Maintenance running, or the time in between structured training cycles, is an important piece of your running journey if you want to continue progressing. While eager to maintain fitness we’ve recently unlocked and feeling like we should prioritize recovery a little more, off season running can be challenging for runners to navigate. However, if done correctly, approaching maintenance running with the right mindset and intentions can set you up for success in your next training cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions – Maintenance Running:
What is maintenance running?
Maintenance running, or off season running, is the time in between structured training cycles. It can last a few weeks or a few months, and may feel like a breath of fresh air for some runners or simply running into the unknown for others.
The term “off season” can be misleading to some – yes, you’re still running! Think of off season running as scaling back your training. Say “see you later” to 20-mile long runs and turn the intensity way down on speed work. Some runners eliminate speed work altogether during the off season! Most, if not all, of your mileage should be at an easy effort.
The main goals of maintenance running are:
- Reducing the risk for injury
- Preventing mental and physical burnout
- Maintaining (and even losing a little) fitness
- Running with a less structured schedule
Do all runners need an off season?
Yes, all runners should take time in between training cycles to prioritize maintenance running. Even professional runners turn their attention to maintenance running in between racing seasons.
If a runner trains for a goal race and then expects to run at that level of intensity immediately following the race while continuing to build fitness, it’s likely they could lead themselves right down the road to an injury or burnout. The main focus during maintenance is recovery and keeping your body healthy.
Will I lose fitness while maintenance running?
Yes – and that’s not a bad thing! We cannot expect ourselves to be at “peak” fitness 52 weeks of the year. It’s okay and honestly, a good thing to get a little “unfit” during the off season.
Keep in mind, a goal of maintenance running is to maintain fitness, not build fitness. Think of off season running as a launching pad into your next training cycle. Building fitness will come when you start structured training again.
Maintenance Running – 9 Tips for Navigating The Off Season
1. Run a little less
Don’t be afraid to reduce your running by a day or two in the off season. For instance, if you typically run 5 to 6 days a week during structured training, you may want to run 4 or 5 days while in the off season.
Decreasing the number of days you run won’t ruin the progress you’ve made. In fact, it could very well help you maintain fitness, reduce the risk for injury, and prevent mental and physical burnout so when you do get back to structured training, you’re healthy and excited to run hard!
Try to view any reduction as not only a physical recharge but a mental recharge. During training cycles, we are constantly pushing our body and mind. The off season is a time to reset mentally and physically.
2. Strength train
During peak half marathon or marathon training, strength may have fallen to the wayside. Running higher mileage and strength training can be a tricky balance – it’s a lot of time to sweat and work out! Use your extra time during maintenence to focus on strength, building power, and creating a routine. Hopefully, you’ll carry your habit of strength training over into your next training cycle.
Dr. Holly Richard explains, “…follow a strength training plan focused on the basic strength exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.) while still including running specific exercises (single leg and core exercises) to continue to help you become a stronger runner. If you can reduce the volume and intensity of your runs, you will have greater capacity to lift heavier weights so you can become a stronger and faster runner”.
3. Change up your running
Take advantage of the off season and switch things up! Explore new routes, join a local running group or run with friends. In addition to staying healthy and maintaining fitness, a goal of maintenance running is to keep things fun. This looks different for everyone, so figure out what sparks joy for you.
For example, you can change up your routine by running on trails. If you’re not sure where to start, the smartphone app “AllTrails” finds trails local to you, sorts routes based on difficulty level, and provides GPS tracking maps.
Furthermore, run based off time instead of distance. While you’re still logging the miles, this approach takes the focus off pace and emphasizes effort.
4. Prioritize easy effort running
Keep a majority, if not all, of your miles at an easy effort. Because our easy paces fluctuate day-to-day based on a number of factors, focus on maintaining an easy effort. This means you could have a conversation or sing a song while running and on a scale of 1-10, you feel you’re exerting effort no higher than a 3. Your body will thank you when it’s time to start training for your next goal race.
5. Add in cross training
If you reduce the number of days you’re running yet still want to be active, find other ways to add in movement. Some cross training options include:
- Cross country skiing
- Downhill skiing
- Roller blading
6. Focus on other things that bring you joy
Now that you’re not running your highest mileage, use the extra time to enjoy your other hobbies. Maybe there are projects at home you’ve been wanting to tackle or a book you’ve been eager to read. You might find yourself sleeping in or staying out later with friends on the weekends because you don’t have a 20-mile long run the following morning. Take advantage of your additional time to attack your to-do list and activities you may not participate in while training.
7. Address any injuries
If you felt some niggles or were battling an injury during training, now is the time to address it. Ignoring pain or assuming an injury will fix itself because you’re running less will backfire down the road.
Also, continue including injury prevention exercises into your regular routine, like hip strengthening, core, and stability work. Whether you’re warming up or working on strength, you’ll want a few different resistance bands. Using resistance bands reduces the risk of injuries, ensures stability, and elevates performance while running. Spending just a few minutes every week using resistance bands to warmup and build strength is crucial for all runners looking to progress and stay injury free.
8. Reframe your mindset
Long distance running is an extremely mental sport. By now, you’ve probably learned that having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset is vital to excelling.
View maintenance running as setting yourself up well for a successful next training cycle. Instead of thinking, “I’m not gaining any fitness”, tell yourself, “Taking a step back will ensure that I’m healthy to push myself once training starts”.
9. Stay consistent
If you’re planning to get back to more structured running after the off season, continuing to run is key. What you don’t want to do is run your goal race, stop running completely for 1-2 months (or more), and then enter another training cycle with the hopes of picking up where you left off.
If this happens, you’ll need to spend significant time building back your mileage, your aerobic base, and overall fitness. Again, if you reduce the number of days you’re running by one or two, that’s fine. Just make sure you’re consistent!
Recap of Maintenance Running:
- Run a little less
- Strength train
- Change up your running
- Prioritize easy effort running
- Add in cross training
- Focus on other things that bring you joy
- Address any injuries
- Reframe your mindset
- Stay consistent
Looking for Guidance with Maintenance Running?
How do you feel entering maintenance running?
Do you enjoy the off season or prefer more structured training?