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why you (and i) need a real off-season …

this has been a banner running year in so many ways.


first ultramarathon (56k).

first trail race.

first time guide-running.

first official pacing duties.

first adventure race.

most distance logged in a calendar year (4385km YTD).

and now, it’s time for a rest.

if you’re at all the kind of runner that i am, then you know how much easier-said-than-done this is.  one of the strengths of my training cycle has been just how disciplined i’ve become at getting out the door six days a week.  rain or shine, wind or hail, polar vortex or humidex alert.  it has been as natural for me to complete a daily (or two-a-day) run as it has been to eat dinner.  if anything i’ve only taken a pass twice all year long on my scheduled runs – both of them occurring within the past five weeks on account of knee pain (and quite possibly an indicator of overtraining).

and yet for having achieved this series of accomplishments for 2014, you’d think i’d be more than ready for a break.  you’d be wrong.

however, knowing that even the very best, most dedicated athletes in the world take a block of time away from their sport as an important component to their training was incentive enough for me to at least consider it.

as best as i understand it, the following are the benefits to a true multi-week break/off-season from running:

  1. physical rest – this sounds blatantly redundant, but the fact is that a year’s worth of running and racing takes a cumulative toll on the body in the same way that that cumulative miles actually develop your running form and lead to physiological adaptations.
  2. mental restmy friend jim has repeatedly said that running is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head.  if that is the case, then your brain needs as much of a respite as any other part of your body.  all of that focus, that rugged determination, that visualization needs to take a pause and recharge so that when you need it it’s still there, not worn out and fuzzy.
  3. treat yourselfmaybe this is the time to sneak in a few of those delectable goodies that you diligently said ‘no’ to during your training cycle or perhaps to the occasional less-than-ideal runner’s meal.  although we make sacrifices to train that doesn’t mean that the remainder of your life has to become this relentless penalty box session.  you might also take the time to sleep in some more and find out what it’s like to not constantly feel fatigued.
  4. take inventory and set new goalsthis is a great time to step back and look at all that you’ve accomplished, regardless of whether or not you hit the mark on each and every race target.  and given that absence makes the heart grow fonder, each and every day of non-running will bring you closer to that place where you are absolutely itching to hit the road or trails again.
  5. re-toolif you’re a triathlete, adventure racer or obstacle race competitor then you probably already spend time cross-training.  for running-specific people like me this is a time to check out other exercise disciplines, or hone in on some strength-building work.  if you’re a reader, you can use this time to educate yourself on some of the technique and finesse points of becoming a more finely tuned machine – i recommend steve magness’ the science of running and pete magill’s (et al.) build your running body.

convinced?  i admit that this is just as much of a chore and a discipline to stay out of my running shoes as it is to lace them up on bone-chilling blustery pre-dawn winter mornings … but i believe that this is also the smartest move and well worth the investment of two or three weeks for my upcoming race year.

what’s your take on an ‘off-season’?  how do you rejuvenate your running?

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One comment

  • My experience is, and continues to be, if you do not plan adequate training breaks your body will schedule them for you.

    If you don’t have off weeks every 6 to 8 weeks and shut downs every 6 months, you are simply delaying the inevitable. It will catch up, and likely with interest.

    Three years of injury free training just went up in smoke for me mainly because I did not take enough down time between training cycles. I am presently 10 weeks into recovery and counting for an Achilles issue that I neglected far too long! My spring marathon plans are not looking good.

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