How to maintain your fitness after a big run and before the next training cycle

How to maintain your fitness after a big run and before the next training cycle

After spending months training for a half marathon or a full marathon, you’ve finally completed this epic race. Maybe you experienced the high of a coveted racer, got a shiny new race medal and a new PR. I hope you also enjoyed the glory of your arrival. But now what?

Of course, you want to maintain your peak fitness level, without overtraining or losing everything you’ve worked so hard for. So to help you do just that, we spoke with expert running coaches to put together a maintenance running plan. Follow these tips to stay fit between runs, while keeping motivation to move high and risk of injury low.

First, bend over at rest

It’s 100% okay (in fact encouraged!) to put your feet up and rest after a run – in fact, it’s the number one maintenance tip of every running trainer. “I usually make it a point to take three full days off and then start again with cross training,” says Amanda Nurse, a former Olympic trial runner and Boston-based RRCA-certified running coach.

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John Honerkampan RRCA and USATF certified running coach with over 20 years of experience, agrees that it’s smart to listen to your body and take the time you need after a big run.

As a rule of thumb, take as many days off as you run miles, say the two experts.

Heavy training strains body tissues, as well as the skeletal and immune system, and even the neurological system, says Brian Beutel, PT, DPT, physical therapist at The Restoration Space in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and owner of Forge Physio Fit. That’s why rest and recovery are crucial to avoid exceeding your thresholds and risking injury or performance, says Beutel. (And an injury won’t just prevent you from performing a maintenance plan, but could sideline you much longer than your scheduled rest time.)

Keep in mind: While your mind may be ready to quickly get back to running and training for another run, it’s important to be patient. Your body needs time to recover from the physical stress of long training and the race itself. “In general, a week off isn’t a bad move and can actually help a runner get back into the build-up pace, instead of moving forward too soon. Time away from the race after a marathon is time saved later – pushing, resting/recovering, progressing,” says Beutel.

Honerkamp adds that if you were running with an injury – like shin splints or a tight IT band – you may need to take After time off and focus on longer cross training before getting back to running.

Beutel recommends focusing on these four points when recovering from a marathon or half marathon:

  1. Prioritize your sleep schedule
  2. Focus on nutrition and hydration
  3. Reduce your overall training volume by about 50% in the first month or so, and also keep the intensity low
  4. Remember that exercise should be enjoyable

Add more strength and cross-training to your schedule

While it’s smart to stop running for a few weeks, stopping all activity can hinder progress, Beutel says. “Movement is going to be more helpful in decreasing pain, working on it,” he says. So, to maintain your fitness, just move in different ways.

“I usually suggest some feel-good form of exercise that controls energy, mood, sleep, and stress directly after a longer run or marathon,” Beutel adds. For example, if you used to breathe fresh air during your workout, don’t necessarily give it up. Consider replacing your usual run with a long walk, light hike or bike ride.

During race training, strength training and cross training naturally take a back seat, especially as you get closer to race day and increase your mileage and even while cutting back. But after crossing the finish line, it’s a good time to add them to your maintenance plan.

Honerkamps suggests starting a strength training routine with your own body weight after a run. Target core work, like planks, and other core movement patterns like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, without the dumbbells. He says it’s prudent to return to bodyweight exercises fairly soon after a run, even a few days after, if you feel up to it.

The nurse agrees that once you are not fatigued from running, which means your muscles are not sore and you feel like you have recovered 100% of your energy, that is the perfect time to start your strength training. “It’s okay to have a little more pain after strength training [when you don’t have a long run or hard training session the next day] so it’s a good time to start lifting a bit heavier,” she says. Just like running, you want to build strength slowly, so don’t pick up the heaviest weights just when you’re done running, build up.

The nurse says that in the first two weeks after a big run, she will typically run three to four times a week and supplement with cross training. Yoga, Pilates, cycling, and swimming are good options, in addition to weight training.

Gradually add miles

Nurse recommends running between zero and 10 miles the first week after a run, then starting to increase your overall mileage each week by about 10% to 15% as you work through your ongoing maintenance plan of execution.

The first long run of the weekend after your big race shouldn’t be too long. “Something like five to eight miles is a really long seven-day run,” Nurse says, if you start running that fast again.

Also keep in mind that your first long runs after the run should be easy and the focus should be on time, not pace, adds Nurse. Remember this is a time to recover and to save some of those easy miles. An easy run should be low in intensity in terms of effort – you should be able to carry on a conversation as you go – and short to moderate in duration.

Think of it as a time to let go of the schedule you were tied to during training and be more spontaneous with your running. Now may also be the time to practice more intuitive or mindful running.

Work in light speed sessions

Once you master these easy runs without feeling pain, experiment with speed work, knowing that a speed session doesn’t have to be an all-out effort. The nurse suggests more effort-based work in a speed session when working on running maintenance between runs, rather than trying to hit a specific pace. “It’s a great way to maintain speed and endurance, and work on economy and running form,” she says.

A Fartlek run is a good way to go when it comes to those effort-based intervals. This is a form of unstructured speed work – no rhythm allowed! To do this, find a point on the road or trail and pick up the pace whenever you want. For example, run quickly from one tree to another, then slow down when passing the next three.

The nurse also recommends adding strides to the end of a few runs each week as another way to sprinkle in occasional speed work. “It’s a great way to slowly pick up speed, without going back to tough workouts too soon,” she says.

Honerkamp reminds runners that this interim period is the perfect opportunity to allow you to be more carefree in your training. “It can be just the routine of going out and not just running, but finding a hill for a few hill reps, doing easier intervals or an easier tempo where you just pick it up where you feel like it, ” he says.

Essentially, a maintenance running plan provides time to enjoy the freedom of not being married to a specific training program, while challenging yourself and maintaining that speed and endurance. This more discreet form of training will not only benefit your body, but your mind as well.

Execute maintenance plans for each level

If you do better by following a specific plan, we have three to choose from that still provide freedom in your mileage and cross-training. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner (check the first week of workouts to determine which one is right for you), these four-week plans can help you maintain your fitness. Remember to take those few days, weeks, or even a month off after a race to relax before embarking on these plans.

maintenance training plan

4 week starter plan
The runner’s world
maintenance training plan

4 week intermediate plan
The runner’s world
maintenance training plan

4 week advanced plan
The runner’s world

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