For many runners,”off-season” seems like a swear word … or a punishment. Look, I get it. You want to run all the races. Racing is super fun and it’s really hard to keep your fingers from clicking that “sign up now” button.
On one hand, I love that people are challenging themselves, signing up for races to stay motivatedand making running a part of their lives. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that runners have a reputation for being chronically injured and/or suffering from burnout.
To be clear, taking an off-season doesn’t necessarily mean no running. By “off-season” I mean no specific training or racing for a period of a few weeks to a couple of months.
I love running as much as the next FBG (why else would I run 30+ miles races?) but even I need some time away from it for a few weeks a couple times a year — or at least away from the training aspect anyway. I mean, if the pros have an off-season, why shouldn’t you? It’s a much-needed time for your mind and body to reset. Without it, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Essentially, it all boils down to the Law of Diminishing Returns — the harder and longer you work, the more the benefits decrease and the risk of setback grows. Trust me, it’s a real thing.
Here are a few ways that you can spend your off-season so that you can start next season with fully-charged batteries.
1. Revel in your accomplishments. If your season ended on a high note, it can be really tempting to just keep it rolling. Your body rose to the challenge, acknowledge that, be proud and reward it with rest. Otherwise, when does it end … with you broken? No thanks. Conversely, if the season didn’t end so well, you might feel compelled to get back in there and start grinding away again. Also … don’t. Your body would benefit and respond better to training next season if you let it rest a little. Give yourself a solid chunk of time to step back and evaluate what went wrong and how you can position yourself better next season to do better. Bottom line: no matter how your season ended, pat yourself on the back for your efforts.
2. Reconnect to your reasons for running. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing this when every day becomes a training grind. Enjoy this time of the year when it’s not all business. When a season ends, I like to take two weeks of no running — basically this gives me enough time to miss running and start itching to get back. Suddenly, I remember why I love to run. Then I spend the rest of my off-season running because I want to and only going as far as I feel like for that day — unstructured, unplanned and just for the fun of it. It’s also a fabulous time to try some new routes or take it to the trails. Let it be about joy, not the numbers.
3. Focus on other things. The off-season is when I remember that I’m more than just a runner. I rekindle my love affair with powerlifting, hit up the CrossFit box, take crazy advanced yoga classes — you know, all the stuff I don’t do while training heavily and focusing my energy on running. You can also use the time to revisit the basics by fine-tuning your nutrition, implementing new injury-prevention strategies and improving your mobility. Invest in yourself by hiring a trainer to evaluate you to see where you may be fighting muscular imbalances or hire a running coach to help you work on your form. This is the kind of stuff that will benefit your running and race performance more than training and racing year round ever could.
4. Set new goals. It’s a great time to reevaluate the goals you’ve set for yourself to see if they’re still important for you. When the determination to reach a goal really sets in, we tend to develop some serious tunnel-vision. But, if you were to step back, you might find that what was once important to you no longer is — priorities change. Take the time to reevaluate, check in with what’s shifted in your life and maybe set some new goals that are more in alignment with where you are now.
If you want to be running well (and still enjoying it) for many years to come, it’s good and healthy to take time away from it on a regular basis.