For many runners, seeing a marathon or half marathon on calendar provides all the motivation needed to lace up their shoes and head outside for a run. However, you can’t rely on races year-round to provide motivation. Races are expensive, the weather during summer or winter (depending on your region) is not conducive to running events, and your body needs a break from the high intensity of racing.
So how do you stay motivated when not training for a race? The time between training cycles is often referred to as the base building period, when the focus shifts from running a particular distance or a PR to maintaining and building your aerobic fitness. You train primarily at an easy to moderate effort, which may seem physically easier but can be mentally more difficult in terms of motivations.
For many runners, the noticeable progress of fast splits on a hard workout or the sense of accomplishment after a long run motivate them to keep running through the long weeks of training. The problem with base building can be that it lacks the sense of improvement and accomplishment. These five tips will help you stay motivated during base building by adding variety to your training and foster that sense of accomplishment, even without a race on the calendar.
Have a Short-Term Goal
The goal of marathon training is to prepare your body to run a marathon and, if you are a more experienced runner, run it faster than the previous time. That goal keeps you focused and motivated through long weeks of training, tired legs, and all sorts of weather conditions.
Similarly, having a short-term goal for the base building period can motivate you. Base building isn’t aimless running. The overarching goal of the base building period is to maintain or slightly improve your hard-earned running fitness without the wear and tear of training. Set smaller goals to help you achieve the larger goal of base building. Maybe your goal is to run consistently throughout the entire base building period or to develop a strong aerobic base by the time marathon training begins. Whatever it may be, write down that goal and think about how each week of running will help you achieve it.
Do More Than Just Run
During marathon or half marathon training, it’s easy to let strength training slide as the miles pile up. Even if you are diligent about strength training during race training, you are probably careful to choose workouts that won’t make you overly sore for your next long run.
During the base building period, you don’t have to worry about saving for your legs for that mile repeat workout or 20 mile long run. That, combined with lower mileage, means that you can increase your strength training instead. Strength training provides a new stimulus for many runners, especially if you increase your weights, take a new class, or try new exercises.
Activities such as hiking, skiing/snowboarding, cycling, or swimming can add some variety to your weekly routine as well. Cross-training will maintain your fitness level while giving you a mental and physical break from higher mileage.
Vary Your Mileage
Hitting the exact same mileage each week will lead to an overwhelming sense of monotony. The mental monotony can burn out even the most dedicated of runners, while the physical monotony can lead to plateauing. Even a brand new route will become dull if you always run the same distance on it. Base building isn’t the time to be obsessive about mileage – you probably preoccupy yourself enough with daily and weekly mileage when training for a race.
Consider how a sound race training plan works: you build your mileage up some weeks, maintain it other weeks, and reduce it every few weeks. Mimic this cycle in your base building. You vary your mileage deliberately by scheduling a build week, maintain week, and cutback week and then repeating the cycle. You can also do it intuitively by setting a loose goal mileage (say, 25-35 miles per week) and allowing factors such as your schedule, the weather, and how you feel that week impact how many miles you run.
Vary Your Intensity
Just as running the same distance each day or week can become monotonous, so can running at the same pace. Base building is not the appropriate time to pound out crazy hard speed workouts or long tempo runs. Easy runs should certainly constitute a majority of your miles during base training, but a little bit of faster running can go a long way in helping you stay motivated.
The exhilaration of running fast during a fartlek run or seeing your splits during a short tempo run can boost your confidence significantly. Faster runs have the opportunity to show the progress you’ve made and seeing progress will keep you inspired even without a race in the near future.
Try one of these workouts to add a bit of variety into your base building:
Skip a Run (or a Week)
If you are struggling to even get out the door for a short 3 mile run, you may have mental burnout. Give yourself a break for a few days until you want to run again. Try some different workouts or, if you just came off of a race, give your body just some extra rest for a couple days. You won’t lose your hard earned fitness – but you will renew your love of running.
How do you stay motivated when not training for a race?
What’s your current favorite non-running workout