For many runners, the end of November marks the end of their racing season. Maybe you yourself finished out the racing year at the Stockade-athon or at one of the area’s many turkey trots. Hopefully, you had some fun this season, set some PRs, conquered a new distance, avoided injury, and made some new friends. As the weather in upstate New York starts to take a turn for the worse, you may wonder what you should do next. We’ve enjoyed surprisingly warm weather this fall, but sooner or later, the snow will fall and sidewalks will ice over, leaving you to ask yourself whether it is really necessary to go outside again until spring. Is it really so bad to give in to the desire to read a book (about running, of course) and take it easy in these dark months of winter?
Rest, it turns out, is good. Ageless middle-distance star Bernard Lagat habitually takes five weeks off at the end of his season in September. He gains up to eight pounds, spends time on the couch, and recharges. Lagat credits his annual fall vacation from running as one of the keys to his longevity. It allows his body to recover from the stress of hard training and running’s impact on his joints.(http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444032404578006274010745406) Lagat is not alone in his insistence on taking a break after his season ends. Three-time Olympian Jen Rhines takes three weeks off to eat what she wants and to take a break from stressing about race schedules.
Once you begin to look around, it turns out that there are more professional runners who take time off after their seasons than don’t. Taking one to three weeks off after the racing season is typical among professional runners. They are not concerned that their aerobic capacity will diminish after a week or two off; they recognize that it is more important in the long run to allow their bodies to recover from the stresses of their competitive season. They will lose some endurance, but rest and relaxation will rejuvenate muscles and joints.
What lesson can we take from this? Don’t be afraid to take some time off, because it will ultimately help you to prepare for your next training cycle and this will contribute to improving your running.
Using rest to get motivated
Resting also helps with motivation and rejuvenates your mental edge. Training, watching diet, figuring out how to take oneself to the next level –– it all can be mentally wearing. Ultimately, scaling back gets you ready to tackle your next goals and renews your enthusiasm. According to coach Jay Johnson, professional runners often don’t know exactly when they will be ready to start up from their break, “so they simply wait until they’re bored.” (http://www.active.com/running/articles/6-ways-to-copy-the-offseason-breaks-of-elite-runners?page=3) So, if you have taken a rest (good idea) but are now getting restless, it is probably time to get back to it.
Set New Goals
One thing to do as you are transitioning from well-deserved rest back to training is to set some new goals for the upcoming year. This will require some assessment of your running during the past year and some close examination of your training diary or running log. Are there some goals from last season, for instance, that you didn’t quite obtain? Do you want to give it another shot? If so, is there something that you should be doing to help accomplish your goals? More strength work? Working on flexibility? Does your diet need some rehabilitation? These are a few of the questions to ask yourself as you revisit previous goals and set new ones.
When thinking about setting new goals, it is important to be honest about how you’re actually feeling about those you didn’t reach. Have you been fruitlessly chasing a new PR for the last few years? Ask yourself if you still feel energized and excited when you think about chasing down that dream. If the answer is no, rethink and don’t be afraid to set your sights on something new that brings you pleasure and keeps you motivated. Honestly, we sometimes outgrow our goals even if we don’t accomplish them. Give yourself permission to move on to something that’s more fulfilling.
Here are some options. Instead of a time goal, for instance, choose a new race distance. Maybe a 5K PR has been eluding your efforts. Try a different distance. Maybe it’s time to challenge yourself by going long without worrying about time: a marathon, perhaps? Some ultrarunning? The 50-miler is becoming increasingly popular. Shifting goals can re-energize your training and happier running often leads to better running; you might surprise yourself and hit that PR anyhow once you quit fretting about it.
What happens, however, if upstate New York weather begins to undermine your motivation and your subsequent desire to end your break? Here, I am talking about the difference between setting overarching season-length goals to motivate your training and the immediate necessity of getting out there and running. It’s sometime difficult to remind yourself that running in January can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of a 5K in September. Understandably, you might need some immediate short-term motivation.
First, you need to identify why you might be reluctant to go for a run in January and February. One of the main causes of not wanting to face the cold, snow, and wind is that you are facing it alone. This can be easily rectified. Find some running partners so that you can face the elements together. Not only is it more fun to run in adverse conditions when you can share in the experience, but it has been demonstrated again and again that runners will get up and outside when they feel that their running partner is counting on them. Running with a group, then, provides some motivation to “get after it” on those miserable winter mornings. Already a member of the Fleet Feet Running Club? Invite your friends if they have previously been fair weather runners. They might be initially reluctant, but they will thank you when they are running faster and stronger during the summer.
When you establish new goals, don’t be afraid to seek some support for those goals. Getting some expert advice and training by joining a training program can not only provide additional motivation to help jump start your running, but it will also help you to achieve success as you define it. Fleet Feet Albany and Malta offers training programs to help you successfully navigate every racing distance from the 5K to the marathon. Set some audacious goals, but know that you have the support of great coaches and running/training partners. Motivation can be a lot easier when you realize that you will have help and support achieving your goals. Registration for Fleet Feet’s training programs are currently underway. Visit either the Albany or Malta locations and check the website for additional information. (www.fleetfeetalbany.com/pages/fleet-feet-distance-project)
Some of my readers are serial racers who will ignore my advice to take a break because they feel that they’re at the risk of losing their edge during the winter. Ok, tough guys and gals –– if you don’t need the rest (or you’ve rested long enough), you can continue to race at a variety of challenging distances at the Hudson Mohawk Road Runners’ Club’s Winter Series Races held almost every other Sunday beginning this upcoming weekend at SUNY-Albany (http://www.hmrrc.com/View/PDFs/RaceApplicaitons/WS1%20Announcement%202015.pdf). This is a great way to keep motivated during the winter, as well as challenge yourself by trying some new distances. Each Sunday provides up to three different race lengths and as the winter progresses, I can nearly guarantee some extreme conditions that make for good stories once you unthaw. Luckily, you can get inside and warm up after the race and there is homemade soup! There’s some motivation right there.How do you motivate yourself during the offseason? We would really like to hear about your strategies for facing upstate New York winters with your enthusisasm for running intact. Please tell us about it.