I have been waiting eagerly for it to finally feel and look like fall here in Tennessee. While most of the nation has seen the turning of leaves and a felt a chill in the air, we have only recently seen the colors begin to turn. This is a great time of the year. While it can be busy, it also means time with family and friends, great meals and get-togethers, and small reprieves and joys from the hustle and bustle of it all.
While the running off-season tends to fall in different places for everyone, I find myself thinking about it around this time. When you finish a big marathon, you want nothing more than to have that small reprieve...to take a break and rest. But is that really the best way to use your time?
As an endurance runner, I know that I can’t stop for the holidays any more than I can have a true post-marathon break. But there is a strategy for the off-season. While taking off totally isn’t always the best running strategy, I have a few tips in mind that will keep you in top condition when you’re ready to get back into the swing of things.
4 Ways Endurance Runners Can Utilize the Off-Season
1) Put Your Energy Into Cross-Training
Because, for many, the off-season can fall during the winter months, it’s a great time to head indoors for cross-training. This off-season lasts a few weeks (usually two to six), so it’s a great time to strengthen some of the muscles that impact your running performance but are not directly used or strengthened while running. Start working on strength training and flexibility so that you prevent future injuries and build up your endurance.
For the runner, cross-training is secondary and supplemental—not to be your sole form of exercise, but it is an invaluable part of your training. Now is a great time to incorporate and focus on it.
2) Focus on Your Weak Points
Do you have a specific area that you want to work on? Maybe you struggle with running uphill or want to work on your strides. If you’ve found yourself to be weak in one way or another based on your performance, the off-season is a wonderful opportunity to focus on improving these areas in a targeted way without worrying about building up to your specific race day goals.
In the same way, cross-training or even rehabilitation efforts can help you manage weaknesses in your body rather than weakness in technique—old injuries, strengthening specific muscles like your core and glutes, or improving ankle stability.
3) Refresh Your Mind
The off-season doesn’t have to be all about maintaining your body for the next race. It’s also time to refresh your mind and take care of yourself mentally. While running during the off-season is important (you should continue to run or take up other cardio activities), it’s more important that you find whatever you do enjoyable. Forget about your numbers and tracking your activity and time for a little while. Fall in love with the sport again by running in new terrains and venues. Go for a cross-country run. Go hiking, even.
Work on your mindset while you run, and see what gets you psyched and “in the zone,” so that when it comes the time, you can be at your best. This is time to refresh and recharge.
4) Take Care of Your Body
Lastly, take this time to take care of yourself. While you don’t want to stop running and training, you do need to take some sort of break. Set aside time for a massage, physical therapy, or chiropractic appointments—whatever it is that will help your body recover. Many of these things get pushed to the backburner in the thick of running season, so now is the time to allow yourself to recover and give your body the chance to heal.
Spend time with family. Work on your diet and sleep schedule. The marathon season takes more of a toll than you might realize, and taking the time to rest and optimize these areas of life is more valuable than you may realize. You have dedicated a season to physical performance. Now spend a small season on yourself—healing, resting, and loving what you do, including how you exercise, who you are with, and every moment you are alive.
How do you spend your off-season, running or otherwise? Share your strategy in the comments.