Running coach’s tips for building your off-season training program – how to enjoy your off-season and also get in shape for when your training starts.
Are you taking some time away from running? If you are, you’re doing things the right way. Time away from running is important. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder – that’s totally true with running as well. Time spent doing things other than running is really beneficial for your running. Even if you aren’t doing anything, the time away is good for you.
When is a Break Necessary?
I know when I need a break – it’s when I start dreading getting up for my morning run. It’s when allergy season hits. And it’s when I’ve overloaded myself with obligations that extend multiple weeks (coaching responsibilities + Healthy Kids Running + teaching). It’s at this point that I know I need a break, even if I’m not at my peak race.
Sure, I can extend my running by a few days or a few weeks even, but there comes a point when it doesn’t become worth it anymore. The energy is gone and the desire to work hard dwindles. That is precisely the time that a break is warranted.
Why an Off-Season?
You can’t do it all, all the time. You need to rest, recharge, and refocus every once in a while. For me, the best time for a break is after your peak race. It’s a time when you’ve been tapering and focusing all your energy on one specific race. After that, it’s great to rest up.
What Do I Do During a Break?
What you do during your break is up to you. I know a lot of runners who are afraid of taking a break because they feel they will lose fitness. Yes, you will lose some fitness, but you won’t be starting at square 1. That fitness doesn’t go far in a week and when you do come back, you’ll come back stronger and fitter than when you took your last break. What that boils down to is that they are afraid of taking any time off, when in reality, time off is good.
Some people will find, like me, that doing absolutely nothing related to working out is what’s best for them. I get as far away from running as possible so that when I come back I can fully commit. For others, it might be taking two weeks away from running but running every other day for 25 minutes. There is no right way to take a break from running.
How Long is my Break?
I like to think that a break from running is part of training. I take a day or two off from running weekly and I consider that part of my training – it gives me the rest I need to hit the workouts and runs I want to hit.
The same goes for my end-of-season break. I take anywhere from 5 days completely off up to 14 days depending on how I felt before my break and how I’m feeling during my break. In my most recent break (May of 2022), I took 8 days off with zero exercising (no running, no lifting, no cross training).
Off-Season Training Programs
What you do in your off-season really depends on what you like doing and what your long-term goals are. One thing for sure needs to happen: you need to take a break from running. At least 2 times a year, you should be taking at least 1-3 weeks completely off from running. For some people, that might be literally doing nothing for those days away from running. Others, it might be time best spent playing another sport.
What can you do in your off-season? Anything, really! Some runners have secondary sports that they like to play and some of us have complementary activities that support our running. I have always believed in cross-training (biking, swimming, elliptical, lifting weights) to support my non-running activities, but I also think that being an athlete – playing a sport that has nothing to do with running – can also be very beneficial to how our bodies move and react while we’re running. This might be soccer, badminton, basketball, rowing; it doesn’t matter. The idea is that when you move in ways other than the repetitive running motion you are building muscle patterns that will help you when you do get back to running.
Getting In Shape
As mentioned earlier, the off-season needs to be dedicated to non-running activities. Some of us are beat up after a season and all we want is time off. You deserve it, you get it. Remember though, the time you take away from running should not be spent running! You can certainly do nothing, as that’s totally respectable and I fully acknowledge and support time completely off from all activity. But, if you’re itching to do something, then by all means, get out and do something.
As a coach, my philosophy is simple: you are only productive as a runner if you are healthy. So as long as my runners aren’t getting injured from their running or non-running sport, I am fully supportive of them participating in and competing in non-running sports.
What you do to get in shape should really depend on what your interests are outside of running. I know that my time away from serious training is best spent playing tag with my kids, soccer at the park, or shooting hoops. I feel like a kid when I’m bopping around and using muscles that my years and years of running have neglected. This makes me a better runner! So it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing as long as you’re doing it and you’re having fun.
Not sure what to do? Here’s a list of non-running activities that’ll help you get in shape:
- Cross country skiing
- Ball sports (soccer, football, baseball, basketball)
- Weight lifting
At the end of the day, your non-running activities are there to help you get away from running, allow you to mix up your training, and help bridge the gap from your last season to your current one.
Dabble Across Disciplines
If you aren’t the type that’s going to go out and try pickup basketball, I hear you loud and clear. You should find what makes you happy so that you’re willing to do it even when you maybe don’t want to. You’re looking for something to mix up your running with. Find an activity that gets your juices flowing and makes you excited about sweating.
You might need to try a few things before you land on what works for you. Don’t settle for something that is just ‘eh’ because you’ll want to have this in your back pocket for when you need a break from running.
Raise Your Expectations
While you’re in your break from running and setting up a non-running program, keep in mind that it’s not a time to slack off and get out of routines. You’ll want to set goals – long and short term – to keep you motivated and on point while you’re away from running. Accept that taking some risks will prove beneficial if they are calculated and make sense.
For me, the end of the break signals a chance to do things the right way more often:
- Doing drills before I run.
- Stretching after my run.
- Weekly strength training.
- Flexibility and mobility work (keeping my athleticism up).
- Mixing in cross training.
- Picking goal and intermediate races to focus on and train for.
When setting goals, I’m able to focus my attention on what matters and direct my training in a specific way that helps me achieve short and long-term goals.
The time away from running can be spent doing great things – getting out of shape is part of training and can help you reach loftier goals. Taking the time away to recharge is a fundamental part of training for and peaking for a goal race. What you do during the break from running is up to you, as is how long you take.
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