8 Tips to Stay in Shape During Racing Off-Season

three women in yoga class

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After you've crossed the finish line of a big race, it’s tempting to relax and be a couch potato, especially if your post-season coincides with the onset of cold weather and shorter days. But if you slack off for too long, you’ll lose most of that fitness you worked so hard for during the previous months. And you’ll also miss out on an opportunity to start your next training season feeling stronger and more injury-resistant than before.

Here are some ideas on how to stay motivated and make the most of your off-season.

1. Set a 30-Day Fitness Challenge for Yourself

Last year I did a running streak between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The goal was to run at least a mile every day, either outside or on a treadmill. There were a few days when I was exhausted and did exactly one mile but, on most days, I did much more than that. The challenge helped keep me in shape and stay sane during the hectic holiday season.

A 30-day fitness challenge doesn’t have to involve running. You can plan to do 25 sit-ups and 25 push-ups every day for 30 days. Or aim to take a certain number of steps every day for a month. You could also combine it with a healthy eating challenge. Whatever you choose, mark it on your calendar or your to-do lists, and check it off as you go along. The feeling of accomplishment you get every day will keep you motivated to continue and also take on other fitness goals.

2. Do More Cross-Training

You don’t need to run as much when you’re not in training for a specific race, so that frees up some exercise time for other types of workouts you enjoy. Try some classes at the gym, like yoga or cardio kickboxing, that you haven’t been able to fit into your schedule in the past. Winter activities such as ice skating, snow-shoeing, and skiing are a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family while being active.

3. Do a Race for Fun

When you're in the middle of training, you may feel a lot of anxiety and pressure for every race you run, no matter what the distance is. During your off-season, pick a couple of races that you just do for pure fun, not for a time goal. It's a good chance to do a fun theme race or holiday run (like a Turkey Trot or New Year's Eve race) with a group of friends. Dress in costume, wear a funny hat or shirt, put on a tutu, or just do something that you wouldn't normally do when you're in serious training mode. You could also plan to run with a friend that you wouldn't normally run a race with and enjoy the experience together.

Adding more fun to your racing will give you practice staying relaxed, even when you're focused on a very specific goal during training.

4. Set Specific Short-Term Goals

Even though you may not be following a weekly training schedule, you'll still need short-term goals to keep you motivated. When you don’t have specific goals to work toward, it’s easy to blow off exercise for days, and then weeks. Before you know it, you’ve lost a lot of fitness. Pick a couple of weekly goals, such as doing yoga or strength-training twice a week, and plan the days when you’ll do them. Having a structure to your week will make you more likely to stick to your workouts.

5. Do Regular Strength Training

The off-season is a great time to focus on your strength training before you start ramping up your mileage in the spring. Aim for two to three sessions of strengthening a week. You don’t even have to go to a gym to get it done—just do a mix of bodyweight lower body and core exercises for 15 to 20 minutes. If you have trouble getting motivated to strength train, try doing it with a friend or using YouTube fitness videos.

6. Run Without Your Watch

When you're not in the middle of intense training, you can sometimes run by feel and not worry about your pace or distance. Do at least one run a week where you just focus on the pure joy of running. Try being mindful and staying in the present during your runs. Getting practice staying relaxed and calm will improve your mental strength during an intense training season.

7. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

The off-season is a great time to try a new fitness challenge that’s not related to running. One winter I took a four-week indoor rock climbing class and found it to be an incredible mental and physical challenge. Pushing your body to new limits during the off-season will not only improve your physical strength, but it’ll also give your confidence a huge boost.

8. Work With a Personal Trainer or a Running Coach

Now’s the time to start formulating your goals for your next training season. A running coach or personal trainer can help you develop a realistic plan for what to do in the off-season to achieve your long-term goals. You’ll start your training season with an excellent base of training and the confidence that your goals are achievable.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.