Making the most of your off-season
For a lot runners, summer can be a time of change: kids are out of school, vacations on the calendar, schedules vary, and of course the warmer temps and training conditions. These reasons can make it a great time for a running off-season (assuming you don't have any goal races coming up!).
So what is an off-season? Simply put, it's a time of unstructured training. It's a bit of a misnomer since "off-season" doesn't necessarily mean taking time completely "off". Runners will still run, but they may run with a different focus or take time away from a formal, structured training plan. If you typically run longer distances, you may find that your off-season includes shorter runs to allow your body time to rest and recharge. Hard workouts can still happen, but they may have a different focus, or again, allow for a more free-flowing format like a Fartlek, vs set distance repeats.
One reason I personally love an off-season is the chance to work on areas other than running. Runners love to run, yes, but what can make us stronger runners is when we step back from so many miles and spend some time focusing on strength, mobility, and flexibility. A healthy runner is a balanced runner, and that can be hard to maintain when we are juggling all aspects of our life plus running all the miles. Usually, when in a training block, some of the first things to fall off the calendar are strength, mobility, and flexibility work.
Strength training is one of the most powerful areas of work for a runner. While this post won't focus on all the reasons why, it's one of, if not the, best way for a runner to ensure they can run for a long time to come. Strength training helps ensure we stay injury free, we have strong bones, and we can safely absorb the impact our bodies take from running. Trading a day of running for a day of strength, or opting for a shorter run plus a short lift can be a great option during an off-season.
Mobility and flexibility work are similar in that we can see so many gains in our running when we make time to fit these areas in our training. Personally, I love how easily these can be incorporated into our day - but actually doing so can be the challenge! I find that leaving my yoga mat out in the family room helps ensure that I do my mobility work while we watch TV. I also have a foam roller and other recovery tools in my bedroom so that I have no excuses to skip them before the day is over. Like strength training, if we opt to take a mile or two off our run for time to fit in these activities, or take an active recovery day to focus on mobility and flexibility, we may be more welcoming of these schedule changes during an off-season.
So how long is an off-season? The answer to this will vary across runners, but most runners will find an off-season to be at least a month, and can last as long as 3-4 months. This will again be highly individualized based on racing/training schedules, past training cycles, and what life is like for each runner. The great thing about these timelines is that they are all long enough to build off-season habits that we can carry into our next training cycle. When we make changes to our schedules and training patterns, we will undoubtedly see the benefits in our running, as well as other parts of our life (better sleep, changes in body composition, etc.) and we will likely want to maintain those as we begin another training cycle. By following the off-season adjustments for at least a month, we will build habits that won't easily be broken as we begin to build the milage.
Running is one of the best gifts we have as humans, and we want to be able to enjoy it for years to come! Don't be afraid of an off-season. We shouldn't be jumping from training cycle to training cycle - we want to embrace the chance to run less and add other training aspects to our days. Anything you love about an off-season? Let me know in the comments! Happy running!