No matter what mileage you run per week or how many races you have in a year, it’s helpful to have an off-season, and this is the time of year to consider how to get the most from this phase of training. This article lists some of the advantages of down-time, plus tips for getting the most from it. As top-ten Western States finisher Yassine Diboun says about training: “A lot of the body’s systems are working on overdrive and it’s good to give them a little reprieve now and then.”
Why Take An Off-Season?
1. Injury Prevention It can feel almost wrong to many runners to cut back on mileage when uninjured, but this is a key part of preventing injuries. It’s healthy for body and mind to cut back on running intentionally so that the minor niggles of the season can heal. Many runners are loath to back off at the first signs of injuries during the season, so an off-season is a chance to deal with any problems without worrying about missing runs as a result.
2. Physical Rest And Recuperation By the end of a grueling season, many runners start to feel flat on their runs, without their usual pep and energy. This is a clear sign that it’s time to back off and rest, allowing the muscles a chance to repair and energy levels to return to normal.
3. Taking A Break Psychologically Hard efforts at races and long periods of fierce training aren’t just tough on the body, but also take huge amounts of mental energy. I’d argue that a tough long ultra is harder on the mind than the body, making a period of relaxation essential. This staves off burnout and loss of desire for running, renewing passion for running for the next season. It’s a good time to chill out, have a beer with friends and reflect on the last year of adventures.
How To Get The Most From An Offseason
1. Length Of Time – It’s worth taking at least a couple of weeks for an off-season and perhaps closer to a month. Usually the easiest time is right after the last race of the season, but if your focus is less about races then there are plenty of other reasons to choose a time of year for your off-season.
Ellie Greenwood, coach and Comrades Marathon champion, says, “I find that the easiest time to do this is in December when most races are done and normally I’m not needing to gear up for the first race of the following season yet. I also find that holiday distractions and not so favorable running weather make it easier to take down time then, as well as the fact that it coincides with many friends also relaxing their training.”Diboun adds, “I’ve found that if I don’t plan a rest month I am forced into it via injury or low returns on my training. Typically I take one full month (or very close to it) with zero running. The first two weeks I do absolutely nothing! I don’t even commute on my bicycle and as ridiculous as it may sound I don’t walk around that much either.”
2. Cross-Training – Tempting as it may be to switch all the energy reserved for running right into another activity, try to keep cross-training to a minimal level, especially for the first week or two. Biking, crosscountry skiing or other sports could even work on some of your weaknesses for the next season and add variety to spice things up.
Ellie’s cross-training philosophy is to “…still remain active by going to the gym, doing some very easy jogs or some leisurely skiing but focus on not working myself hard or pushing myself.”
3. Restarting Running – After a few weeks off, don’t jump back into your normal mileage immediately, even if you’ve been ripping up the slopes or trails. However, if you’re not excited for that first run, then it’s probably worth taking a little more time off running.
A longer running career is the pay-off for those who look after themselves through the years, and off-seasons are an integral part of this. It’s almost against the entire ultra mentality to take things easy, but all runners can benefit by allowing some time to recharge. I know I’m not the only one who intends to enjoy this sport for a very long time to come.