Off-Season Marathon Essentials: Smart Recovery and Training
For many runners, the prospect of an approaching off-season, with colder temperatures and shortened daylight, creates more dismay than a mid-race leg cramp. But when taken in stride, these upcoming winter months offer a huge opportunity to rest, realign, and better position yourself for achieving big race PRs next year.
So, where should you start?
The first goal of your off-season should be to prioritize deep rest and recovery. Marathon training, especially when stacking multiple events throughout the year, hinges on a fine line between peak intensity and duration. Sustaining high monthly mileage over the year takes a cumulative toll on your body. The last thing you want is to enter the next season with lingering fatigue or injury. This is the time to delve deeper into flexibility and mobility work, whether through yoga, Pilates, or consistent dynamic stretching each day. Focus on loosening up your hips, hamstrings, and calves – the muscle chain typically tight and problematic for high-mileage runners.
Once you've incorporated a solid base of recovery into your weekly routine, you can start exploring the enjoyable part of the off-season: cross-training. The off-season doesn't mean you should completely shut down. Instead, continue some level of aerobic activity, ensuring you maintain a baseline level of cardiovascular fitness while also rounding out muscle development and reducing the risk of overuse injuries. The goal here is to counteract running's inherent impact stressors and unidirectional movement. Activities like rowing, cycling, and swimming will help build well-rounded strength crucial for mid-season injury prevention. They also lend themselves well to maintaining long-distance aerobic capacity while being less taxing on your muscular system. To really accelerate your running progress next year, include a couple of days of strength training, focusing specifically on your legs and core.
Finally, the word we've all been waiting for: running. Yes, even in the off-season, you can still log some miles. The key here is easy runs, significantly reducing both distance and pace compared to your regular season averages. Typically, maintenance runs will be 50-70% the distance of your average long runs, focusing on consistent low exertion, measured through heart rate. If you're a traditional marathon runner, take this opportunity to run on uneven terrain, such as in a neighborhood park or local trail. This is a great way to develop supporting muscles and improve your balance by altering your standard gait.
The off-season doesn't have to be a source of dread. Let the changing seasons be a metaphor for your running life, and embrace the rest and recovery inherent in these shorter days. Taking time to recover and cross-train will pay dividends when the next year rolls around. Not only will you experience physical benefits, but this mental refresh will also help you refocus on your goals and the efforts needed to achieve them. So, on your path to 2024 PRs, dive into the pool, sign up for a yoga class, and enjoy some easy miles at the park.