With fall race season in full swing, many runners will soon be faced with the question of what’s next.
When you have a race to look forward to, you know why you’re getting up at 4 AM on Saturday to go for a run before the rest of the world wakes up. You know why you’re setting time aside each evening to do a little foam rolling and stretching. And you know why you’re eating well and getting to bed at a reasonable hour every night.
But when that race is now in your rearview mirror, what do you do?
Do you keep training with the same ferocity, even though your next race may not be until the spring? Do you put your running shoes in the closet with no plans of putting them on until the snow melts? Or do you run as the spirit moves you, forgoing any and all structure in your training?
The Post-Race Training Dilemma
A lot of runners seem to have an either/or mentality when it comes to training through the winter, when perhaps a both/and point of view would be better.
The last thing you want to do is lose all of the fitness you’ve built during your most recent training cycle. But you can’t hope to maintain peak fitness permanently, or you run the real risk of burnout and/or injury.
Finding the middle ground, where you are able to maintain a solid base of fitness without pushing too hard, is ideal.
But what is the right balance for you?
Finding the Right Balance
The only person who can determine the right training balance for the “off-season” is you.
We all have different running goals, familial responsibilities, and work obligations. So to think that there is some one-size-fits-all way to achieve proper balance is laughable.
That said, if you keep a few basic principles in mind, it’s pretty easy to strike the right balance in your training until you are ready to get refocused to begin your next training cycle.
It Takes Less Effort to Maintain Your Fitness Than You Might Think
Thankfully, it doesn’t take as many hours of training to maintain your fitness as it does to build it up before your race.
As long as you’re getting in a few runs per week, ideally including a decent long run, you’ll maintain a very solid base of fitness.
And if you can mix in a slightly longer long run once a month, you might be surprised how strong you’ll feel when you begin your next training cycle.
It’s a Good Time to Diversify
During a training cycle for a big race, it’s easy to develop a bit of tunnel vision.
We are runners. We are training to run a race. So we tend to spend all of our training time running.
Now that your goal race is in the past and the focus is on maintaining your well-earned fitness until the next race appears on the horizon, it’s a good time to shore up any weak links.
How? By mixing up your training to include more than just running.
Strength training. Cycling. Yoga. Pilates.
All of those activities are great for your overall fitness, and also very beneficial to your running fitness, yet they are easy to neglect when training for a race.
Now is a great time to add a bit more strength training/cross training into your regimen.
Have Some Fun Again
No matter how much you love running, you may find yourself seeing running as a bit of a chore by the time you get to the starting line of your goal race.
In the past, I’ve had a few instances where my runs started to feel like an obligation instead of something that I enjoy as race day approaches.
My mentality is that I’m going to do everything I can to be fully prepared for the race, and that can sometimes make training feel like a chore.
Once the race has come and gone, it’s a good time to have some fun.
Go for a trail run. Sign up for a themed race and dress up for it. Do some fartlek workouts instead of trying to hit specific pace goals. Run with a group of friends.
Whatever would be a nice change of pace for you, and something that you will also enjoy, do that.
All Roads Lead to Rome
Finding the right balance to maintain your running fitness from the time you finish your goal race until your next training cycle begins may sound a bit intimidating.
It really needn’t be.
Maintaining your fitness until your next training cycle gets started is much more art than science.
So worry less about the specifics and more about the basics.
Be active several times a week. Mix up what you’re doing to shore up any weak areas. Have fun.
If you do that, no matter what that looks like, odds are you’ll be starting your next training cycle in better shape than you were in when you started training for the race you just completed.
And if you do that, you put yourself in a good position to be quite successful for your next goal race, whenever that may be.