Crossing workouts and scheduled runs off a training plan makes me feel so purposeful. I love the feeling of having a set schedule and completing a designated amount of miles each day. But once we cross the finish line of our goal race, the training plans disappear and we enter a few weeks or months of uncharted territory.
We begin off season training.
Those months or weeks between training plans can sometimes bring a new sense of freedom after months of scheduled workouts. But for runners like myself, that sense of freedom quickly wears off as I lose motivation from the lack of structure during the running off season.
Whether off season running brings you a sense of joy and freedom or mounting fear and dread, making the most of this new season will benefit you in the months to come.
This running we do between structured training plans is often referred to as maintenance running.
The off season requires less from our bodies, as we say goodbye to the structured speed workouts and weekend long runs we got to know so well.
However, a season of maintenance running has the ability to set us up for even greater success in the future. If we play our cards right, completing successful off season running will help maintain fitness, reduce our risk of injury and help us find joy in running every single day.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the off season – whether you love it or hate it. Use these tips to make the most of maintenance running this season. Set yourself up for greater endurance, faster finish times, more motivation and less burnout by making the most of your off season training.
5 Tips for Maintenance Running in the Off Season
Give yourself a break.
As you begin off season training, you’ll likely be wrapping up a goal race and tucking away a completed training plan. Before you dive into maintenance running, give yourself a well-deserved break.
Take at least a few days completely off from running and cross training. Whether you crossed the finish line of a fast 5k or full marathon, your body needs time to recover from months of hard training.
After a few days or weeks completely off, gradually ease back in to a fitness routine. Perhaps you’ll start off with some light cross training, such as yoga or walking the dog. As time progresses, add in a few extra workouts each week and some short runs.
Failing to give your body the time it needs to recover may ruin your chances of building fitness during the off season. Plan to begin any running off season with a break from activity. Your body will benefit from the extra time off your feet as it rebuilds muscle and replenishes energy.
Decrease your running frequency.
Maintenance running is all about maintaining fitness, not building it. Understand that these next few weeks or months will be spent maintaining your fitness level and without pushing your body to the limits.
Off season running is all about finding a running schedule this is easily maintained and doesn’t leave you feeling tired or worn down. If you’re coming off a training plan that had your running four days each week, decrease your running to just three times each week.
Swap out one run each week for some sort of cross training to help your body maintain fitness without getting burnt out or injured.
Related: 4 Signs of Running Burnout – and How to Recover
Gradually revamp your mileage.
After recovering from your goal race, you’ll likely begin to feel antsy and eager to get back out there and return to your previous running schedule.
However, jumping back in after a challenging race may push your body past its limits and lead to physical injury or mental burnout. Use the time following your recovery break to slowly increase your mileage.
Start out slow and easy, with just a few short runs. Resist the temptation to dive in full force and remind yourself that maintenance running involves running to maintain fitness, not make continuous improvements.
Your body will still benefit from easy workouts, and these short runs will help keep up your running fitness so you are able to resume training in full force with the start of your next training plan.
Related: How Running Lower Mileage Made Running Feel Easier
Incorporate cross training workouts.
During the off season, mileage plateaus and hard running workouts seem few and far between. To compensate for the reduced running load, incorporate some extra cross training workouts.
Fill your extra time with a variety of cross training workouts, such as yoga, strength training, bodyweight exercises, hiking, biking, swimming, and anything else you can come up with.
These cross training workouts help maintain cardiovascular fitness and even increase the strength of muscles that may have been neglected during your training.
Cross training is a great way to strengthen your entire body, preparing yourself for an upcoming season of injury free running. Maintaining regular cross training during the running off season is just as important as running itself.
Focus on easy running.
Maintenance running is all about keeping up the fitness you worked so hard to gain. While you won’t race a new PR or conquer a new distance during this time, your body will benefit from a much needed reduction in intensity.
As you continue running during the off-season, spend the majority of your miles running easy and just enjoying the process.
In running, just as in life, there is a season for everything. There is a season for intense workouts and massive gains, a season for recovery, and a season for maintenance.
Enjoy this in between time of the off season because before you know it, you’ll be back to increasing mileage and structured workouts.
Take advantage of your workout freedom and explore new places, trails and workouts. Go easy on your body during this time and mentally prepare yourself for new goals and races. Maintenance running season is just as important as training and racing season.
There is beauty in off season running, regardless of whether it’s a time to which you look forward or dread.
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