Winter is a common off-season for runners. The cold weather, snowy conditions, and lack of upcoming races (often due to said weather) are not exactly conducive to race training. Instead of training for a race, most runners utilize winter as an opportunity for base building and focusing on strength training.
The race-specific training period (8-16 weeks before your race, depending on the distance and your goals) is the ideal time for challenging workouts like 2-mile repeats, marathon pace long runs, and demanding track workouts. However, the base building phase is not the appropriate time for these workouts, as you risk burnout, plateauing, and injury. Instead, workouts with a lower volume and intensity add the appropriate amount of speed to base building. Fartleks, progression runs, and similar workouts are ideal base building workouts for the off-season.
The more I gain experience as a coach, the more I see that most runners thrive on small doses of speed when base building. Why?
- Most runners thrive on variety. An easy run every day of the week can become monotonous quickly, while even a short progression or some surges add variety.
- Running at different paces requires your muscles to work differently. The variety can prevent injury from the repetitive motion of running the same run at the same pace daily.
- Big running goals and PRs are not just made in the couple months before a race; getting faster is the accumulation of months upon months of consistent training.
How should you schedule in these workouts? Honestly, this depends on personality type. If you thrive when you have a training plan, sketch out a schedule each week with one day of faster running, such as one of the workouts below. If you prefer less structure during the off-season and are able to listen to your body well, pick one workout per week and do it on the day when you feel fresh and ready to run fast. Either way, limit the base building running workouts to once per week during the off-season.
Base Building Running Workouts
Base building workouts should strike the balance between adding variety without the high intensity of race-specific training. These base building running workouts for the off-season will inject variety into your weekly routine while still maintaining the purpose your training:
A progression run can vary based on the distance and intensity. The principle is simple: you begin at an easy effort and over the course of the run, progress until you are finishing at a moderately hard to hard effort. This workout is not meant to have pace goals; focus on your perceived effort.
Fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish, which corresponds to the intuitive, fun nature of these workouts. Instead of aiming to hit a certain pace on an exact distance, you simply pick up the pace for an interval of time.
Unless you are recovering from certain injuries, hill running is a great option for a harder workout without wear and tear on the body. Hill workouts place less strain on the body compared to flat running. That’s not to mention how much strength they build! You can approach this simply – find a big hill and run up it – or do a structured workout such as one of these options:
The base building period is an ideal time to focus on skills, such as running form, cadence, or the ability to pace yourself by perceived effort. These workouts are fun and different than what you’ve likely done, which add an element of excitement to what can be an otherwise uneventful season of running.
You can also try one of these workouts from Runkeeper:
As with any workout, remember to warm up with easy running and dynamic stretches!
What workouts do you enjoy when not training for a race?