I was going to ride the bike today, but never really felt motivated to actually get downstairs on the trainer. So I never did. And that’s okay. I don’t feel guilty. At least not that much. It’s the offseason. All of my big races are done. It’s time for a break, both mentally and physically.
Building in a relaxed or completely training-free period to break up long blocks of structured work is essential. What could go wrong if you don’t take a break? On the physical side, overtraining or injury. On the mental side: stress, irritability, and burnout.
How much time do you need? A month? Six weeks? A couple weeks? It will depend on the individual athlete, but you should consider a few factors. How hard was the season? What is your tolerance for downtime? The most important thing is to wait until you feel refreshed, recharged, and excited to get back to training.
Taking a break in the offseason doesn’t mean you have to be completely sedentary (though that is okay if it’s what you think you need to prep for the next year). The offseason should be a break from TrainingPeaks and Strava and targeted, structured workouts.
If you struggle with just tapering and the thought of a break from specific workouts makes you feel itchy, you should try a mental switch. Treat the offseason as a celebration or a chance to try new and different things that you don’t have time for during training blocks.
What to Do (or Not Do)
If you plan to keep running, mix it up. Try a silly race, like a holiday-themed run, that you wouldn’t consider doing the race calendar. Or invite friends out for a group run. Or mix in holiday shopping with a jog. Or try trail running. Getting out in nature has a lot of mental and physical benefits.
Consider leaving the watch and tech at home. There’s no need to be focused on pace or mileage. Don’t push it. Run if you want. Skip it if you don’t. Or maybe jump in the pool or on the trainer. The offseason can be a good time to give your running muscles a break with some dedicated cross-training.
How to Start Again
As you feel the itch to get back at it returning, look back at your prior year’s training and begin thinking about the coming season. Take stock of what worked and what didn’t and what you want to do differently in 2019.
When you do start up again, don’t try to ramp up to the intensity of your final pre-break workouts. One of the purposes of the off-season is to let the body rest, recover, and partially decondition.
Don’t panic. It’s only temporary and will really help in the long term. You’ve got an entire season as a base. Your fitness will recover quickly and be stronger for it. Trust me, taking a break will make you a faster, better athlete.