I often joke about it, but it’s true – I’m a good marathoner because I’m a planner. If I’m training for a marathon, it means I have 18 weeks (at least) of training runs laid out in my calendar. Color-coded, of course (fitness to-dos are banana yellow).
But that only seems to work when I’m training for something.
My Running Seasons
I usually run two marathons a year, which means I have a 2(ish) month off-season in between training cycles.
While I’m rock solid following a training plan during marathon training, the same cannot be said for my off-season.
I still do maintenance runs, but without a specific goal or training focus, I struggle to get the runs done. I’ve come to accept I’m terrible about running if I’m left to my own devices.
It’s too hard to not think of runs as optional. I’ll come up with endless excuses not to run.
Setting Up An Ideal Off-Season Running Schedule
As my last training off-season began, I faced my usual training conundrum: how to arrange my running schedule when I’m not training for something specific?
Historically, I did one of two things. Either I:
- Tried to make up a training plan (which I wouldn’t follow because I couldn’t take it seriously when it didn’t have an ultimate goal); or
- I’d leave it up to whim (which usually meant I’d never run – I can’t leave my runs up to what I feel like, I rarely ‘feel like’ running).
This last off-season I tried something different.
I’d read an article somewhere (I’d love to give credit where it is due, but I didn’t keep the link and I don’t remember where it was from – at the time I read it, I didn’t realize it would totally change the way I ran), about setting up a running schedule by creating running categories and using that to structure your runs.
You pick your categories, then you do (at least) one run each week that fit into each one of the categories.
Spoiler alert: this worked really well for me.
It provided enough guidance to give me some resemblance of structure, but it wasn’t too overly prescriptive and it still gave me some wiggle room and flexibility to do what I felt like since the specifics of each run (the route, the distance, which day of the week went where), could vary based on how I felt.
I still wasn’t running at 100%, but I had a much better completion ratio than usual.
My Running Categories
I came up with three running categories:
- Scenic, social, or fun
My goal was to do one run in each of those categories during the week.
If I planned it right, I can do all three categories in one run. In the Bay Area, trail runs are often super pretty, super hilly, and super long. One run, and I’ve checked off all the boxes for the week!
Here’s why I picked these categories.
Hilly runs are strength work and speed work in disguise.
I’m not a fan of the track. Try as I may, I’ve never been able to do track runs regularly (even when I am training for something).
So instead, I cheat. Or at least I do the work in a way that tricks my mind so it doesn’t realize it’s doing something good for me (my mom sneaking vegetables into my pancakes when I was a kid comes to mind as an equivalent experience).
Doing a hilly run creates many of the same benefits to my legs and my lungs as a good track workout, I just don’t have to run in circles and endure the tedium of planning and tracking 4x and 12x runs at whatever goal pace.
While it may not be exactly the same, it’s close enough.
Plus, it’s way more enjoyable, which means I am much more likely to actually do it.
How ‘long’ a ‘long run’ is varies drastically when I’m in my off-season, but I try to maintain some type of distance work in my running repertoire even when I’m not in training.
These long runs (however that may be defined at the time), helps maintain my endurance.
It means I will not be starting from absolute zero when my next marathon training cycle starts up.
Scenic, Social, Or Fun
At least one run a week should be an enjoyable run.
For me, that means a run that falls into one of three categories: scenic, social, or fun (often a favorite course or area).
These runs are a good reminder that running is supposed to be enjoyable.
That can often get lost in the haze of training and goals and goal paces.
Try It Yourself
Setting up a running schedule based on categories can be a good alternative to laying out a detailed and specific running schedule.
Consider what categories of runs you want to do, and do runs based on category, not by specific distance or pace.
Maybe your categories will be the same as mine, or maybe they will be entirely different. It all depends on your focus and your running needs.
If your focus is on pace, add a speed or track category. If you are a more social runner, pull out social as its own category.
Pick your priorities and work from there!
What about you? How do you arrange your ideal running week?