It’s time for the offseason, and most importantly, you need to give your body a rest during the offseason. How much and how long varies quite a bit, person by person, and is largely dependent on how much training and racing you’ve done over the preceding months. Most races occur in spring and summer, which leaves fall as the best time for recovery and winter as the time to start building for next year.
If you are just coming off a heavy summer of racing or a big effort in September (100 miles or your furthest race distance), then taking a couple of weeks with minimal running would be a smart idea. This gives the body a chance to recover from the repetitive stress of running and allows the mind to take a break from structured training. During these two weeks, walking or hiking are both great activities to keep the legs moving, just make sure you don’t overdo it. If you want to do some running, keep the pace very easy and the duration short. A conversational pace of 30 minutes should be considered a maximum.
Now that you are no longer doing big miles and long runs, you will have a bit of extra time on your hands. A good use of that time is prioritizing sleep. An extra hour of sleep each night will speed up your recovery and allow you to get back on the trails sooner.
Foam rolling is another great use of time that will help your legs recover from a season of racing. In the first week after a big race, I would recommend not foam rolling or only lightly foam rolling, as your muscles will still be pretty tender. After that, it’s a good time to go at them more deeply. The best places for trail runners to target are calves, quads, and glutes. These muscles work the hardest on the hills, so start here, then branch out. Hamstrings are another common area for tightness, as well as hip flexors and lower back muscles. Once you start foam rolling consistently, you will quickly learn which of your muscles are tight, and that’s where you should spend the most time working.
Foam rolling is just like training for a race: you will be much more successful if you do it consistently. A marathon foam rolling session once per month might seem like a good idea, but it is going to be a lot less effective than doing a little bit every day. Unless you are a professional athlete, you don’t have endless time to spend on running, so 3-4 foam rolling sessions per week is reasonable for most people. Aim for 15-20 minutes, and that will go a long way!
After you’ve taken a couple of weeks of minimal running, it might be time to start building up again. Before you lace up your shoes and head out the door, ask yourself, do you feel like running? If you still feel a bit lethargic or if running feels like it will be more of a chore than a pleasure, you will want to take another week of recovery. But if you do feel like running, that’s a great sign that you are ready to get going again!
For the first week back to running, start easy. Run about half as many times as you were running this summer (3-4 times per week if you were running every day) and for no longer than an easy summer training run. All of your runs should be done at a conversational pace. On the days when you are not running, keep the new foam rolling habit that you developed in previous weeks going.
Once you’ve got a week of running under your belt, ask yourself how are you feeling? The offseason is about getting a full recovery from the previous racing season so you can head into next year feeling refreshed and ready to go. If you don’t give yourself enough time to recover, your next year of racing won’t be what you hope for. If you don’t feel good, do not increase your training volume and potentially decrease your training if you feel especially tired. If you do feel good, bump your training volume up.
Over the next weeks, continue with the same process of slowly increasing your training volume. Do not do any hard runs: long runs, tempo runs, or interval sessions. With no hard runs on your schedule, your body will be better able to recover, and you will be able to start building your aerobic base. Once you have built back up to your normal running frequency, start to slowly increase the volume of your long run. Do not add in high-intensity training, as it is important to first build your aerobic base, then add in harder training on top of that.
From here, the next steps of training are largely dependent on your race goals for 2024! If you plan to start racing in January or February, then it’s time to start bumping up the volume of your long run a little more quickly and start adding in some intervals and tempo runs. If you aim to start racing a little later in the year, then continue to slowly build up the volume of your long run, but don’t add in any high-intensity work just yet. High-intensity work should begin a minimum of one month before a race, but make sure you have a solid base of miles before you start pushing the pace.
For a quick recap, make sure to give your body at least two weeks of minimal running after a hard summer of racing. Start adding in foam rolling a week after your last event for the year, and keep that habit going through the fall. When you do start running, make sure you are doing small quantities at an easy pace. Build up your training frequency first, then start adding in harder runs, starting with a long run and adding high-intensity workouts later. Make sure to pay attention to how your body feels, as this is your best guide for how your recovery is going. I hope this helps you have a productive offseason and a more successful 2024!
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