As tempting as it may be, we competitive runners know we can’t train hard year-round. Taking it easy for awhile after a big race is both physically and mentally healthy. And depending upon where you live- or your preferences- there may be certain times of the year when you don’t race at all.
Staying fit in the off season is a delicate balance, though. You’ll need enough rest so your body can recover from months of intense training sessions. But you’ll also want to keep up some level of fitness so you don’t lose the valuable gains you worked so hard for.
Each person’s off season training needs are different. What you will do depends on how many weeks you have until your next round of training starts, if you have any injuries, and your future race goals.
Your off season training plan should consist of these components:
- Rest. First, you need to give your body enough time to completely recover from the demands of training and racing. Take several days completely off from exercise. For the next few weeks, if you feel like you need to work out, do some light cross-training. Try yoga, biking, or swimming. Then gradually add in short, easy runs. Cross-training and easing back into running will keep you fit and help you steer clear of injuries in the future. If you’re coming back from an injury, take even more time off.
- Reflection. Think about your last training cycle and race. Did you meet your goals? Did you like the training plan you used? Most importantly, did you have fun during the actual race? Take some time to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, what went right and what went wrong, and what you enjoyed and what you didn’t to help you determine how to train and what distance to train for next time around.
- Long workouts. No, this does not mean you need to run 20-milers during the off season. But you’ll still want to do a longer run or cross-training workout every week or two to maintain some level of endurance.
- Speed work. Likewise, off season speed work doesn’t mean running mile repeats at 5k pace. Doing regular, short sprint or interval runs will help keep up your speed.
- Strength training. Many runners spend the off season lifting weights. And for a good reason. Taking the time to build stronger muscles now may lead to faster race times in a few months.