“Off-season” is the accepted terminology, yet it’s not my favorite description of the time spent between racing seasons. To me, the off-season is that short period of time after an athlete’s final race when he/she pulls the ripcord and takes a few weeks of down time. “Preparation” might be a better catch-all term, because once we start training again, it’s all geared toward preparing for the following racing season, right?
After many months of racing, the body and mind are ready for a break. We’ve put ourselves through a lot of mental, physical and emotional stress, so spending a few weeks disconnecting from the rigors of training is a necessary step to recharge the batteries. No training allowed. Sleep more, be lazy, complete some overdue projects around the house. If you feel the need to “move” then pick something that is out of your ordinary routine; for example, a hike. The whole point is to get away from daily structure and rules and limitations. Be freer!
This time away from training is also a great opportunity to review your 2015 plan – What worked well? What kinda worked? What didn’t work at all? What have you learned over the past months that you want to incorporate into your 2016 training and how will you do it? What are your high-level goals for next year and how will those impact your training? This is arguably my favorite time of the year because I get to wipe the slate clean and start building my master plan from scratch.
You want to be champing at the bit to start your training again. Don’t force it. If you’re forcing it, your mind is telling you that your body’s not ready yet. Better to extend the down time an extra couple weeks and allow yourself to be in the right frame of mind. Remember, you can do things not associated with your primary sport -- if you want to. For example, try some yoga to work out some kinks in the body, or re-familiarize yourself with the weight room. Especially as we get older and into our Masters racing years, strength training takes on a more important role in our training regimen. But, once you do start working out again, spend the first 2-4 weeks gradually ramping things up again. Increase workout frequency first, then worry about duration and lastly worry about intensity. Especially as we get older and into our Masters years, strength training takes on a more important role in our training regimen.
Lastly, the more time we have between the end of our 2015 racing season and the beginning of the 2016 season, the more careful we need to be. There’s a difference between being strong in January and being race ready. We want to avoid being race ready during the period of the year with the least amount of daylight. Use the extra prep time to really work on your aerobic engine. Becoming more efficient at L2 (or Zone 2) will serve you well and is foundational to going faster for longer in your races. I'm not suggesting you only focus on LSD (long, slow distance) training. Some intensity is important year-round, but a smaller percentage of it should be allocated during the winter months than in the Spring.
Before you know it, we will be into 2016 and our first races will be right around the corner. Ideal preparation begins with honoring all of your hard work this year before you start cracking the whip again as you prepare for next year.