Your Bare-Minimum Running Maintenance Plan

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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Your Bare-Minimum Running Maintenance Plan

With measures pushing people inside and governments urging everyone to stay home as we confront the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to see how some runners can end up calling it quits. It’s frustrating to go from your regular training plan and race schedule to not knowing what tomorrow may bring, and social distancing only works when everyone honors it.

If you live in an area where you are still able to get outside for walks and runs, take advantage of that, but do so respectfully. Find the quietest roads possible, and walk or run only with your housemates (or appropriately socially distanced from one running partner). But if you live in an area where the government has asked residents to stay inside, follow those rules. It’s not fun, but it is safe, and you are doing the right thing. Even if you can get outside, consider cutting down on long runs unless you live in an area where a long slow distance can be done without running into anyone else.

Staying fit and healthy remains important, and it doesn’t take much to keep your fitness from drastically declining. Movement is also beneficial to your emotional well-being: Cutting exercise from your life can exacerbate symptoms of depression, and if you use running as your emotional release, you may find switching to a sedentary lifestyle has more negative effects than simple things like weight gain. So, what should we be doing to maintain our fitness for optimal health — and later gains in our running? Here’s where to focus your attention.


If you’re still trying to do your ultra-long runs and are not happy about limits placed on your ability to run outside, remember now isn’t the time to be adding tons of mileage anyway. “Focus on your health. Right now, you might lose a little fitness, but there’s nothing really to train for now anyway,” says Dr. Jason Friedman, an emergency medicine physician, coach and ultra-runner.

While it only takes two weeks of not running before you start to lose aerobic fitness, maintenance runs (Think: 3–4 miles per week) can help you avoid losing all of your base mile gains. So rather than doing your full workouts, especially if you are under great amounts of stress, head out for maintenance runs — think 30 minutes or less — as many days a week as you can manage. Or, think of indoor alternatives to continue cardio, whether it’s a treadmill, running in place or laps in your apartment.


Three to four times per week, try to do 15–30 minutes of cardio training if you can’t run outside or on a treadmill, aiming for between 75–150 minutes per week total of vigorous activity. A treadmill is obviously going to be your best friend if you are in self-isolation or have a ban on running outside in your area, but if you don’t own a treadmill, you can still do running-friendly cardio in your house. Any cardio machine or even a jump rope is useful, so if you have a rower or stationary bike collecting dust in the garage, now is the time to pull those out and put them back into rotation. But if you don’t have access to any kind of machine, get creative using stairs for stepups, and create a circuit with jumping jacks, burpees or even a living room dance party to add a bit of high-intensity training into your routine. HIIT sessions not only help you keep fit in a fraction of the time, but they also make your brain release endorphins — and who couldn’t use a bit more of those feel-good hormones right now?


Doing 30 minutes of strength work once a week to maintain muscle mass becomes more important as we age, and while most of us get a lot of the strength work we need from things like uphill runs, when your running efforts are curtailed, keeping those muscles active and under load becomes more important. “With races being canceled, now can be a good time to focus on working on strength training and ‘rehabilitation’ exercise to establish a strong foundation,” says Dr. Megan Roche, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the Stanford School of Medicine. (Don’t have a set of dumbbells or kettlebells? There are plenty of bodyweight exercises you can do to improve strength or you can get creative and use a gallon jug of water for an 8.35-pound weight.)


If you can’t make time to run or can’t run outside, use the time to continue moving your body in a different way. Stretching and flowing through a series of yoga poses most days for 15–30 minutes can have a hugely beneficial effect. There’s never been a better time to dial in your yoga practice, between the mandate to #stayathome and the sheer volume of yoga instructors who are offering free or inexpensive live yoga classes online. Yoga has been shown to help improve mood and lessen anxiety more than almost any other form of exercise, so the brain boost is an important benefit as well.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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