« Spirit of the Marathon | Main | Up for a little experiment? »

Running Not To Lose

Last week over coffee, a running friend explained her running wasn’t going as awesome as last summer and fall when she was training for her half marathon.  She detailed how running the same distance and pace that felt easy back then now feels harder.  In fact, just completing her runs is a bit of a struggle and missing the enjoyment for her these days.

Run_easy_sign As I listened closer, it became clear that instead of running to succeed, she has been "playing not to lose"to not lose the fitness level she achieved last fall.  Consequently, she’s been trying to “hold on” by continuing to run some of the same distances, including the long runs, from her half marathon training.

Been there and done that.

Over the years, I’ve learned we have to let go of our peak conditioning from time to time, to recover, to regroup, and to return to base running.  Call it easy running or “off season,” it doesn’t matter.  We just all need some  time away from peak running

Many runners refer to this season as time for “base running.”  The best running is built on successful base running, which is the platform on which all the other running components—intervals, tempo runs, pace runs, and even races—are built.

A few more thoughts about base running.

  • If we look at our running and racing in cycles, we should devote easy or base running for at least two thirds of our running lives.  A good rule of thumb is three months of easy running before gearing up with speed work and intensity to peak for a key race or racing season.
  • We need to maintain a pace we can comfortably sustain, not suffer through.  If we’re struggling for breath, finding runs hard to complete or just plain not enjoying the running like we did while training hard in the past, we’re missing the benefits and rewards of base running
  • Base running lets us recover from hard efforts and should not feel like hard effort piled upon hard effort.  Base running typically shouldn’t leave us sore or injured.
  • Vary the distance.  One way I break it up is to deliberately never run the same distance on back to back days.

Some off-season mistakes I’ve made.

  • Maintaining the same volume of mileage as I did when at the peak of half marathon or marathon training.
  • Continuing the distance of the long runs during half marathon and marathon training
  • Continuing with speed work year round.
  • Trying to not lose the fitness level I've achieved in the past.  It just gets me into a rut that makes it hard to achieve running success or enjoyment.

At the end of our coffee chat, I think my friend felt relieved she doesn't need to "hang on" to last fall's fitness level. 

We all need to stop "playing to not lose."

Run Easy sign on Flickr by Running Engelhardt


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Running Not To Lose:



Thank you, oh wise one. Did we have coffee last week and I forgot about it? I could swear that must have been me.... I'm making some hard decisions about my running also.

Hope you are well.


I appreciate this post most of all. After a long period of inactivity I need to remember not to start where I left off and get frustrated with my body not cooperating with my head. It is great to know that it is normal to have down time and an off season. Although my off season was way off, I am starting very slowly and not rushing myself. In the long run I think that I will be even better than last summer.

Heidi Swift

Great post. I know a lot of cyclists who go through the same angst. They are all fighting with their coaches right now, asking for more volume and more intensity. The trick really is trust - trusting yourself to be able to rest, wind-down, and then snap back into that crazy peak shape again.

I know in the back of my head I am always hearing a voice that is saying, "This fitness is a fluke! If you back down, you'll never see these levels again."

It's a daily battle to get that voice to shutup already.


great post. i have had a tough time with this go 'round of marathon training seeing as i am training for a marathon 4 months after a marathon i can see clearly now that your body just can't maintain the high level of fitness for that long - i don't think i am going to have that pre-marathon peak like i did last september right before columbus marathon. it just doesn't seem to be happening. you can't just keep asking your body to perform at peak. i try not to be disappointed in times and paces that seemed to have stalled & are stuck in one place - i can't get faster no matter how hard i try. so i get through it by thinking that if i make it to boston, i can run it for fun -not worry about my time, just enjoy it & then afterwards, i can reap the rewards of downtime, get on my bike & take a little rest. until then, i just ask my legs for one more day, one more long run, one more mile repeat - and then i promise ... soon, i will let it rest. just hang on a little bit longer!!


I went through something simiilar this past summer.
Part of it was getting past a bad cold during marathon week, and a huge part of it was mental. I was resigned to the physical part of it because I was justthisclose to meeting my marathon time goal time in June, and there wasn't much I could do about the cold, but the mental part of it pretty much beat me up. I was glad to have finished that marathon, but in my mind I still fell short. It really carried over into other events after that, and I just mentally dragged and went through the motions with no conviction. What was a joy became a drudge. I wasn't even over training. Fall rolled around and that funk passed. My running became fun again, and I even PR'ed my half marathon time. :)


This is a great reminder. It's important for everyone to know what they can do. Just because I know a woman that can run a marathon every 4 weeks does not mean I can. You are so right, sometimes we have such a hard time just letting go a little.
Really, really wonderful post!


This post came at exactly the right time for me, Tom. Thanks!


me too to all of that. I think a lot of us "newbies" beat ourselves up because we don't understand that it's ok, even better for us overall, to not try keeping up the same intensity and/or mileage as we did training for an event. Thanks Tom.


Great post Tom. Great advice. Thanks.

I think I came to this conclusion during my training for Philly. It was just too much. After the time off pre-marathon (and I much more reasonable training schedule) I feel much better for it.


Thanks for posting this. It will help to remind me that I can't keep up my same high mileage during training for a race, in the off-season. Instead, I should enjoy the time off and enjoy the runs and not beat myself up for missing ones or doing less mileage. Thanks!


This is exactly what I needed to hear. I've been beating myself up for not keeping up my mileage...it's nice to know that it's okay. :) THANKS TOM!!

The comments to this entry are closed.

« Spirit of the Marathon | Main | Up for a little experiment? »

Technorati Bookmark: Running Not To Lose

About Runners' Lounge

  • We are ordinary runners sharing our favorite passion – Running
    The lounge is our escape for conversation and connection to our favorite people – Runners.
    Join the conversation today at www.runnerslounge.com.

    Runners' Lounge
    An on-line community where runners Connect, Share, and Discover to more fully enjoy running!

Subscribe to RSS Feed