies to recover and spend time focusing on other activities. However, that’s not to say they don’t run.

Maintaining running during the off season is key to success when training begins again. Utilizing a maintenance running plan is a great way to stay accountable by getting in some base mileage, without overdoing things so much that you get injured.

What is off season training?

Off season training usually refers to the time between races, before starting a new training plan, or a season in which there are no set goals or races. Most people think of winter as an off season for running, or the time immediately following a goal race.

During the off season, most runners are still running. The runs that take place during this season are usually lower in mileage, frequency, and/or intensity. Off season training usually involves the following:

  • Lower mileage
  • Active recovery – i.e., walking or yoga
  • Easy runs
  • Increase in cross training
  • Multiple days off
  • Little to no speed work

In the midst of off season training, most runners consider each run to be a maintenance run. Maintenance running involves running to maintain fitness, while not training for a specific goal.

How long should a maintenance run be?

There are no set rules regarding the distance (or intensity) or a maintenance run, and the answer varies widely depending on each runner’s typical training load.

In general, maintenance runs are usually no more than 50 – 70% of the typical long run. That means that if running peaked at 12 miles during half marathon training, runners will complete runs of no more than 6 – 8 miles in length during the off season.

Purpose of a Maintenance Running Plan

Many runners shy away from following a maintenance running plan because they believe it will provide too much structure or activity during their time off. However, maintenance running plans are actually a great way to avoid doing such a thing.

There are multiple goals for an off season running plan, each helping runners maintain fitness to set them up for success in the next season.

  • Maintain cardiovascular health
  • Prevent loss in muscle mass
  • Promote accountability and consistency
  • Provide mental health benefits
  • Encourage recovery
  • Prevent overtraining
  • Improve stability and mobility
  • Fix muscle imbalances or niggle injuries
  • Provide flexibility with less structured running

Most runners choose to follow a maintenance running plan at two times: either in between races, or during an off season such as winter. Here are the guidelines for each of the previous two situations.

Guidelines for a Maintenance Running Plan – in Between Races

The time in between races is often referred to as a maintenance period. During this time, runners continue running as a way to maintain fitness, health and emotional stability.

When following a maintenance running plan in between races, it’s important to evaluate future goals and determine what fitness will be needed at the start of the next training season. A maintenance period between marathons might look a bit different than one between 5ks, but the purpose is the same.

The following guidelines will help provide structure to your off season training, and set you up for success during this maintenance period.

  • Maintain the same number of runs per week (as was held during training)
  • Decrease long run mileage by 50 – 70%
  • Reduce speed work to once per week
  • Keep all runs easy (except speed portion)
  • Add in active recovery such as walking or yoga
  • Emphasize cross training
Use this maintenance running plan to guide your off season training. Make the most of off season running to set yourself up for success!

Sample Maintenance Running Plan

This maintenance running plan can be used as a basic guideline from which to create your own. The mileage will vary based on your previous training load, as well as any speed work.

This plan contains 4 runs each week, however, if you were previously completing 5-6 runs, swap one of the cross training workouts for a run. If you were completing less, add in another cross training day instead of a run.

Week 1

  • Monday: 2 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training/yoga
  • Wednesday: 3 miles (3 x 400s)
  • Thursday: 3 miles easy
  • Friday: Cross training
  • Saturday: 4 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/active recovery

Week 2

  • Monday: 2 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training/yoga
  • Wednesday: 4 miles (1 mile tempo)
  • Thursday: 3 miles easy
  • Friday: Cross training
  • Saturday: 5 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/active recovery

Week 3

  • Monday: 3 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training/yoga
  • Wednesday: 4 miles (5 x 400s)
  • Thursday: 3 miles easy
  • Friday: Cross training
  • Saturday: 6 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/active recovery

>>Download the free, full Base Building Training Plan for more!

Guidelines for an Off Season Running Plan – Winter

Many runners find themselves in an off season at one or multiple points throughout the year. A common time is winter, during which many runners enjoy maintenance running.

If you’re not simply filling time in between races, but rather, have an entire season with no specific goals or races, you might consider following an off season running plan. During this time, a plan can help you stay fit and avoid losing too much fitness, while also staying flexible.

The following guidelines will help provide structure for your training this off season, while setting you up for success in the future.

  • Aim for around 150 minutes of running each week
  • Supplement with 2 cross training or strength training workouts
  • Reduce speedwork to one day or none
  • Keep all runs easy
  • Add in active recovery such as walking or yoga
  • Emphasize cross training

Sample Off Season Running Plan

This off season running plan provides a basic guideline which can be helpful when creating your own. Tailor each week and day to your own individual needs, and adjust mileage and/or frequency depending on your availability and fitness level.

Keep in mind that the key to successful off season training is consistency. There’s no need to get out and run your longest or fastest run, but getting out consistently and listening to your body will be set you up for success in the next season.

Week 1

  • Monday: 2 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training
  • Wednesday: 3 miles easy
  • Thursday: Strength training
  • Friday: 3 miles easy
  • Saturday: 4 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/yoga

Week 2

  • Monday: 3 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training
  • Wednesday: 4 miles easy
  • Thursday: Strength training
  • Friday: 3 miles easy
  • Saturday: 5 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/yoga

Week 3

  • Monday: 4 miles easy
  • Tuesday: Cross training
  • Wednesday: 4 miles easy
  • Thursday: Strength training
  • Friday: 3 miles easy
  • Saturday: 6 miles easy
  • Sunday: Rest/yoga

These maintenance running plans are a great way to stay accountable during the off season. Following a low mileage or base training plan provides your body with time to recover and rebuild, without losing too much fitness or endurance.

Off season training is flexible and can easily be adjusted when time is scarce. Sticking with short, easy runs is a great way to enjoy the mental boost, follow your training schedule, and maintain a healthy level of fitness.

Enjoy the flexibility this off season while setting yourself up for maximum success in the next.

More off season training tips:

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Tuesday 9th of April 2024

[…] and try to figure out how many miles for how many weeks to do. You can of course just work on your maintenance miles (Maggie does a great job of explaining their importance in the linked blog.) but having a goal to […]