The Perpetual Training Cycle

We are moving into the Autumnal season soon (9/22) and are approaching marathon weekend for Disney the first week of January. I know many of you have already registered for additional winter races in January / February and have started registering for spring races from March thru May.

I need you to do something for me before you register for anymore races. I need you to STOP, collaborate with me, and above all take a moment and truly listen to me.

We all get excited when registering for races, heck I know I do, but it’s the perpetual training cycle that can get us into trouble if we do not plan our training well.

But wait Brian, how can training get us into trouble? Ah, excellent question! Let’s get into the specifics.  Training is good.  The perpetual training cycle (a.k.a., the never ending training cycle) can be bad.

I run into folks all the time (and train many) who can’t wait to tell me about the race they just registered for coming up in X number of weeks,months, or lord forbid…days. They then want me to figure out how to prepare them for that race given the other races they are already training for at this point in time. But the kicker is that sometimes that race isn’t the best thing for your training in the middle of your training for the other event. Even IF, all you want to do is start and finish a race then it’s still not a good idea to have a never ending training cycle where you are continually training for a race event. Let’s discuss why.

Now, before we get started I am in no way suggesting that you stop training or stop exercising regularly and sit on your butt.  No No No No…stop it…I said Stop IT. No.

What I am saying is, you need an off season every year to break the perpetual training cycle. What’s an off season you might ask?

An off season is a period of time where you have a lower training volume in regards to your primary sport, in this case, running. You might ask, “Do you mean that two weeks before a race?” NO, that’s called tapering and is a part of a training plan.

An off season is at a minimum 4-6 weeks and perhaps as long as 3 months when you lower your volume of training. Volume of training for a runner would be your weekly mileage. Instead you work on other restful and rehabilitating types of training and exercise that focuses on other aspects of fitness.

Such as Mr. Brian?

Glad you asked.

For 1-3 months do the following weekly then transition to a race training plan:

  • Swim 4 days per week, bike 1 day, do a single easy run of medium distance on a 6th day and sleep in the 7th day; or
  • Lift weights 3-5 days per week, do a spin class or yoga session a couple days per week, and sleep in the other days; or
  • Bike outside exploring the countryside or neighborhoods 3 days per week, swim 2 days, do an easy 5K when you feel like it, and sleep in the other days; or
  • Do a short 2 mile run followed by a spin class at the gym a couple days a week, lift 3 days per week, stretch a lot, and sleep in the other days; or
  • Focus on ab work 3 days per week, do a couple specific swim workouts or biking to maintain cardio, and throw in the occasional 5K for fun. Sleep in 1-2 days per week; or
  • Go to the gym 5 days per week for an hour WITH NO PLAN and do whatever you feel like when you get there. Sleep in the other two days.

Again, the above will not prepare you for a marathon nor is it intended to prepare you for a marathon…or half marathon for that matter.

At the end of your off season is when you START a new training plan for a future race. In other words, if you have a race scheduled AFTER your off season ends then you need to have 8-16 weeks from the END of your off season to the next race so you have time to train for that race. I’m not saying you can’t run a 5K fun run on July 4th or the Drumstick Dash on Thanksgiving if that time period is in your off season…just don’t be training for a half, full, or ultra marathon because if you are then you are NOT on your OFF SEASON.

What do you think?

….I get it Brian, I get it…an off season is a time to recoup mentally, allow any nagging acute injuries to heal, to work on other fitness that will actually help my running and make it more enjoyable in the long run (pun intended), and allows me to focus on other aspects of my life like my son’s soccer season or my daughter’s band competition season or just spend time with the family or focus on my schooling.

Exactly!

I get it Brian…and I’m on board with an off season. I’ll start immediately. All I have is an easy half marathon in a month followed by a 3 person marathon relay two weeks after that and a couple 10Ks scheduled the following two weeks after the relay so right now is the perfect time for an off season.

