Learn to train better in between race cycles by switching it up, building up strengths, and shoring up weaknesses.
The big race is over.
Once you've taken some time to recover, it's tempting to just jump right back into the same training that you were doing before. After all, you want to get better at racing your favorite distance so it makes sense to go back to training for it.
But that can be a mistake.
Sure, nothing trains you better for a specific thing than training specifically for that thing. The problem is, if you keep doing the same training over and over again, you are eventually going to get the same results.
Switch it Up
A better plan is to switch up your training in the off season. If you're a marathon runner, take 8-12 weeks in between marathon training blocks to work on speed and strength. If you love the 5k, take a couple months to work on building your mileage and your aerobic engine. And if you are any kind of endurance runner, you probably could spend a little more time on your strength, power, and mobility.
Beat the Burnout
Training intensively for months can lead to great results. But it's not sustainable year-round, both mentally and physically. Learning to train better in between race cycles (or at least differently) can help.
Your Between-Race-Cycles Guide
If you've been following a detailed training plan for months, it can be really freeing to let the strict planning go for a while. But simply "winging it" instead isn't going to be the best idea either, at least not for very long.
You can use the period between race cycles to either build on strengths or shore up weaknesses. So how do you decide?
Build on Your Strengths
Working on what you are already good at can take you from an A student to an A+ student. Super charging your strengths is how you reach excellence.
If you are a marathoner who has run relatively fast times at shorter races or on the track, developing and extending your speed is how you build on that strength.
Training for the 5k or even a mile race in between marathon cycles is a great way to start the next cycle even faster.
Shore Up Weaknesses
Working on areas of fitness that you tend to neglect during race training can be very helpful in habit building.
For example, focusing on strength while running less will not only build muscle, but it will reinforce the habit of lifting weights to support your running.
You don't need to be a bodybuilder to be a great runner, so simply getting a little better while creating the habit pays off. You'll start the next cycle stronger.
Something Completely Different
Some athletes take a more drastic approach in between race cycles. They hang up their running shoes and head to the slopes or the pool. Champion ultra runner Killian Jornet famously skis all winter instead of running.
Not only can this approach make you a more well-rounded athlete, but it gives your body and your brain something else to focus on.
It also makes you miss running! You're excited to get back into it when it's time.
Now, I get that completely giving up running isn't for everyone (it's not for me!). But changing your running focus in between race cycles can be very beneficial to your long term running goals.
Explore other forms of aerobic activities that you've always wanted to try or do more of. Examples are jump rope, cycling, Zumba, jiujitsu, or even more walking.
The goal isn't to give up running completely, but complement it with other ways to move and have fun.
Start the Next Cycle Stronger and Faster
By training in a different way in between race cycles, you will start the next phase in a different place. You'll be mentally and physically fresher, ready to take on the new challenge with more motivation than ever.