I’m in “off-season.” For someone who has big goals, it can be difficult to sit back and not train hard. I worry that I’m losing fitness and that as a result I won’t achieve the lofty goals I’ve set for myself for next year (qualify for Boston). I worry that all the training I put in before my last BQ attempt will be erased by this down time. However, I also know that this down time is good for me, mentally and physically.
While training for Ironman I read a large portion of the books The Triathete’s Training Bible and Going Long. Both of these books spoke of a concept called periodization in endurance sports which is the principle that training should flow through various phases in order to achieve peak physical shape of the athlete just in time for the race. There are periods within a training cycle but there are also periods within years of training. One of these important periods is a time of mental and physical rest.
According to EnduranceCorner.com,
Simply, the purpose of the off-season is to shed ALL of the fatigue accumulated in the preceding season so that the athlete is starting from a blank slate at the start of the next preparation period. If you hold onto just 20% of your fatigue from the previous season, the cumulative effect means that after 5 years you’ll be starting the next season as fatigued as you were at your peak training volume 5 years ago. This is going to significantly compromise your ability to tolerate the extra training load that you want to do that season and ultimately lead to a plateau in your long term performance.
Obviously, fitness levels will decline in the off season, however the fatigue actually declines faster than performance. If you time it correctly, you can give yourself some much needed time off without completely sacrificing fitness. “For an average athlete, at ~60 days post race they will have less than 1% of fatigue remaining from the season. Yet, they will still be retaining 17% of their fitness from the preceding season” (source). Unfortunately, add another month to this equation and now fitness is at 7% of peak. You can have too much time off.
What to Focus on in the Off Season
While some complete rest is recommended following a particularly grueling effort or season, after a short period of inactivity, it is definitely wise to resume some sort of activity. The off season is a great time to focus on flexibility by taking yoga classes and/or strength by incorporating more weight training into your routine than you can usually fit into a packed training schedule.”Strength training is one of the most important forms of cross-training that should take place during off-season. Strength training significantly improves endurance cycling and running performance by enhancing endurance capacity, lowering lactate threshold, and by allowing for more efficient recruitment of muscles (which may decrease oxygen cost at each running/cycling intensity) (source).” Other forms of cardiovascular activity can also help maintain running fitness but won’t be a perfect substitute.
My Off Season
Clearly, I’m not a pro-athlete. If I were, my “off-season” would be a lot more structured than it has and definitely shorter (3.5 months now…). However, for me, it has been exactly what I needed. After the marathon I did have some high hopes for myself this summer in terms of maintaining and possibly even increasing my running speed for the AFC half this Sunday, but the goal of PRing at this race quickly got replaced by giving myself a mental break from a structured running plan.
Although I am racing the half marathon on Sunday, I have not followed much of a training plan outside of arranging to meet Asia at Torrey Pines for a few laps up and down it. I’ve done one speed workout since the marathon but other than that, possibly a few miles at the 4th of July 15K (no watch to tell me this thought) and the run portion of the triathlon, I haven’t run faster than an 8 minute mile. I’ve been running on average 3-4 times a week with no real goal other than to get out on the road and log some miles. I have been able to get in two 10 mile runs and one 11 mile run which at least gives me confidence that I can cover the distance, no matter how slowly. My paces are slow but not slow enough for me to care (yet).
Instead of focusing on tempo, speed and hill repeats, I’ve been focusing on strengthening my muscles and core with classes at Club Pilates. I’ve been able to get to class at least three times a week (last week 4) for a solid 2 months now and I can definitely see great progress in that (hello abs!) I think that having this great foundation of strength built up will help me prevent injury and stay strong during marathon training next year.
The most important part of this off season for me is that it’s giving me a mental break. I’m not stressing over my Garmin and I stopped logging in Daily Mile. As of the last week or two, if I’m honest, running has been more of a chore and less joyful than it should be. I’m taking that as a sign that I need to take some time away from running after the half marathon this Sunday, even if it’s just for a week. I have really big running goals for myself next year and I want to achieve them. Although I know taking some downtime from running will set me back a bit physically, the mental break it provides is going to pay dividends when I start back up and am excited to tackle each workout with all I’ve got.
Do you schedule an off season each year? Do you have any good examples of times you took an off season and it later benefited your training?
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