Marathon Blog

You did it! Building an off-season program


You did it! Building an off-season program.

If you just ran the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon (or 10K or 5K) or are soon running a different fall half marathon or other goal race, you have trained hard and tapered carefully for the race. To stay healthy and injury-free, it is equally important for you to follow a good plan for recovery in the days and weeks following your race.

3-7 days post-race

  1. Continue with light activity – walking and/or short bouts of easy jogging are perfect.
  2. Follow the “one mile per day” rule: On any given day, don’t run more miles than days after the race. For example, one week after the race, do not exceed seven miles running on that day.
  3. Expect more deep fatigue than earlier in the week. The adrenaline rush of finishing the race may be wearing off, so don’t be surprised if your soreness and/or fatigue increases during this period.
  4. Expect Post-Race Syndrome (see below).

The mental game – Prepare for Post-Race Syndrome

You may be surprised at how you feel mentally after your half marathon, 10K or 5K, especially if it was your first race at that distance and/or you ran hard and achieved a personal record. Instead of feeling excited about your accomplishment, you may feel depressed or anxious, or you may feel like you don’t have any motivation. This is common and stems from your depleted physical state in combination with the fact that you have lost one of the major goals and sources of structure in your life (your race training plan). Here are some tips on how to break out of Post-Race Syndrome:

  1. Analyze your race result and process – this will help you determine what you need to do differently (and/or the same) in your next race.
  2. Set another goal (not necessarily a race or running goal). You need to restore the structure in your life that you have lost now that your race training is over. You may not want to do another half marathon or other race as your next major goal, but set some kind of new goal. Perhaps a shorter race or an accomplishment in another sport or hobby.
  3. View rest as part of your training plan. Remind yourself that during this month of recovery, you are following a plan – a recovery plan. This plan is every bit as important as your ramp-up of your long runs. It is critical to follow the recovery plan to avoid injury and allow your body to recover from the stresses of the race.
  4. Ease into some cross-training. Be gentle, but starting a new and different physical activity will help break up boredom and spark your interest in something new. Physically, this will also help prevent overuse injuries that might arise from more running.
  5. Continue to eat a healthy diet and hydrate to aid your physical recovery as well as your mental recovery. Strenuous racing can deplete your immune system and other body processes and a healthy diet is crucial to the repair and recovery of these systems. In addition, feeling better physically will aid in your mental recovery. 
  6. Appreciate your accomplishment. This is key – take some time to think about what you have accomplished and how special it is. You worked hard to complete your goal race and you deserve to feel great about it.

1-3 weeks post-race

Ease back into your training – this will be similar to your taper, except in reverse:

  • Stick with easy work the first week – 25-35% or normal mileage (or less if you really pushed it during the race).
  • Continue to follow the “one mile per day” rule discussed above.
  • 35-60% of normal mileage in week 2.
  • 60-80% of normal mileage in week 3.

It may take 2-3 weeks for you to achieve a full recovery, especially if you raced hard. As you ease back into training, continue to focus on fueling your body:

  • Eat a healthy diet. As discussed above, your body needs high-quality fuel for the repair of tissue. This continues to be the case for a month after a strenuous race. 
  • Hydrate. Your body continues to need adequate hydration to flush inflammation from the body and for the repair and rebuilding of tissue.

4 weeks post-race and beyond

Now is the time to start thinking about your winter training plan. If you followed the recovery plan above, you should be back to your base running mileage – probably 2-4 days per week and 12-20 miles per week. If you want to get a jump start on spring racing, it is best to maintain this base mileage throughout the winter. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Limit speed work during the winter. Give your body a break from some of the stresses of race training.
  2. Continue with (or start) strength training. This will help you get stronger and avoid injury in preparation for your spring racing season.
  3. Continue with hill training. This will build strength as well. 
  4. Prepare for the elements with a plan to layer for outdoor running or by finding a good indoor track or treadmill for your winter training. Edward-Elmhurst Health and Fitness has a great indoor track. 
  5. Consider maintaining a longer run every two weeks through the winter. This will keep your endurance high so that after an early spring ramp up, you can run a spring half marathon (and maybe further ramp up for a late spring marathon). This long run should not exceed the length of your longest training run for your fall Naperville race. 

Now is also a good time to start thinking about your first spring goal race. This race should use your just-completed fall race as a springboard. Depending on your fall race result, you can target your spring race to accomplish new goals:

  • If your goal for this past fall was to finish your race, for next spring try running the same race distance with a time goal. Target for a 5-10% time improvement, depending on race distance. To achieve this, your spring training plan will need to include speed work 1-2 times per week starting in mid- to late-winter. 
  • If your goal this past fall involved a time, you can set a more aggressive target. Again, a 5-10% time reduction should work, depending on how aggressive you were in your fall race. Your spring training plan will need to include appropriately challenging speed work in this case as well. 
  • If you want to work on endurance, consider a spring race that is a longer distance than your fall race. If you ran a fall 5K, move up to a spring 10K. If you ran the 10K in fall, try a half marathon this coming spring. To achieve these goals, you will need to increase your weekly training mileage starting in mid to late winter. Most importantly, you will need to ramp up the length of your long run in anticipation of your goal race. You will need to plan to ramp up your longest training run to 12-14 miles for the half marathon or 6-8 miles for the 10K. 

For all of the above goals, consider hiring a running coach to create a personalized training program or try following one of the online training programs that are widely available. Choose one that matches your time and distance goals. 

By following these tips, you will get through winter ready to ramp up for spring racing. Have a great winter – see you next year!

Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness