After the excitement of the racing season, the question for most runners – whether you ran the race or your life or had a poor experience – is what to do after a goal race. You may be ready for a break, you may feel slightly adrift without a goal, or you may need to shake off a case of the post-race blues. Most runners don’t immediately jump into training for their next big race. Instead, most take some sort of off-season – and here is how to navigate what your off-season can look like and what you should do after a goal race.
Embrace the Off-Season
Consecutive training cycles can burn out even the most enthusiastic runners. Even after the dedicated recovery period, it can be beneficial to take a few weeks (or even a couple months) of the off-season to rest and recharge both mentally and physically.
An off-season does not mean taking an extended break from running – although it can if you need a hiatus. An off-season reduces the training load. You typically will run lower mileage than at peak training and take a break from structured hard workouts.
An off-season will not cost you your hard-earned fitness. It is always easier to maintain fitness than build it (here’s more on how to maintain running fitness in winter). Even several weeks of only doing easy runs will maintain your fitness. Yes, you may not be in peak race shape, but that is normal and beneficial. Peak performance is exactly that: a peak, not a constant. By allowing your body to rest and recharge, you can then push harder in the next training cycle.
Try a New/Different Activity
Most runners avoid any type of workout that is out of the ordinary during peak training. The reason is understandable: race training is demanding. You don’t want to risk soreness or injury and you might not have the time and energy.
The weeks after a goal race are the ideal time to try a new fitness class or form of cross-training. Once you are no longer sore from your race, take advantage of lower mileage and try a different workout instead. You can even replace a run with cross-training, especially if it helps prevent any feelings of burnout.
When mileage and intensity are high, it’s common for most runners to scale back on strength training. After all, your body can only handle so much and you have to prioritize your running workouts.
Once your race is completed, your training load will decrease. Fewer miles (and more of them at an easy effort) mean more time and energy for strength training. Since you aren’t running big workouts or marathon long runs, you do not have to worry about being sore for your runs.
There are multiple ways to build strength during the off-season. If you only completed a weight workout once per week during training, try increasing to twice per week. You can use this time as an opportunity to lift heavier weights or try a workout class such as Pilates.
Train Your Weaknesses
The off-season is an ideal time to address an area of weakness. You aren’t focusing your time and energy on race-specific workouts, which often do cater to areas of strength for your preferred distance. This might be a biomechanical weakness or a physiological one. For example, if you know you have weak hips, you can focus on injury prevention and strength training. If you lack leg speed, you can shift your focus from race-specific workouts to leg speed workouts.
Race a Different Event or Distance
If you are itching to train hard again after you recovered from your race, consider racing another distance. The off-seasons from big marathons – winter and summer – offer numerous shorter distances and off-road races.
Racing shorter is particularly valuable if you just ran a marathon or half marathon. Your body and mind could benefit from a break from high volume. Plus, you may just actually get faster by training for a shorter race. Many marathoners focus on volume at the expense of speed. Training for a 5K or 10K allows you to develop leg speed, increase your VO2max, and develop a higher pain tolerance. (Here’s how to transition from the marathon to a 5K.)
Trail racing, including mountain races and snowshoe races, offer a different and often lower-pressure experience for runners. Trail races are just different enough to rejuvenate anyone feeling burnt out from a season of road racing. Plus, trails are a softer training surface – giving your body a break from the high impact of road running and reducing your risk of an overtraining injury. Once you feel ready to return to normal training, you will be stronger because of the more intense demands of trail running.
What do you focus on after a goal race?
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