Running between Races: Stay Fit Without Burning Out

Running Between Races: Stay Fit without Burning Out

Many runners find that having a race on their calendar motivates them to run consistently. However, racing too often can have its downsides, particularly if you prefer longer races such as the half marathon or marathon. Not to mention that the cost of racing adds up quickly! Which means inevitably, you will have to figure out how your running between races and race training plans will manifest. 

Once the elation of a new PR or the disappointment of a bad race wears off, most runners find themselves dealing with the post-race blues. Your next race seems forever away (because chances are you’ve already signed up for another one), and you’re eager for your next training plan to start while simultaneously needing a break.

Running between Races: Stay Fit Without Burning Out

The most effective way to harness your motivation and continue to run consistently even when you’re not training for a race is to have a plan of attack for running between races. You want to maintain the fitness you worked so hard to build during race training, but you don’t want to burn out mentally or physically. So what exactly should your running between races include then? Follow these 7 tips and your running between races will set you up for year long running success. 

1. Make sure you recover right

Track Tuesday kept you accountable during marathon training, but you may want to put it on hiatus between race training cycles. The running between races is the time to recover your body not just from the race but from the weeks of intense training leading up to it.

When you finish a race, anticipate a recovery period of at least 1 day per 1 mile raced. If you ran a marathon, then don’t plan on running hard again in the 26 days after the race. Keep your miles easy during this time and your body will thank you later when you ramp up your mileage and intensity for your next training cycle.

2. Add in strength training

Chances are, during those final rough weeks of marathon training you eased up on the strength training workouts. I don’t blame you! It’s challenging enough to complete all of your runs during those final grueling weeks before a race, much less add in supplemental training such as weight lifting, yoga, and Pilates.

Now that you’re between training plans and are running less, you have the time and energy to add back in strength training. I know I probably sound like a broken record with how often I recommend this, but it is far easier both mentally and physically to add in strength training when you’re not increasing your mileage.

Running between Races: Stay Fit Without Burning Out

You will create a habit of strength training regularly, and it’s much easier to carry a habit into race training rather than try to create a new one when you’re training. Additionally, strength training between races will will strengthen your musculoskeletal foundation, which means a stronger and less injury-prone body once you begin increasing your mileage again.

3. Ditch the GPS

One of the most stressful aspects of race training for most runners is pace. If you’re training with a time goal in mind, each workout has a prescribed pace range. Are you running easy enough? Is this run at your lactate threshold? Are these intervals fast enough? This thinking can wear down even the most data-driven, type-A runners.

So during the training between races, leave your GPS at home. Instead, run by effort and enjoy your run without the stressor of your instant pace. If you really want to see the data after your run, set your watch to show only elapsed time during your run or hide it under your shirt sleeve. 

4. Run by time instead of distance

Just like how prescribed paces can cause stress during a training plan, so too can prescribed mileage. After a hard training cycle, you may want a break from running a certain number of miles each day. Try running by time, as this will shift away from more data-focused mentality of distance and pace in training. When you run by time, you also remove the temptation to run faster just to get the run over with. 45 minutes is 45 minutes no matter how fast or slow you go, so why not go easy?

5. Try new routes

That same loop around your neighborhood can seem utterly boring after countless long runs. Use the time between race trainings plans to explore new routes. Since you’re not worried about pace (see above), seek fun new routes and add some scenery and adventure to your running. If you’ve always wanted to try trail running, start now!

Running between Races: Stay Fit Without Burning Out

Changing your running route is not just mentally rejuvenating; it can also provide a new physical stimulus. There’s nothing wrong with running the same route – convenience wins especially with a busy schedule – but if you can easily vary your route try to do so at least once a week. Think about it: if you run the same route every day, your body adapts to the terrain and slants on the road (which can lead to hip problems and ITBS especially for women). A new route means new terrain, which in turn means working your running muscles in a new way!

6. Keep your weekly mileage consistent

Consistency is key to preventing injury and running faster, which are two goals most runners share. The temptation is high, especially after a long and hard training plan, to drastically cut back on both frequency (number of days) and volume (miles run). However, if you plan on training for another race starting in a few weeks or months, you want to stay consistent in your running between the races.

Coach Brad Hudson explains the value of consistency for runners perfectly in his book Run Faster from the 5K to Marathon: “It is very difficult to improve as a runner without consistency in your training…By contrast, when you maintain a solid foundation of fitness throughout consistent training, it is much easier to achieve a higher level of performance through modest short-term increases in training workload.”

Consistency does not mean pushing yourself in hard workouts or logging super high mileage. Rather, you should keep most of your miles at an easy effort and aim to run approximately the same mileage each week. Your weekly mileage will be lower than during race training, which makes it easier to maintain.

For example, if you ran 35-45 miles per week during your last training cycle, aim to run 25-35 miles per week during the training between your races. You’ll find that you’ll be able to run harder workouts and ease into your long runs better when your mileage is consistent during off time. You may find it easier to stay consistent if you schedule your weekly workouts, even if you’re not following a training plan per se. 

7. Stick with injury prevention exercises

Consistency is also key when it comes to preventing injury. The rehab exercises that kept your knees and hips happy during marathon training shouldn’t be left behind with those 20 mile long runs. In fact, any rehab exercise also makes for a perfect prehab exercise: keep injuries at bay rather than fixing them as they occur. 

