Brandon Laan—Every good off-season training program begins with the question, “Why do I run?” Oftentimes, the answer to this question is not what you think it will be. Moreover, this answer should set you up nicely to embark on a good old-fashioned goal setting session.
A runners’ off-season is not an incredibly long period of time and differs in length depending on your goal event. Nevertheless, there should be a 10-30 day period following a key race where you enjoy the fruits of your labor. The 10 tips you’ll find in the following pages provide a guideline to prepare yourself for success in your next training phase.
A season typically ends in one of three ways: 1) complete and utter burnout 2) a mediocre goal race 3) a huge personal best.
No matter the outcome, it is vital that you provide your body with some active recovery. If your goal race ended in a subpar performance, it can be tempting to put your nose to the grind, when in fact your body may just need some rest. On the contrary, if you had the race of your life, you may be inclined to extend your season to squeeze out another personal best. If you peaked properly, enjoy it! The beauty of active rest is that when it comes time to start your base building phase, you don’t have to start from where you started last season.
In the following pages are 10 tips to ensure a restful, yet productive off-season that will enable you to say that you are fit and ready to go when it’s time to start training again.
1. Answer, “Why Do I Run?”
While answers to this question may range from winning an Olympic medal to getting away from the hustle and bustle of your life, either way it is important to identify why you run.
2. Set Goals
I’m sure you have laid out your running goals in a clear and concise manner. Perhaps you have even hired a coach to put together the ultimate training program. But, have you set lifestyle goals? One of my favorite coaches of all time once said, “Your actions must be in line with your goals.” If the training program requires two hours of your time per day and you only have 90 minutes, it is not the right program for you, no matter how sound the design is. Here are a few subtitles for your goal setting session:
- Beginning of the Season: (ex. Obtain fitness, have an open mind)
- Middle of the Season: (ex. Stay focused, revisit goals)
- End of the Season: (ex. Improve upon last year, personal records)
- Long Term Aspirations: (career, family, personal)
This goal setting session can be a good one to do with your loved ones so they understand your commitment.
3. Clean Up Your Diet
Learning more about the best diet to fuel your training is crucial to performance. Sometimes, losing 20 pounds, eating the right meal post-workout, or learning more about what fuels your body can be the secret.
Create a healthy cookbook by asking your favorite running pals to contribute one healthy recipe.
4. Educate Yourself
Never do a workout if your coach cannot explain the purpose of the workout. The explanation does not have to be complicated. For example, if your coach requires you to do a long run every Sunday and you ask “Why?” His or her response may simply be, “You need a big engine to run a marathon.” Good enough. Read a couple running books so you can participate in the conversation with your coach.
On a similar note, now is the time to learn about hydrating, pacing, cadence, form, and recovery. Do not wait until you are half way through your pre-competitive phase.
5. Get Into A Rehab Routine
As runners, we are quick to buy recovery tools, but the last to use them.
Perhaps it is time to use your foam roller, massage stick, trigger-point products, your inversion table, and stretching rope. Try to make the routine part of your day while you are not running to see if you can make it a habit.
6. Address Imbalances
Visit your local physiotherapist and begin addressing your muscles imbalances. These imbalances often lead to injury and prevent you from having a smooth build up to your goal race. Many runners discover that their quads are overdeveloped compared to their hamstrings, and their hip strength is inadequate for the demands they are placing on their lower body.
7. Get a Blood Test
It is critical to know your deficiencies. You could work out 10 times harder than your training partner, but if your iron is low you will run yourself into the ground. This test takes a few minutes and can save you plenty of time and energy.
Iron is required to produce hemoglobin—the “transport system” in our red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen from our lungs to our muscles. Be sure to have your hemoglobin and ferritin serum levels checked.
8. Create an Injury Protocol
Unfortunately, injuries happen in our sport. Take a few minutes to explain to your family doctor that you are a runner and have big goals for the upcoming year. Moreover, you should have a health care team in place, which could include the following, just to name a few:
- General Practitioner
- Massage Therapist
9. Do Your Strides
Your running diet should always have a bit of speed work in it. One of the easiest ways to ensure that you are getting a dash of speed is to complete your run a mile from your house, then proceed with 20 seconds of hard running, followed by a 40 second walk or slow jog. Repeat until you get home.
10. Get Strong
Before delving into your base phase, implement a strength routine. Adding too many ‘ingredients’ at one time can be overwhelming for your body.
Finally, be sure to get some rest and enjoy your off-season!
About The Author:
Brandon Laan is a runner, coach, and entrepreneur. He is the co-owner of RunnersFeed.com and Race Director for Rock The Road 10K. He is a Level II Certified USATF coach and holds personal bests of 1:06 and 2:21 in the half marathon and marathon, respectively. He also enjoys running to eat, not eating to run…and