Fall Back or Fall Forward – Your Best Fall Season Training Strategy

By Rick Morris

Fall is my favorite time of the year. The temperatures are cool and invigorating. The air is clean, clear and crisp. Running seems easier and more enjoyable. During my fall training runs I always feel like I can run faster and further than ever before. Is that a good idea? Should you extend the distance of your long runs, the pace of your tempo runs and the speed of your interval training? What is your fall season training strategy?

It’s certainly a great time of the year to do that. The conditions are perfect for amping up your training. But some runners and coaches don’t think so. Many runners, especially competitive athletes, will begin to wind down their training in the fall for a period of rest and recovery before starting a new training cycle next year. Who is right? Which strategy should you follow? Running isn’t one size fits all. Like nearly every other running training debate there is not one clear answer for every runner. It depends upon your goals, fitness level and experience.

Recreational Runners

The fall season is great time to just get out and enjoy your running. Why not go for a run on the trails in the mountains or parks. The scenery will be spectacular and invigorating. Consider entering a race or two. The camaraderie and competition can be highly motivation and enjoyable. The faster pace of an 5K or 10K race will also improve your fitness and running performance.

Fitness/Weight Loss Runners

Fall is the perfect season for you as a fitness and weight loss runner. Improvements in fitness and losing weight both require longer runs as well as high intensity running. The mild temperatures are a perfect time to extend the distance of your long run and add in some harder running. Try adding an extra 10 minutes or 1 mile to the end of your long run each week. If you’re not currently doing tempo runs you should consider including one of those moderately hard paced runs once per week. If you’re already doing tempo runs this is a good time to extend the distance and/or pace of your weekly tempo efforts. The increase in mileage and intensity will burn more calories as well as making physiological changes in your body that raise your metabolism and make you a more efficient body fat burner.

Competitive High School/Collegiate Runners

After you wrap up your fall cross country season you’re probably ready for a break. You went from summer track to fall cross country without much of a break. Your body has served you well through those last hard cross country races and training runs. Now it’s time to take a physical and mental break. That doesn’t mean you should quit running. Quite the opposite. Fall is a great time to go out for some nice long relaxing runs and recover from both the physical and mental strain of 6 months of hard competition. Don’t worry about your pace. Just go out and enjoy your running. When I say don’t worry about your pace I mean on both ends of the spectrum. If you mentally and physically feel like running hard, go for it. If you feel like doing a nice long tempo run – do it. If your mind and body are telling you it’s time to take it easy then just enjoy a nice leisurely run. After this period of rejuvenation you’ll be ready to ratchet up your training for next season.

Competitive Adult Runners

As a competitive adult runner you most likely train hard and race on a year round basis. Sure, your training plan includes some downtime for recovery  but you are probably following some sort of a year round multi pace periodization scheme that keep you in close to race shape all year. You know how difficult it is to train hard in high heat, bitter cold or on icy trails. That makes the fall season a time of the year you need to take advantage of. This is the best time of the year to extend the distance of your long runs and your tempo runs. It’s a great time to raise your interval training intensity to a new higher level.  The mild fall weather is the time to hit the hills hard to improve your running strength, power and running economy. Don’t hold back in the fall. Hit your training hard. The fitness improvements you gain in the fall will not only give your new training year a kick start, it will also carry forward to new PR’s. Once the bad winter weather hits you can back off a bit for some recovery. Just don’t lose this opportunity to get in your highest quality training of the year.