4 Ways to Stay Motivated When You’re Not Training for a Race

4 Ways to Stay Motivated When You're Not Training for a Race

(This post has been updated to be relevant to the COVID-19 shutdown of races in 2020. Some previous suggestions – such as trying fitness classes or other sports such as skiing or swimming – have been removed for the time being). 

For many runners, seeing a marathon or half marathon on calendar provides all the motivation needed to lace up their shoes and head outside for a run. However, you can’t rely on races year-round to provide motivation. Seasonal weather or, as in the publication of this post in March 2020, a mass cancellation of races prevents you from relying on races for motivation. Without a race, you may feel directionless in your training. 

So how do you stay motivated when not training for a race? How do you keep your competitive fire burning or satisfy your desire to see progress?

4 Ways to Stay Motivated When You're Not Training for a Race


Focus a Non-Finish Time Goal

The goal of race training is to prepare your body to complete a distance such as a marathon. If you are a more experienced runner, your goal is likely to run it faster than the previous time. That goal keeps you focused and motivated through long weeks of training, tired legs, and all sorts of weather conditions.

Similarly, having a short-term goal for the base building period can motivate you. That can be a weekly or monthly mileage goal, a mile time trial goal, or even running a certain number of days per week. 

If you always wanted to run higher mileage such as 30 miles per week or 50 miles per week, now is a great time to pursue a mileage goal. You can build incrementally with appropriate cutback weeks, until you reach your desired mileage. Then, you can work on holding that mileage for several weeks. When you finally are able to train for a race again, you will benefit from a tremendously strong aerobic base and be able to handle a higher training load. 

Without a race in the near future, you have the time to focus on a non-racing goal without disruptions. You have the gift of a long, focused block for consistent training for your goal. You do not have to adjust your mileage goal for tapering and recovery. 

Work on Your Areas of Weakness

Do you struggle with your finishing kick in a race? Are your marathon times significantly slower than the time your half marathon PR suggests? What workouts do you struggle with? Do a self-assessment of your running; an area of weaknesses is an opportunity for improvement. 

Many marathoners struggle with speed, which is why a speed segment can tremendously benefit long distance runners. If you aren’t training for a race, devote your training to speed development and VO2max workouts. If you struggle on hills, devote time to more hill training with both repeats and long steady-state hill runs. 

Since specificity is not a concern without a race on the calendar, you can have fun with your workouts. A sense of fun will make  There is no better time to try unconventional workouts such as multi-pace combo runs and cutdown intervals . 

Race a Strava Segment

Strava segments can satisfy the desire to race and provide a measurable sense of progress. Unlike a virtual race, you can race a Strava segment as often as you wish, for any distance you wish.

You can use the Strava segment to track your own progress, as Strava will let you know your fastest time on the segment. You can set a goal for how fast you want to run it and train for that, or run weekly or monthly time trials on your segment. 

The leaderboard of a public Strava segment permits you to “race” against others (while practicing social distancing). If someone bests you, you can try to beat their time – meaning that a Strava competition for the crown can continue for as long as you desire. 

You can even create your own Strava segment, for private or public use. You simply go into an activity and select “Create segment” from the three dots on the lefthand side. From there, you can crop a segment as you wish. 

Participate in a Virtual Race

Virtual races are a popular option for a good reason; they provide you with the opportunity to race even without an actual event. If your race was cancelled due to dire circumstances, a virtual race allows you to cash in your training. You can compete against other runners, albeit remotely, and still enjoy a sense of community. You could treat the virtual race like a regular race and follow a focused training plan. Or, you could have a goal of racing a virtual race each month. Since you are not paying to travel and do not have to worry about logistics, you can participate as often as you want! 

[Tweet “5 Ways to Stay Motivated When Not Training for a Race via @lauranorrisrun #running]

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34 Responses

  1. My motivation usually stays pretty high even if I’m not training for a race. It’s during that time that I like to just run because I can. It’s when I try different distances, different paces and different terrain. It’s a fun time!

  2. Great tips! It can be so hard to stay motivated without a race on the calendar. It definitely helps to do other workouts and change things up. Since Im only running a few days I week, I make sure to only run on the days I really want to run.

  3. I think, if you truly love to run, the run itself is the motivator. I know sometimes when I have a plan and a race, I wish I didn’t so I could just go out and run!!…of course about two days later I’m itching for another plan but I do just simply enjoy running and I know I will run, no matter what, for hopefully the rest of my life – race or no race – just because I love it.

    1. I agree 100%. I personally love being able to go out and just run. And I love what you said – wanting to run for the rest of your life – because that’s my biggest goal, beyond any finishing time!

  4. Doing more than just run is one of my favorite tips. It’s crazy how much running can take over your life when you’re training for a race!

  5. I love running so I’m usually pretty motivated without race training, but I love all your suggestions. When I’m not training (which is all the time now), I just do what feels good for me that day.

  6. I’m quite motivated whether or not I’ve got a race on the calendar. In fact, I rarely race! I think some people are just wired differently. Andrew definitely needs a race to train for to get himself out the door for a run while I don’t need any reason at all.

  7. I’m one of those people who needs a big race to stay motivated. I still love to run, but without a goal to work toward, it’s just easier to prioritize other things. We all have a different and unique relationship with the sport, so we all need to manage it in our own way.

    For me, taking time off in the off season is what helps preserve my love of the sport, because when I train, I go all in, and I need a break! Off season is the time when if I don’t feel like running on a given day, I don’t go. There are consequences to that but I’ve learned that, for me, preserving my love of running is more important than being in shape all the time.

    Anyway, these are great tips!!

    1. Thank you! Preserving the love of running is the most important – which is why if you need a break from structured training to maintain it, you should!

  8. LOVE these tips! Right now I am not exactly training for a race although I do have one coming up on Saturday. Definitely strength training and changing up my runs (intervals, easy, etc) are keeping me motivated to workout and hopefully ready for when I set my next goal 🙂

  9. I tend to go from goal to goal to goal… which is likely how I ended up forced to take some time off. You’re so smart to run fewer races and really enjoy the base building phase!

  10. I love this post! If I don’t have a race on the calendar, my running motivation is pretty low. I try to stay balanced and incorporate a lot of different types of workouts.

  11. I can’t wait to not train for a race…

    But I see my runners when they’re in their off season and they get super antsy. It definitely helps to have something on the horizon but these are great tips to keep things interesting when not in training.

  12. I love all of these tips! Personally, I get bored doing the same thing all the time, and I figured out a long time that it didn’t do my body any favors either (#plateauing). After my marathon (June 17th), I’m looking forward to summer of “fun running” (with a few 10-milers/13.1’s thrown in for maintenance)

  13. Those are some great tips. I think it’s important to always have a little variability in your training routine… it makes it easier to not get bored with any part in particular.

  14. Luckily, my running motivation runs deep (pun intended) and it isn’t hard for me to get out the door. Right now, my anxiety is high and that is enough motivation for me. I’m so grateful for running right now.

  15. This is really the perfect time to work on adjustments in form and technique. While I hate everything that’s going on, I am grateful that I don’t have any pressure on me to finish rehab and get back to running.

  16. This has been a weird time for me (well, for everyone, of course). I’ve been running but I just haven’t been feeling it, if you know what I mean. Just feeling blah. Racing has never really been my main motivation, but currently, I’ve just been running to run, as well as to run off the crazy, so to speak. Today was the first time since my races were canceled that I actually had a good run. I’m hoping that will continue.

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