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Who should take an off-season?

Simple answer: Everyone!

Every runner can benefit from an off-season. In fact, an off-season is part of a training cycle. An off-season does not mean you stop running. It means you stop racing or doing race specific workouts. This shift in training will allow your body and mind time to rest and recover. Let's discuss what exactly is meant by 'off-season' and why you will benefit from taking one.

What is an off-season?

It is arguably one of the most important phases in your training. This time period is important to recover and prepare for your next training cycle. This is a time period where you are taking a break from racing. The typical off-season will range anywhere from 4-8 weeks but 12 weeks is not unusual as well. This is a period of time where your running is unstructured. You are running just to run and not doing any race specific training workouts. The off-season is a great time to just enjoy easy running and reflect on your past training cycle so you can set your sights on new goals for the next training cycle.

Are off-seasons necessary?

If you want to see improvements in your running then absolutely! If you are constantly training and racing with no off-season you will eventually burn out or get injured. It may not happen right away but doing this year after year will catch up with you eventually. We need time after a training cycle to recover and reflect.

The off-season is a time to allow the body to heal from your hard efforts. We can't expect our bodies to perform at a high level all the time. We need periods of recovery within a cycle and between cycles. This is a crucial time period to allow your body to recover from stress. If a runner does not take an off-season they will likely be plagued with overuse injuries. Giving your body a break will lay the foundation for a stronger training cycle in the future.

The off-season is also a time to allow your mind to heal. Time off from racing will help prevent burn out. When we are constantly in a training cycle we often can become mentally fatigued from the energy we dedicate to the training. It is exhausting to train for a race both physically and mentally. The off-season is a great reset period for the mind. It takes you out of that racing mode where maybe you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to a mode that is more reflective. What went right in the training cycle? What are your future goals? What is it like to be in this moment and just run for enjoyment? Sometimes a hard training cycle can take the joy out of running for some athletes, the off-season is a great way to recalibrate the mind and body.

What does an off-season look like?

First of all, before going into your off-season you need to prioritize recovery immediately following your last race. If you ran a long distance event like a half marathon or marathon, your body needs time off from running. Many runners do not give their bodies rest immediately following their race and I strongly disagree with this. I agree with the idea that, at the minimum, you should take at least a full day off for every hour you raced. However, I am a bigger fan of giving your body more rest than that. This is of course if you actually raced the race. Running a race at an easy effort is different than full out racing a race. Both are perfectly fine but require different recoveries. The harder the effort the longer the rest.

Your off-season is largely dependent on what your previous training cycle was like. Was it grueling? Strong? Mediocre? If you battled any injuries during your training cycle your off-season may focus more on cross-training and strength training to try and build strength, allow your body to recover and reduce injury. Most of your runs will be easy and shorter in duration (i.e. 20-60 minutes). If you had a stronger training cycle you may start with some short easy runs in the first few weeks and then play with some speed workouts and hills as the weeks progress. Your workouts will be less structured and more playful during the off-season in comparison to your training cycle.

Factors to consider during the off-season

Last time we discussed stress and it's affect on the body. Let's consider that again. You are finished with your training cycle so physical stress has decreased but life stress may be at an all time high. We need to take that into consideration and honor that. If stress in other areas of your life is high then this is a good time to downshift your training. Focus more on cross-training and maybe more restorative activities such as yoga, walking and meditation.

Also, consider factors like sleep and nutrition. If either of these areas are lacking, that is extremely taxing on your body. If you were battling poor sleep or nutrition during your training cycle then give your body the rest it needs. Try to prioritize sleep and nutrition over running during your off-season. During a training cycle we often sacrifice sleep to get in those early morning training sessions or longer runs. However, during the off-season if you have the option to sleep a little longer, take it! Give your body that rest and recovery it needs so you can set yourself up for a stronger training cycle in the near future.

Final thoughts

I know to many runners an off-season feels scary. I understand, I often feel that way as well. Remember an off-season does not mean you can't run. It is simply a reduction in your training load and/or intensity. It is just a break from racing. A time where you can just enjoy your running and not be running to achieve a racing goal. This time of recovery will allow your body and mind to recuperate from your last training cycle and prepare and comeback stronger for your next training cycle.

I will never tell you not to move. I believe this is the best antidote we have for all ailments, diseases, aging, etc. However, I do believe that in order to take care of your body you not only need to move it but you need to rest it. Runners are very prone to overuse injuries and mental burn out from all the hard training we do. Give back to your body and allow it the proper recovery it needs. This will not only improve your running but also increase your longevity in this sport.

An off-season is a great time for base building. Reach out to Hit Your Pace for more information on 1:1 coaching or training plans that can help you during your base building phase! Follow on Facebook and Instagram for more running tips and motivation or leave a comment below to connect!

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