It’s important to take some time off of racing every once in awhile to give your body and mind a chance to relax and recover. This can be considered the off-season if you take a few weeks or months off between your race. Some runners may worry about losing their fitness during this time. Remember that you can’t always be in peak training shape, so it’s natural to lose a little bit of your running fitness after a goal race. However, there are some ways to maintain your running fitness so you don’t need to start from scratch when it is time to train again. You can even use this time to work on any weaknesses you have which will help you prepare for your next training cycle.
How to Maintain Your Running Fitness During the Off-Season
An off-season does not need to mean that you stop running completely. In fact, it’s better to take off the appropriate amount of time after a big race (1-2 weeks) and then continue to run, just not as much as you would when training. You may even do some short races for fun if you can do so without impacting your recovery. Here are some other ways to maintain your running fitness during the off-season.
1. Make sure to recover well before building your mileage back up
Recovery periods are key to being able to successfully string together multiple training cycles. By taking some time off initially, you will then be able to make the most of your off-season before getting back into training. After a marathon, this may mean up to 2 weeks off of running. If you were burnt out or injured after your goal race it may mean taking extra time so that you don’t prolong any issues.
2. Incorporate cross-training during the off-season
The off-season is a great time to add in some cross-training, especially if you were only running during your training cycle. You can try some new activities without worrying about being sore from running. And many cross-training activities will help you to become a stronger running without increasing your risk of injury. You may even find that you want to continue your cross-training during your next training cycle!
3. Sign up for some short distance races to maintain your running fitness
If you are fully recovered after your last race and have a long enough off-season, you may want to plan to run some short distance races. If you usually run marathons and half-marathons consider signing up for a 5k or 10k. You don’t need to fully train for a short race but maybe consider doing a few workouts leading up to it. These shorter races will challenge your body in different ways and can help you prepare for your next training cycle.
4. Try different workouts and keep up with fartleks and hills
While the off-season should mostly include easy running, you can also do some fartlek runs or add in hills or strides. These kinds of workouts will help you maintain some of your running fitness without requiring too much effort. They can also be fun! If you tend to shy away from hills during your usually training blocks this is a great time to add them in. And strides are always great to give your legs a chance to move faster and to help work on that top speed without requiring much recovery.
5. Get in easy miles to maintain endurance
The off-season is a great opportunity to just run lots of easy miles and build (or maintain) your endurance. You don’t need to run high mileage, but just get in the miles so you are at least maintaining your fitness. You can even just focus on running by time rather than by distance. Don’t be afraid to slow down even more than usual during this time, and walk breaks are totally fine!
6. Follow a schedule even if you aren’t training for a race
It can be helpful to plan out your off-season a bit, especially if you aren’t sure of what you should be doing. For example, if you have 12 weeks off between training cycles you can take 2 weeks off to recover, then run easy for 3 weeks, spend 3 weeks preparing for and running a 5k, then build your mileage and add in some hills for the last 4 weeks before training again. You can plan a weekly schedule too, such as 2-3 easy runs, a day for fartleks, hills, or strides, a cross-training day, and a longer run. If you are someone who is used to always following a training schedule you may enjoy having a loose plan to follow during the off-season even when you aren’t training for a specific race.
Final thoughts on maintaining your running fitness during the off-season
While the off-season should be relaxing and a chance to recover, you can also make the most of it by trying different things. This article reframes the off-season as a “pre-season”, or an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming training season. to It’s also a great time to just focus on easy running and build a base before getting into your next training cycle.
How do you usually structure your time during the off-season between races to maintain your running fitness?
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