Before the Berlin Marathon, I worked like a Swiss precision clock. Every day of the week served a purpose: train early, coach others, refuel, remember hydration, entertain others, support others, wash, recover, rinse, repeat. For 16 weeks, I endured the humidity in NYC without giving it a second thought, I planned and dialed-in my nutrition for during the race and taught my gut to function like a well-oiled machine. The result was that I was able to execute my race plan very well. I was rested despite jetlag, fueled up well on carbs in the days leading up to the race and kept the legs relaxed. I was in a good place mentally to be patient, smooth, relaxed and attack the last six miles as a race. All that lead to even splits and I even managed to ingest almost 700 calories during the race, an all time high for someone with my sensitive stomach but I got the energy from it that I needed with a height of 5'11" and not exactly a frail frame.
The moment I crossed the finish line, I felt ambivalent. The time wasn't what I had hoped for (read more about that, here) but I ran well and I was content with that. I had raced my second marathon ever, my 2015 goal race and my husband was in Germany with me to witness it.
So in the next hours and days I turned into a pile of lazy mush :-)
Sleeping in, having beers, eating myself stupid on all the things I miss in the US that are typically German to me (potato dumplings, bread rolls, stews, roasts, Schnitzel, good butter, garden grown fruit and veggies, Nutella, home made jams, Italian food made by 4th generation Italians with pride, and gelato). I saw friends, lingered at brunch for hours, became notoriously late (sorry!), cuddled my friends' babies and just didn't feel like there was stress or pressure at all.
It was a gear shift that I desperately needed.
I read too often how people race marathons or other big goal races and immediately jump back into training within days. Signing up for races within weeks and just never shifting their mindset. I know this works well for some but it doesn't work for me and I think it's good to allow for a time out, physically and particularly mentally. From an exercise physiology standpoint, off-season is a phase that allows the body to restup for the next season. Unless you are running your races for fun, you should begin each new season with a hunger to surpass your previous year, get that shiny new PR and build on the fitness from before. People don't peak - especially in distance running - within one or two seasons. It takes stringing together several good years and consistent training to get there. This phenomenon is also called periodization, knowing what to focus on (pro athletes usually plan around World Championships and the Olympic games), accepting a dip in performance at the beginning of the new athletic year to be able to dial in the perfect performance when it is needed. Off-season is also a time to give back to the community around you, the spouses who don't run and are often a bit neglected, the friends who would like to catch-up later than 8:30pm, family, children, and many more.
So here I am 3 weeks onward, I have written thank you emails and posts, I've resumed running and enjoy not being as winded as I run longer. I am starting to show more interest in planning my 2016 season, I am enjoying the feeling of fresh legs on most runs that are not fatigued by 70 mile marathon weeks and I'm startig to dial my nutrition in more to begin training again.
I still don't remember how I would do a speed, interval and long run workout week in and week out but I'm sure it will be like riding a bike... one doesn't forget.
Here are my five reasons why I think you should try giving yourself an "off-season" as a non professional athlete:
- For the people around you who don't want to hear about racing;
- to allow niggling pains and aches to subside - now is the time to take 2 weeks off and let that calf relax, plantar fascia take a break, that hamstring rest;
- to discover other forms of exercise and not loathe them as "cross-training";
- to have more physical energy for activities that took a backseat but would make your family and friends happy;
- to let your brain rest and stop overanalyzing every split, every mile and every workout.
Happy Running, friends! As always, let me know if you agree or disagree, in the comments below.