by Jenn Faraone
I love the “off season” – the break that comes following months of regimented training and racing, and before initiating another round of structured workouts. But not everyone shares this excitement; for some, taking time off can be challenging.
- Fear starts to creep in. I don’t want to lose all the fitness I worked so hard on, so I’d better keep going.
- Boredom may settle in. I don’t know what to do with this extra time on my hands.
- The high and excitement from last race is still high. I finished my season on such a strong note; I just want to keep going.
I get that; I’ve been there. But take note: I’m not saying that you should cease working out altogether. Quite the opposite! Instead, I’m suggesting you adjust your mindset for a few weeks, and give both your body and mind a bit of a vacation. Here’s a few suggestions:
Working out should be a sense of “I want” and not “I need” or “I ought to”. Any exercise at this point should be about having fun and being carefree. It should not be done because of a sense of obligation. Do what you crave.
Explore new types of activities. Always wanted to try indoor rock climbing? Belly dancing? Hockey? Now is the time to do it. Don’t worry about losing fitness. As long as you are doing something active, and no morphing into a couch potato, your body will maintain enough fitness to carry you thru until next season.
Break away from the gadgets. Challenge yourself and leave your watch, your Garmin, your heart rate etc. at home. Just go out and run, bike, swim etc. and simply tune in to what you are experiencing. It’s so easy to be consumed by our gadgets that we forget what exercising should feel like and we lose our ability to self-monitor.
Reconnect with family and friends. Your less-athletic friends and family may have forgotten what you look like. Take advantage of the extra time you have right now, and re-connect with them, share some laughs, and catch up on their lives. Make them the priority.
Give your body some extra TLC. It’s not uncommon for you to experience some form of injury right now, despite your lighter training mode. Think of it this way: our body was in “combat mode” during the high season, but now that you’re done, your body has let down its guard and defenses. Your body is saying “ok, I got you thru to the end of the season, and now I’m giving in. Time to take care of me”. Even if you are not experiencing some form of nagging injury, be proactive and treat yourself to a massage, spend some extra time stretching those tight muscles and catch up on some sleep. Your body will thank you for it.
Avoid the snap. Think of your body like an elastic band. If you are constantly training, the band is constantly stretched and loses its elasticity. Over time, the band gets stretched to the point where it snaps. Prevent this snapping by relieving the tension from time to time.
Conserve your energy. If you’re super motivated to get started again, bottle it up and save it for a few weeks. Avoid the tendency of wanting to jump back into things right away. Although you may think that you are ready, the risk of burnout either mentally or physically is still there. Plus, it’s easy for there to be a disconnect between your body and mind – for instance, your high level of motivation can easily mask any lingering fatigue from last season. Instead, direct this energy to somewhere else. Trust that saving this motivation for the upcoming winter months – especially when it’s cold and dark outside – will come in handy!
And let’s face it, who doesn’t love a vacation from time to time?
Each person is a bit different in terms of what their off-season looks like. In general, here’s what it might look like:
- Following your end-of-season race, I strongly suggest taking some time off running completely. This might be a few days to a week (or maybe even bit longer for some)
- Once you feel ready (physically and mentally) to run again, focus on simply short/easy runs for a bit. Just run just for pure pleasure and not as much from a training perspective. Even get rid of your gadget (shocking, I know!) and just run with no pre-occupations…see how liberating this can be! This is also good time to focus on something other than running—what type of cross training excites you?
- Also take this time to do some reflection (see below)—after all, training is not just about the act of running…so many more layers to it! Our next season improves that much more when we bring forward our teachings from the past!
Each Season Has Its Own Learnings
What did you learn from this past season? I believe that our training experience holds a tremendous amount of wisdom. We just need to create the opportunities for such learnings to unfold!
Now that it is the end of the season, I encourage you to take some time and reflect on what your past training season has taught you. Sometime the answers are pretty obvious and straightforward. For example, drinking 2 cups of coffee immediately before your long run may lead to numerous interruptions and nature calls (guilty!). Not giving yourself enough time for a small warm up before your race could make the suffering that much worse (guilty again).
Others lessons are not as evident and require more reflection. Whereas the more obvious ones tend to be more focused on the “what not to do”, sometimes the greatest learnings come from focusing on what you did do well, or what works in your favor. For instance, I learned the HUGE payoffs by running the easy runs even easier! I also realized that for me, tuning into how my body is feeling on any given day is the most important factor and I’ve learned to adjust accordingly, without any guilt attached!