"Off season" is a dirty phrase for many runners. It implies a loss of some sort: less miles, less intensity, losing some fitness, etc. Aack!! Who wants that? Your body does! So let's talk about what can be gained from a down period and what I have been doing since the Indy Monumental Marathon four weeks ago.
First, let’s state the obvious - never taking any time off from high mileage and tough workouts is asking for injury, burn out, and/or exhaustion. And if you simply can’t bear the thought of resting, perhaps you may need to examine the real reasons you are running in the first place! Professional runners are great examples of taking some down time. Many take a full two weeks to a month off from running completely to let their bodies heal and rejuvenate. I'm not saying you can’t move a muscle for 30 days, but a reduction in the frequency, intensity, and duration of your runs (and maybe adding some cross training!) can serve you well when you jump back into your next training cycle.
I like to use the six to eight weeks after a marathon as my off season. As a seven day per week runner, this is when I take the frequency down to five or six days per week (after allowing for adequate marathon recovery, of course!). My runs are shorter, ranging from 45 to 90 minutes, and I pay very little attention to pace. I instead focus on what feels easy and comfortable. As I approach the end of this off season, I like to include some strides or hill sprints at the end of my runs to wake up my legs.
I really enjoy cycling (I taught spin for several years and have completed a century ride and half iron triathlon), so I like to use my non-running days as cycling days. Strength training, which I admit can sometimes fall by the wayside during intense training, makes a reappearance. Since the Indy Monumental Marathon in early November I have been strength training for about 30 minutes three days per week. I am really hoping I can continue this into my next marathon training cycle. I have also been doing yoga at least once per week. Every time I resume doing yoga I am reminded of how beneficial it is for me, and unfortunately it tends to fall even lower on the to do list than strength training.
Do I enjoy my off season? Yes and no. I do enjoy having time for some things I don’t have as much time for when training hard. I enjoy the relaxed easy runs. And getting a little extra sleep is extremely beneficial. The downside of the off season for me is that sense of accomplishment that only a hard workout can give me. I just have to keep reminding myself of the benefits and that soon enough I will be knee deep in tempo runs and 20 mile long runs.
One more thing I really like to do when I’m not training hard is plan my upcoming races! More about that in an upcoming post.