What To Do During the Off Season

The holidays have somehow snuck up on us and we’re all feeling the time crunch. How do we find time for our running when time is short?

off season running

Parties, shopping, and kids’ concerts have a way of snagging our free time and zapping our energy. Fitting in runs becomes more challenging than normal, which can leave us feeling frustrated.

Here’s an idea: why not make December your month for off season running? By now you’ve probably completed all your races and haven’t really begun to invest in training for 2019.

It’s the perfect time to let loose.

This break from structured training is good for you, too, both mentally and physically. The impact of training and racing over the past year has likely caught up to your legs – and your emotions. Each needs a well-structured off season.

Adrienne Langelier, MA, LPC, a sports psychology consultant, agrees:

Just as we need time to physically recover from a year of racing, we need time to mentally recover, too. Keep in mind that in order to get optimal performance, we need the proper balance of stress and rest. That applies to our emotions as well.

In other words, you can’t keep going at peak level fitness. Even the pros take some dedicated downtime and many are quite public in sharing these valuable rest periods. Taking a page from their books and incorporating an off season of running can reap big benefits.

What’s at risk if you don’t take some down time? On the physical end, overtraining or injury. On the mental side: heightened stress, says Langelier. When that’s in play, the risk for burnout goes way up.

To avoid that scenario, take advantage of off season running and kill two birds with one stone by using December as a logical time to step back in your training.

How to Make December a Recovery Month

Just how long you should allow yourself a break from structured training is dependent on how hard your season was, who you are as an athlete, and what your tolerance is for downtime.

Langelier has some more thoughts:

It really depends on who you are and what will work best for your circumstances. The loose standard is about two weeks but it can be longer if needed. The important thing is to wait until you feel refreshed and recharged before getting back after it.

When we talk about a break, that doesn’t necessarily mean no running at all, although if that’s what you think you need to continue into the new year mentally energized, by all means do it. For most people the break is more along the lines of time away from specific, structured training.

If you happen to have any signs of Overtraining Syndrome, you’ll want to take more time off from running. Jason and elite endurance athlete Travis Macy discuss OTS in greater depth in this video:

Langelier suggests using this time to do all the things you might push aside when in the midst of heavy training:

This is your chance to stay out later at that partyor take a cooking class, read some good books, or whatever outside passions you never indulge.

I really enjoy cycling but don’t do it all that much because of my run training. When my season ends in a few weeks, I’ll ditch the watch and head out on my bike. It will probably involve some stops at a coffee shop, too.

It can also be a useful time for tending to those projects around the house that you’ve neglected in favor of training all year. Or consider doing the volunteer work you’ve been eyeing up. Dive into an art project with your kids.

The sky is the limit and now is the time to take advantage of it.

Upgrade Your Mindset

Langelier says that you should treat this off season as a celebration:

Reflect back on how hard you worked and which goals you achieved. This is a good time to mark the accomplishments.

Invite some of your running friends over—if you haven’t had your fill—and enjoy time away from training together. If you need to pull running into the mix somehow, catch up on your marathon majors spectating via on demand or throw on one of the excellent sport documentaries released over the past year.

Leaving the watch at home during this down time – as Langelier does – is just what’s in order, too. You don’t want to be focused on pace or mileage right now if you are going out. Instead, run if the mood strikes and let your legs dictate what feels good and what doesn’t. This allows for both the mental and physical break you need.

If you do want to keep some fun running in the mix, consider a holiday-themed “race” complete with costume, or a short, easy run through holiday lights in your neighborhood with some friends. Add in a cookie exchange at the end and your day is complete. Plenty of towns and running clubs now offer opportunities like this if you don’t want to plan a group event on your own.

If you’ve spent most of your miles on the road, consider trail running. Getting out into the woods has numerous benefits, not the least of which is lowered levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) according to a plethora of studies.

Treat yourself to a quiet run on dirt in a spot you might not otherwise explore. You’ll feel like a kid again and your muscles will benefit from the break along with your mind.

If you want a break, there’s nothing wrong with a hike instead of a trail run. Bring the whole family along and enjoy what might be some much-needed togetherness after a year of weekends dedicated to long runs.

How to Come Back to Real Training

As you approach the time you return to structured training, look back over your training logs and pull out a calendar to begin plotting out the coming season. Review what worked and what didn’t and revise your 2019 plans accordingly.

Strength Running’s season planner worksheet will be quite helpful for this exercise.

Things to look for in your training logs:

  • how often you raced and how that frequency worked for you
  • what distance suited you best
  • whether or not you want to step up race distances or maybe even dial back
  • determining what your “A” race will be for the year or if you might want a couple of “A” level races in the mix.

Have fun with the planning and dream big if it fits into your current lifestyle and commitments.

When you begin to feel like training again, don’t jump back in where you left off. Part of the point of this down time is to decondition. Langelier adds:

We take these end-of-season breaks so that we can then reach a higher level. But if you get excited and do too much, too soon, you’ll sabotage those gains.

It should be a slow burn, not a bonfire. Accept that a loss of fitness is part of the process. It’s not fun, but it is necessary.

For those who struggle with this idea, Langelier recommends you remember that it’s only temporary. You’ve got a great base coming off your prior season and any seasons leading up to it. You will rebound quickly and will be stronger for it.

One way to ease the mental pain of rebuilding fitness is to check in with your progress every week, says Langelier:

Always look at how far you’ve come. This can go a long way to feeling better about time away from training.

Langelier herself likes the process of getting back into shape after time away from structured training. “I look at it like a science project,” she says.

Think back on your early days of running, when each week brought new successes. As your return to fitness, these early weeks of structured training should help bring back that fresh excitement and remind you of why you love the sport so much.

The ultimate goal should be welcoming a new year of running with a new level of enthusiasm. If you’ve taken your downtime as seriously as your training, that should be well within reach.

Onward and upward. Now start planning!

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