Your Maintenance Running Plan for After a Big Race and Before Your Next Training Cycle
After dedicating months of training to a half, full marathon, or an ultra event, you’ve finally finished that epic race. Maybe you experienced a coveted runner’s high, have a shiny new race medal, and a fresh PB. Hopefully, you also basked in the glory of your finish. But now what?
Of course, you want to keep your fitness level optimal, without overtraining or losing everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. So, to help you do just that, we spoke with expert run coaches to put together a maintenance running plan. Follow these tips for staying in shape between races, while keeping your motivation to move high and your risk for injury low.
First, lean into rest
It’s 100% okay (actually encouraged!) to put your feet up and rest after a race – in fact, that run maintenance tip number one from all run coaches. “I usually make a point to take three days completely off, and then I will start back in with some cross training,” says former Olympic Trials runner and certified run coach, Amanda Nurse.
John Honerkamp, a certified run coach with more than 20 years of experience, agrees that it’s smart to listen to your body and take the time off you need after a big race.
As a general rule of thumb, take as many days off as miles of the race, both experts say.
Hard training is taxing on the body’s tissues, along with the skeletal and immune system, and even the neurologic system, says Brian Beutel, a physical therapist at The Restoration Space. That’s why rest and recovery is crucial to avoid exceeding your thresholds and risking injury or performance, Beutel says. (And an injury won’t only hold you back from a running maintenance plan, but could keep you sidelined for much longer than your planned time off.)
Honerkamp adds that if you were racing with an injury – like shin splints or a tight IT band – it may be necessary to take more time off, and focus on cross-training for a longer duration of time before returning to running.
Beutel recommends focusing on these four points during your recovery from a marathon or half marathon:
- Prioritise your sleep schedule
- Focus on nutrition and hydration
- Reduce your overall training volume by about 50% in the first month or so, and keep the intensity low, too
- Remember exercise should feel good
Add more strength and cross-training to your schedule
While pulling back from running for a few weeks is smart, pulling back from all activity might be harmful to progress, Beutel says. “Movement is going to be more helpful in decreasing the soreness, by working through it,” he says. So to maintain your fitness, simply move in different ways.
“I generally suggest some form of exercise that feels good and keeps energy, mood, sleep, and stress in check directly after a longer-duration run or marathon,” Beutel adds. For example, if you were used to getting fresh air during your training, don’t necessarily give that up —consider swapping your typical run for a long walk, light hike, or riding a bike.
During race training, strength workouts and cross-training naturally take a backseat, especially as you get closer to race day and ramp up your mileage and even during the taper. But after you cross the finish line, it’s a good time to add them back into your maintenance running plan.
Honerkamps suggests starting a strength-training routine with your body weight after a race. Target core work, like planks, and other main movement patterns like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, without the dumbbells. He says it’s safe to jump back into bodyweight exercises fairly quickly after a race, even just a few days after, if you feel up to it.
Nurse says in the first couple weeks following a big race she’ll typically run three to four times a week and supplement with the cross-training. Yoga, Pilates, cycling, and swimming are all good options, in addition to strength training.
Gradually add in miles
Nurse recommends running anywhere between zero to 16 km the first week after a race, and then beginning to increase your overall mileage each week by roughly 10% to 15% as you work through your running maintenance plan.
The first weekend-long run after your big race shouldn’t be too long. “Something like 8 to 12 km is a great long run seven days out,” Nurse says, if you’re back to running that quickly.
Keep in mind, too, that your first few long runs post-race should be easy and the focus should be time on your feet, not pace, Nurse adds. Remember this is a time of recovery and to log some of those easy miles. An easy run should be low intensity in terms of effort – you should be able to hold a conversation as you go – and short to moderate in terms of duration.
Think of it as a time to let go of the schedule you were tied to while training and be more spontaneous with your running. Maybe it’s also a time to practice more intuitive or mindful running.
Once you’re handling those easy runs without feeling sore, experiment with some speed work, knowing a speed session doesn’t have to be an all-out effort. Nurse suggests more effort-based work in a speed session when you’re working on run maintenance between races, rather than trying to hit a specific pace. “This is a great way to maintain speed and endurance, and work on building running economy and form,” she says.
A Fartlek run is a good way to go when it comes to these effort-based intervals. It’s a form of unstructured speed work – no pace keeping allowed! To do it, find a point on the road or trail and pick up the pace when you want. For example, run fast from one tree to the next, then slow down as you pass the next three.
Nurse also recommends adding in strides at the end of a couple runs each week as another way to sprinkle in casual speed work. “It’s a great way to slowly add back in speed, without jumping back into hard workouts too soon,” she says.
Honerkamp reminds runners that this in-between time is the perfect opportunity to allow yourself to be more carefree with your workouts. “It can be just the routine of getting out there and not just running, but finding a hill for a few hill repeats, doing some easier intervals, or an easier tempo where you just kind of pick it up where you feel like it,” he says.
Essentially, a maintenance running plan offers the time to enjoy the freedom of not being married to a specific training schedule, while still challenging yourself and keeping that speed and endurance up. This more low-key form of training won’t only benefit your body, but your mind too.