Injury prevention exercises such as hip strengthening exercises, balance exercises, and core work teach your body how to engage the appropriate muscles in good movement patterns. Even though you may not feel like you need them with lower mileage, stick with these exercises – the last thing you want is to be in a more injury-prone state once you begin training for your next race.

Linking up for Wild Workout Wednesday and the Coaches’ Corner!

How do you structure your training between race training plans?
What are you tempted to skip when not training for a race? 
Strength training. But then again, I’m always tempted to skip out on strength training. 
Do you run by time or distance?

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26 Responses

  1. Great tips! I don’t run a lot of races at all which might be a good thing considering I don’t then have an issue just running on a routine basis. I sort of follow my own little plan of running and workouts which has worked really well for me. I guess because I am very routine? I don’t know lol. I am curious to see how this may change for me after we finish training for the half!!

    1. Thank you! I do think not running a lot of races is good for maintaining a routine, that’s why I don’t like to race frequently as well. You and I are so alike in how routine we are! I think routine is good and that racing/race training works best when you can fit it into your routine rather than force routine to change – something I learned the hard way!

  2. Great advice! I think my problem this season has been the long amount of time between races. I have been so torn between wanting to sign up for something and get back to a training plan, and just enjoying taking it easy. I always really enjoy adding in more strength training when Im not training for a race, and I think doing all the little things helps to make it a habit and more likely to be continued when training again. Thanks for sharing the link to my post!

    1. Thanks! I definitely agree that strength training is so much easier when there’s lots of easy running being done. And there’s nothing wrong with easy running! I do understand the tension you feel, because training is fun but at the same time there’s something so wonderful about just running rather than trying to build speed or endurance.

  3. Fantastic tips! I know a ton of people who stop running all together have a goal race and pick it up again when they begin training again in a few months. What?!?! I make sure I keep things easy and ease up a tad on the overall mileage. It’s funny but the in between time is when I’m best about strength training!

    1. Thanks! The time in between is when I’m best about strength training also and seems to be consensus in the comments here! It’s hard to push both getting faster and/or building endurance with getting stronger. I don’t get how people stop running altogether between races, not only would that drive me crazy not running but it’s so hard mentally and physically to build back up again.

  4. I often overdo something in between races. Like a speedwork session, and then my body gets mad at me. It’s been a while since I’ve had a totally solid in between race period to actually go off of!

    1. Same here – I think it’s very common for most runners! Easy is what does the trick, but that as we know is always easier said than done. Speed work is like sprinkles during the off season for me, a tiny bit here, a tiny bit there.

    1. Thank you! Yes, definitely great for after a marathon – you don’t want to lose that hard earned fitness but you don’t want to keep training hard – it’s a tricky balance for every runner. 🙂

  5. I run for time if I really don’t want to run. And my minimum is always 30 minutes. However, running for distance is my favorite. Because once I set a distance in my mind, I do everything I can to get there. I mix running in with yoga and barre. That combo works really well for me. Excellent post!

  6. Good tips! I really struggle to stay motivated between training cycles. Any little rule or guideline or schedule I have to follow to stay fit just reads as “training” to my mind, so I don’t do it. Hence the reason I had a 6 month off season last year. I do want to keep my fitness up this summer though, because I don’t want to lose the fitness gains I worked hard for this spring and I want them to still be there as a foundation should I miss my goal at Pittsburgh and want to try again in the fall. I don’t want to have to start over from scratch again, but I also don’t want to feel obligated to do anything once I’m not training, hence the paradox I constantly live in as a runner, lol.

    #3 is my favorite. My goal this summer is for my Garmin to actually collect dust. I’m really excited to just run for the sake of running and not care how fast or slow or far I’m going. I think it will be so fun!

    1. It is SO hard to start from scratch, both mentally and physically. It’s really a balance act to maintain those gains without burning out. I think ditching your GPS and maybe running by time will help you a lot in not feeling any pressure of “training” in off season. No pace, no mileage, just pure and simple running – which is fun!

  7. I used to run races all the time but now I find that they take up too much of my day, and I’d rather not be sore the next day. Running every day is more important to me than racing and then recovering! I’ve been good at doing my sit-ups and push-ups since my back injury in December, but I’ve never been great at strength training!

    1. Marathons especially take up a whole day, between prerace, the race itself, post race gimme-all-the-food, and then crashing. I definitely agree that running on a regular routine beats frequent race, which is why I really only like 1-3 races per year. You’ve been doing such a great job at your strength training recently! It’s hard to stay motivated on that for us runners and every little bit done is something to be proud of!

  8. Love this post. I swear I have races scheduled through September this year and I’m exhausted just thinking about it. GREAT TIPS 🙂

  9. I see friends doing marathons after marathons, but I know my body can’t do that. I do a lot of strength training during my town time since I take a step back from cardio.

    1. I don’t know how people do that! Marathons are very demanding of the body and require a long recovery period. I think you’re doing the right thing by focusing on strength and backing off a bit from cardio in down time – and your body will thank you for that for years to come!

  10. It’s so funny you mention strength training. I totally don’t strength train during race training (which is so stupid, I know) but I always do when I’m not in a training cycle. I need to focus on it more during a cycle but it’s so hard between running, family, coaching, etc. Thanks for linking up!

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