Secrets to an Off-Season
If you are like most athletes who do endurance events in the summer, the next few months will be your off-season. It’s the time when you won’t be doing any serious racing. It’s when all the internal batteries will have a chance to charge back up. The balance is going to be how to rest, not rust!
Active Without Training
This is the first secret. It’s being active without actually training. It’s doing some kind of sport because it’s fun and doesn’t’ take any mental energy to get up for doing it. If you love swimming, cycling and running, keep doing them, but cut the length back from summer levels to an amount that always leaves you feeling fresher at the end of it than when you started.
The same gauge goes for intensity. Keep is low. Keep it at a speed where you can still look around rather than having to dial in your focus to the workout to keep you going at pace. You’ll have plenty of time the other months of the year to go for race pace and beyond. The batteries won’t fill back up if they keep getting tapped into for fast sessions.
Pick Other Sports
Part of getting fresh is having your mind feel alive. Nothing does that like doing something alternative to what you do in your season. Mountain bike rather than hitting the roads. Set up the trainer and be entertained with music, movies or Zwift. Cross country ski or snowshoe rather than doing a run. Surf instead of heading to the pool.
It’s all about active recovery and doing something that feels new rather than routine. That will get your body charged up as well as give your mental batteries a chance to regain some ground.
This is the one sport that is good to keep some regularity of training in. That doesn’t mean you have to run long or fast, just regularly. Even 20-30 minutes every other day will do it.
The reason is that if you take a lot of time away from running, all the adaptations your joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles go through to manage the weight bearing impact of it will shift. Things will get softer and less resilient to impact. When this happens the adaptation period coming back from a break from running is going to be a lot longer than it is for cycling or swimming.
Your cardiovascular engine will get fit quickly when you head back into structured training, but the cellular integrity to handle the impact of running will take longer. With caution it’s not a problem. But if you come back too quickly there is a risk of getting injured in those first weeks back. Running frequency in the off-season is your insurance against that happening.
My time away from racing was exactly as I described. I surfed a lot. I did a small amount of cycling, but switched to a road frame to mix it up. We would always spend some time in the snow, which opened up a lot of other ways to stay active. I ran consistently, usually 4-5 days/week. None of those runs were longer than about 50-minutes and the bulk were closer to about 35-minutes. I never did any at a pace that would be considered fast! It was just the pure enjoyment of running.
On the winter weather days I’d set things up indoors and click on the tunes. We didn’t have much else to keep us entertained when I did those sessions! I’d also use those wintery days to go to the gym and do some strength work. I didn’t do that anywhere as consistently as during the season, but just enough weight and consistency to give my muscles a little strength stimulation without giving them anything really challenging.
I took it all more like play than training. If something was taking me some mental energy to think about doing, I’d skip it or find something else to do for a session that sounded more fun. The times outside were just to breathe the air and feel the freshness of fall and winter. There was never a focus on trying to get fit. I knew that actually my fitness was slipping well below where I ended each season. But I also knew my freshness was growing. And that is the real secret to harnessing the power of a great off-season!