After dedicating months of training to a half or full marathon, you’ve finally finished that epic race. Maybe you experienced a coveted runner’s high, have a shiny new race medal, and a fresh PR. 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 Boston-based, RRCA-certified run coach, .
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John Honerkamp, a RRCA- and USATF-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 , P.T., D.P.T., physical therapist at The Restoration Space in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and owner of Forge Physio Fit. 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.)
Keep in mind: While your mind may be ready to jump back into running and training for another race quickly, it’s important to be patient. Your body needs time to recover—from the physical stress of training for a long duration of time, and the race itself. “Generally, a week off is not a bad move, and can actually help a runner get back into the swing of ramping up again, versus pushing ahead too early. Time spent away from running after a marathon is time gained later on—push, rest/recover, progress,” says Beutel.
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:
- Prioritize 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 use 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 own bodyweight 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 agrees once you’re not fatigued from the race, meaning your muscles aren’t sore and you feel like you have 100% of your energy back, this is a great time to start kicking up your strength training. “It’s okay to be a bit more sore after a strength workout [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 with running, you want to slowly build up your strength, though, so don’t grab the heaviest weights right when you’re done running—build 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 10 miles 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 five to eight miles 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.
Work in light speed sessions
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.
Run Maintenance Plans for Every Level
If you do better following a specific plan, we have three to choose from that still offer freedom in your mileage and cross training. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner (check out the first week of workouts to determine which one is best for you), these four-week plans can help you sustain your fitness. Just remember to take those few days, weeks, or even a month off after a race for some R&R, before you jump into these plans.
Jennifer Acker joined the editorial staff of Runner’s World and Bicycling in January 2022. A former freelancer writer and NCAA runner, she started running as a kid and basically never stopped. She also loves outdoor adventures, like hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.
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