Maintain Fitness Between Training Cycles

Q I completed my first marathon a couple of weeks ago. I feel like I have recovered and am ready to return to some training; however, I’m not sure what mileage to be running. I am between races and not really training for anything at the moment. I will probably target another marathon later in the year. I know I don’t need long mileage now, but I want to retain my fitness and be prepared to build up to marathon mileage again in a couple of months. How do I do that? – BECKY


A Congratulations to you! Completing your first marathon is good stuff. Your question is great and comes at a very good time for many marathoners who have also just completed a marathon.

How can runners cut back on their training and still maintain fitness and speed in preparation for the next training cycle? If you stop training completely, obviously your fitness will decrease significantly within a fairly short period of time, like two to three weeks. Conversely, we cannot maintain high marathon mileage either without risking injury, burn out, and fatigue.

You are in the “maintenance” phase of the training cycle. It’s difficult to know just how much to train in between goal races. However, it’s possible to sustain your current level of fitness by training at a reduced level, even for several months. The key is finding the minimum level of training that prevents you from losing any of your hard-earned physiological adaptations; yet, also allows you rest and recovery from higher mileage. Research indicates the key lies in reducing the volume of your training. Volume refers to the frequency and/or the distance of our running, while still maintaining the intensity. In this way, a runner’s aerobic conditioning can be maintained for as long as three to four months.

By cutting back on the volume of your training by one third, you’ll be able to maintain your fitness level until you are ready to ramp up again. This means while in maintenance mode, keep your training intensity at your normal training level while shortening your training runs or cutting back on the number of days you run. For example, if you were running five or six days a week, try running three days a week. Training two days per week would be the bare minimum. Another option is to reduce your weekly mileage by about 40 per cent from your highest mileage weeks. Your long run of the week should be 19km; this is just long enough to retain your endurance, but short enough to avoid wearing you out.

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