If you were playing a team sport such as football or Rugby, there’s usually a season in which you have all your games, followed by a prolonged period where you would either rest or partake in another pursuit. However for runners in Australia and many places where the climate is temperate or the weather means there’s never really a forced break from training, many of us will keep pursuing our passion year round. There’s nothing overly wrong with this, as long as it’s managed. The problem is, such is our drive for results or so strong is our obsession with running that we keep pounding the pavements for weeks on end until an injury makes us stop.
Those in northern Europe/America or cooler alpine areas where there’s heavy snowfall, will often have an extended downtime where skiing, indoor cycling or less impactful activities take the place of lacing up the kicks and hitting the trails. You may also be shocked to hear that many an elite marathon runner will also have an ‘Off season’ as such, where they put a little weight on and train infrequently – if at all – for several weeks. The benefits of such extended breaks are significant, particularly for those with long-term goals. The first gain is what I call ‘True recovery’. I know it sounds obvious that having a rest will mean you recuperate, but there’s a big difference between taking a few days off and a month of no running. A lengthy block of time free from your normal routine, where you still maintain a bit of physical activity, will allow for deep fatigue and inflammation to subside. You’ll replenish your energy stocks, give your endocrine system a chance to restore a balance and be in a better position to tackle the next build phase in training.
A second reason for a long break is to refresh your mind. Weeks on end of constant training will take their toll on even the most motivated among us. Building for a race, tapering, racing, having a short recovery, then repeating the cycle half a dozen times a year is a challenging task to adhere to. By giving yourself a mental rest and trying new sports or doing the things you don’t get time for when you’re training hard, when it comes to getting back into the running your mind will feel fresh and you’ll be motivated to give your training more. A third benefit is that an off-season is a good period of time to address weaknesses or muscular imbalances and to get good and things you struggle with. While you should be avoiding running, there’s no reason why you can’t learn some proper technique in the gym and do some prehab work to correct postural or biomechanical issues. Why not also do a bit of stretching and in place of going for a run, join a pilates class or another group fitness session for a bit of fun.
As strange as it might sound, taking away the activity you love so much will likely reinforce how important it is to you. So when you’re planning your 2018 calendar, schedule in some serious downtime. In the long term you’ll reap the rewards!