13 November 2014

why you (and i) need a real off-season

this has been a banner running year in so many ways.


first ultramarathon (56k).

first trail race.

first time guide-running.

first official pacing duties.

first adventure race.

most distance logged in a calendar year (4385km YTD).

and now, it's time for a rest.

if you're at all the kind of runner that i am, then you know how much easier-said-than-done this is.  one of the strengths of my training cycle has been just how disciplined i've become at getting out the door six days a week.  rain or shine, wind or hail, polar vortex or humidex alert.  it has been as natural for me to complete a daily (or two-a-day) run as it has been to eat dinner.  if anything i've only taken a pass twice all year long on my scheduled runs - both of them occurring within the past five weeks on account of knee pain (and quite possibly an indicator of overtraining).

and yet for having achieved this series of accomplishments for 2014, you'd think i'd be more than ready for a break.  you'd be wrong.

however, knowing that even the very best, most dedicated athletes in the world take a block of time away from their sport as an important component to their training was incentive enough for me to at least consider it.

as best as i understand it, the following are the benefits to a true multi-week break/off-season from running:
  1. physical rest - this sounds blatantly redundant, but the fact is that a year's worth of running and racing takes a cumulative toll on the body in the same way that that cumulative miles actually develop your running form and lead to physiological adaptations.
  2. mental rest - my friend jim has repeatedly said that running is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head.  if that is the case, then your brain needs as much of a respite as any other part of your body.  all of that focus, that rugged determination, that visualization needs to take a pause and recharge so that when you need it it's still there, not worn out and fuzzy.
  3. treat yourself - maybe this is the time to sneak in a few of those delectable goodies that you diligently said 'no' to during your training cycle or perhaps to the occasional less-than-ideal runner's meal.  although we make sacrifices to train that doesn't mean that the remainder of your life has to become this relentless penalty box session.  you might also take the time to sleep in some more and find out what it's like to not constantly feel fatigued.
  4. take inventory and set new goals - this is a great time to step back and look at all that you've accomplished, regardless of whether or not you hit the mark on each and every race target.  and given that absence makes the heart grow fonder, each and every day of non-running will bring you closer to that place where you are absolutely itching to hit the road or trails again.
  5. re-tool - if you're a triathlete, adventure racer or obstacle race competitor then you probably already spend time cross-training.  for running-specific people like me this is a time to check out other exercise disciplines, or hone in on some strength-building work.  if you're a reader, you can use this time to educate yourself on some of the technique and finesse points of becoming a more finely tuned machine - i recommend steve magness' the science of running and pete magill's (with thomas schwartz and melissa breyer) build your running body.

convinced?  i admit that this is just as much of a chore and a discipline to stay out of my running shoes as it is to lace them up on bone-chilling blustery pre-dawn winter mornings ... but i believe that this is also the smartest move and well worth the investment of two or three weeks for my upcoming race year.

what's your take on an 'off-season'?  how do you rejuvenate your running?  i'd love to learn from your insights and experiences ... please leave a comment and tell your story!


  1. Great post and very true! Enjoy some well earned rest.

    1. thanks for reading robin! and as strange as it might sound, i'm trying hard to 'enjoy' the 'rest'!

  2. It's a great idea Patrick. I have to say I have never planned to have a few weeks off from running, and I regret that.

    Well, I don't run as much as you do, and I have to say what you have achieved this year is great. The only times that I was forced not to run were the times when I was injured. And unfortunately that happens a couple of times a year. I read a lot about the importance of rest both in your training season and also off-season. And I have to consider that seriously.

    After this coming marathon, I plan to have a rest for a few days. I don't have any races lined up until spring and I'll spend these three months improving my fitness level and losing some weight. I will keep running but it would be different from my usual training.

    I understand the difficulty of not running. I hope you enjoy your weeks off. Just take it easy.

    Thanks a lot for reading my blog and for your comments

    1. hey mamad - and thank you for doing the same!

      i'm been very blessed not to have bumped up against any significant injuries during my time running, and hope that doing some strength and stability work during my off-season/base-training time will help keep it that way.

      looking forward to your report from istanbul!

  3. Great post Patrick. As you know I am currently taking a forced break from running but I am starting to think it might actually be a good thing for me.

    1. thanks for the comment patrick! i'm pretty confident that you're doing the right thing, and will reap the appropriate benefits from it ... apart from the whole non-running thing driving you crazy!

  4. True story here Patrick...but to repeat what you said at the start of your post, "easier said than done"!
    It is mentally difficult to pry yourself away from running...you worry about losing fitness, falling out of your routine, maybe gaining a few extra pounds (that's the fun part though!)...rest is such a necessity though, and so often neglected. I'm pretty guilty of it, that's for sure.

    1. don't you know it mike ...!

      i'm also guilty of running too hard on workouts that should be more controlled (e.g. tempo runs) and working my anaerobic system instead of my aerobic system. i'm planning to be much more deliberate about heart rate monitoring so that i can maximally (and properly) benefit from each type of workout.