STOP, NO, DON’T. If that is your schedule for the next 8 weeks then now is NOT a good time for an off season. An off season has zero long runs, relays or events that last longer than 45-60 minutes on course depending on your pace. An easy 5K for fun is okay but beyond that you need to train for an event or maintain a certain mileage…or should. With this in mind let’s discuss what is NOT an offseason.

What is NOT an off season?

  • Your 5-7 day vacation in the middle of your training program where you walked a lot at Disney, but didn’t get your training in as scheduled. NOT an off season!
  • That cold you had that sidelined you for a week. NOT an off season!
  • That time you had your wisdom teeth out and couldn’t run. NOT an off season!
  • The next two months when you only have a couple half marathons which are no big deal because you usually run full marathons. NOT an off season!
  • Those 2-3 weeks you had to limit running due to an injury, but still went hardcore on everything else so you could do your half marathon. NOT an off season!
  • Those three weeks where work was hades and you had to put in 80 hours per week for all three weeks and was just so tired that you only got in a couple short runs a week and now feel behind for your upcoming marathon next month. NOT an off season!

What IS an offseason?

  • See my above suggestions for activity/exercise/training then consider this schedule for example:
    • You have your final marathon of the spring on the third Saturday in April. You had a good race, finished strong, and felt good after the 26.2 miles with no injuries or nagging aches and pains.
    • Starting Monday you are on your off season for the next 6 weeks.
      • You follow the above suggestions I previously mentioned each week even switching it up weekly as long as you stay active and focus on rest, recovery, and other fitness besides running.
    • Your next scheduled long distance race is in the late summer/early fall with some smaller events like the Firecracker 5K.
    • You finish up your off season the last week of May, enjoy Memorial Day weekend with a cookout and start a race training program the Tuesday after Memorial Day.
    • Your next race is scheduled for a minimum of 8 weeks away (half marathon) or 12 to 16 weeks away (marathon) depending on the distance of the race and your goal for that race. The more substantial the goal, like a PR, the longer prep you should allow yourself.
      • Half marathon no sooner than the end of July
      • Marathon no sooner than mid August to mid September.
  • That’s it!

Ok, when is a good time for an off season?

Any time is a good time for an off season and you can even break them up and do multiple off seasons per year assuming it fits your schedule. Here are some considerations for when to schedule your off season each year.

  • Your “A-race”
    • This is your #1 race that you want to focus on performing your best and maybe even go for a PR. If that race is a marathon in February then the preceding 16-20 weeks can’t be a part of your off season. In other words you have dedicated yourself to training during the holidays for that race.
  • Local weather to avoid extreme heat or extreme cold.
    • Live in Florida? An off season in the summer might be a good idea.
    • Live in Canada? Avoid the long runs outside when the weather is 30 below with an off season and go to the gym instead.
  • Your Race/Family/Work/Church/Social Life/Friend Schedule:
    • Look at the calendar for the next year. Is that time period of two months when you have that week long conference followed by the destination wedding, and a family vacation cross country to visit the relatives in Arizona REALLY the best time to be training for PR marathon run?  No, it’s not. So pick a different “A-race” or tell Aunt Mildred that you’ll catch her in the spring for a long weekend.
  • Final Consideration: Cancel your race.
    • WHAT?
    • You read that right. If you are down for an extended period of time, can’t train, need healing time for the major running muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones, and need rest then the best thing may be to “live to run another day.” I’ve skipped races and DNS so I could focus my energies elsewhere. It’s okay, really. You’ll live. Sometimes overall health or another priority, like your doctoral dissertation, will take precedent even after you hit the submit button on your registration. Instead I continue going to the gym for shorter durations and to just stay active. After 6 weeks my work was done, the race had passed, and I was back to training for another race with better focus and energy.

That’s it for now. If you need help planning your off season or how to train during your off season then feel free to hit me up on my Facebook Account for Running Down a Dream 23. I’m happy to help with ideas and training plans.

Happy Training!

Brian

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