Many athletes struggle with the off-season. Getting the balance right between recovery and keeping some level of fitness and conditioning is tough for anyone. The reality is that, like all things in coaching, there is no one size fits all approach. Every individual is different and depending on the type of running you are partaking in (under marathon distance, marathon distance or ultras), will determine the type of off-season that is likely to best suit you. The weather in the country that you reside in will also play a role, for example are you able to ski during your off-season enabling you to keep some form of aerobic conditioning without the commensurate pounding that you get from running.
For some athletes a complete break from running is needed, not only for their bodies but also for their minds. The ‘energy well’ only runs so deep and if you have had a long season or particularly hard races this ‘well’ of energy can take time to refill. Ultra running athletes are particularly at risk of this because the mental energy of completing such events is incredibly taxing on your mind.
For others a complete break from running may actually expose the athlete to the risk of injury as one’s body gets deconditioned from running during a period of complete rest. Athletes competing in marathon distance and under may find it better to take a week of complete rest before resuming a less structured approach of a short run (30-45 minutes) every second or third day to maintain some level of conditioning while also allowing the body to heal.
The off-season is also a great time to spend working on your general athleticism. Typically the closer you get to your goal races, the more specific your training becomes. While this specialisation is important in getting you race ready it does also make you less robust as an overall athlete. As an example you wouldn’t ask an elite ultra-marathon runner to go play a game of touch rugby in the final months leading up to their goal race. Improving your general movement quality, strength and co-ordination are therefore worthwhile objectives during the off-season as a way to become more robust and less fragile ahead of the next season.
The key point is that an intelligently managed off-season can provide the framework for a successful year of training and racing. Having a coach during this period is therefore a great way for the athlete to unwind without the mental anguish of trying to balance rest and recovery with the following seasons’ running goals. A good coach should know how much down time is needed and be able to balance this with a strategy to build the body back up to a position where the foundations are laid for the following season. When thinking about your off-season, try keep in mind the objectives are to come out feeling rested in both body and mind, more rounded as an athlete and at peace with where you are in this wonderful journey of life and running.