October 2018 - RUNNING
In- and Off-Season Training
By Shelly Binsfeld
Fall is refreshing and rewarding, winter is gorgeous and repairing, spring is welcoming and new, and summer is amusing and eventful. Each of these seasons have a purpose and facilitate balance and growth. Just as nature has a yearly rhythmic cycle so should runner’s training.
Most runners split their training into two categories, in-season and off-season. In-season training includes specific quality workouts geared toward accomplishing certain goals or race performances. During this training many runners are focused on their objectives which often contain racing. Another category of training is labeled off-season training. Off-season training usually consists of regularly running and cross training, but the season objective does not include racing. Each of these seasons are vital and balance each other, providing support for upward growth.
Identify the last and most often important race of the year, marking it as the end of your in-season training. After crossing your last finish line of the year, take two weeks off from running, and exchange it with cross training activities in order to foster muscle recovery and overall body regeneration. Next comes the off-season phase of approximately two months where the focus is on activities to support the next in-season. Consider being a part-time runner during the off-season, allowing development as a whole athlete by participating part-time in another sport. With this type of scheduling, less overuse injuries, and more enjoyment will occur.
Upon the conclusion of the in-season, take a moment and delight in the accomplishments. Declare the words, “I did it.” A tremendous amount of hard work and devotion to training and racing occurred, therefore give due credit. For those runners who surprised themselves with a personal record or finished an especially long race, soak it in. These moments come only a few times in life. If a race performance was not as envisioned, don’t deny this moment of acknowledgement. The motivation to take on the training challenge and hard work performed is just as honorable. Value the hard work whether the performance goals were met or not. Don’t deny the deserved praise of a season’s positives, causing less desire to strive forward in the future, and weakening confidence.
Take a moment and evaluate previous in-season training. As a runner and racer, be honest about strengths and weaknesses. What worked well for you? What do you want to improve upon? What resources are available to you? What are appropriate goals or expectations for your next racing season?
Ask training partners for advice on improvements. Outline the needed changes and tease out steps to take during the off-season to help turn weaknesses into strengths. Seek out guidance to create a more efficient, faster or injury-free body.
Experience a new sport or return to a past love. During the off-season find another sport to learn or cultivate. This offers numerous opportunities for growth and development as an athlete, including reducing the potential for overuse injuries by cross training.
Last winter I slid into the sport of Nordic skiing, specifically the skate style. Boy, was I a beginner and a mess. It was fearsome because I had to learn a whole new set of skills on slippery snow. However, since I didn’t have performance expectations, it was refreshing and amusing. Any improvement was a win! Exploring the snow covered trails exposed stunning white forest views. I met new people and learned the language of skiers.
By the end of the winter season I had found my groove and could clearly see my growth as a skier. Skiing taught my body balance, improved my leg strength and grew my mental toughness, all of which will be used during my in-season training.
Three years ago I swam with other master swimmers at the Southern Saratoga YMCA and gained stronger mental toughness from the repeated intervals in the pool. It was helpful to know that there was another sport I could use as a backup, in case I needed to reduce my running volume, but still receive the recovery aid of activity.
The key to adding a second sport is to train part-time in both sports. Keep up with several easy paced run of usual distances each week. This will allow the sustained base fitness needed when returning to the in-season. Use caution when starting or returning to a new sport. Be realistic and start at the body’s current level of sport specific fitness. Skill, knowledge from past seasons is a bonus, but the body needs time to build up strength and endurance. Winter part-time sports for runners could include skiing, snowshoeing, swimming and indoor biking. Summer part-time sports are often outdoor biking, hiking and rowing. During the fall season, look for teams of ultimate frisbee and soccer.
Develop strength and flexibility while practicing discipline and devotion outside of running. Pull out those saved articles on supplementary exercises or attend the class at the local gym that will help improve strength in the legs, core, and upper body posture. It is critical that women actively seek to gain muscle strength to oppose the aging effect on muscle deterioration. “A progressive loss of muscle mass occurs from approximately 40 years of age. This loss has been estimated at about 8% per decade until the age of 70 years, after which the loss increases to 15% per decade” (The Aging Muscle. Clinical Physiology, 1983). Develop a good habit of building muscles and a higher level of muscle mass before the time of loss of muscle mass starts to occur.
Diving into a solid habitual strength and flexibility training during the off-season can help a runner feel confident and comfortable with the routine when moving into the in-season training. Find the joy by becoming stronger in Pilates classes, weight rooms, or on the yoga mat. Put motivation and the extra time into developing a more athletic body and train to be a whole athlete, not just a runner. Off-season training can set a runner up for success during the next in-season. It is critical that runners are actively seeking to gain muscle strength to oppose the aging effect on muscle deterioration.
Refresh relationships and workout schedules by seeking out new running friends and routes. These will help to ease of the mind of past training stress and broaden a runner’s community. By changing up the when and where of the running schedule, a new friend or an adventure may be waiting around the corner. Get out of the ruts and be refreshed by a new experience.
Take the extra time that was used for running and invest it in others. Cheering and serving other runners at training events or races through volunteering can impact others and encourage them during difficult times. In turn, their inspiring actions and stories will refresh a worn-out runner.
In-season training and racing can often lead to serious devotion and little straying from the workout objectives. To balance the scale be playful during the off-season. Snatch a break from easy-paced running by throwing in fartleks or speed play, where the pace alters between landmarks, with no specific pace or distance. A fartlek workout has no right or wrong methods. Just be playful. In addition, plan destination runs where the run ends by meeting family or friends at a favorite restaurant or scenic park for a picnic.
Off-season allows more time to spend with family and friends. Take an interest in your favorite activity and be their biggest fan, cheering them all the way to the finish line.
Shelly Binsfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Elk River, Minn. is a competitive runner, wife and mother of four children. Her running joy is to guide others through their training as a USATF coach and Pilates instructor.