Coach Jenny, I have been running for 20 years and participating in a number of runs annually for the last 10 years or so. I will be running my second half-marathon in May and will start training for that in February. But I am not sure what my training should consist of in the off season. I have been running, but haven’t been doing any tempo runs, intervals or much speed work. What would an off season training schedule consist of?
Hi Linda- Congratulations on your long-standing running career. Good for you! It sounds as if your training and race schedule has worked out well for you.
I’m glad to hear you are taking off time from your structured training regimen. I truly believe a few weeks (2-6) off running revives the body and mind and allows you to gear down from the demands of your normal training regimen. The “off-season” is just like taking a vacation from work!
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The off-season can be a variety of things depending on the runner. There is no one -size-fits-all for off-season training. Some runners take up to two months off and cross-train with skiing, cycling and swimming. This is especially useful if you’re hurt or struggling with nagging aches and pains. Others simply cut back the mileage and run easy for a few weeks. This works well for those that have a lot of race goals and are running strong without injury or burnout issues.
I had the chance to chat with marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe last year while in NYC for the launch of the Nike+ system and I asked what her post marathon regimen was. She told me she takes one month completely off running (after the ice bath of course) and includes easy cross-training most days to allow her body to fully recover from the demands of her marathon training regimen. It must work for her as she won the New York City Marathon in an amazing 2:23:09 last fall only nine months after delivering her first child, Isla.
Since February is right around the corner, take the next two weeks and run easy. The ideal foundation for your off-season should include several easy run days (2-4) plus a longer conversational run once per week. For example, if you normally run 5-6 days during your “in-season” cut back to 4-5 days of running and go with time based runs of 40-60 minutes most days and one run of 50-75 minutes. If you run 3-5 days a week during your “in-season” cut back to 3-4 days for 40-50 minutes most days and one longer run of 45-70 minutes. Keep in mind that the off-season will look different for every runner and the key is to cut back on intensity and mileage to allow your body and mind a little “Spa-break.” Now is not the time to run hard. Run easy. The hard stuff is coming soon.
If you are into cross-training, now is the time to enjoy those activities and utilize other muscle groups in a variety of movements. I’ve found focusing on strength and flexibility to be especially effective in off-season training. It is a great way to build up a strong foundation that will help you endure the demands of your next training season. Once your season begins you can switch gears and include cross-training as a secondary or supplemental activity.
I’ve also found that leaving my watch (and GPS and Heart Rate Monitor and iPod) at home for a few runs each week a great way to let go and enjoy an easy-paced run. This goes for all those Type A’s that are out there reading this blog (yours truly included:).