Mario MendozaMoving to Bend from CA really forced me to learn to take an off season because it's hard to keep up with the training during winter. I tend to have less motivation in the months of December and January, and then it comes back once I can smell Spring. In most years I've naturally used these winter months as my downtime. The only years I've allowed myself to race some in the winter are the ones where I missed the Fall season. It's very important to be aware of where your motivation is and whether it's time for a break. Having had a pretty full season finally (Tillamook Burn 50, Lake Sonoma 50, Three Sisters Wilderness FKT, Broken Arrow Sky Race 52k, and Hellgate 100k), I'm feeling ready to reset.
Come winter I first allow myself a full break from running which can be anywhere from one week to two. Once the motivation to run again comes back, I don't force it. Sometimes I run every other day and just a few miles until my running legs come back. The days I don't run I bike or do some type of cross training endurance exercise. I find that this is a great time to make sure all the little nagging injuries are healed and that I get my core strength back to full force before adding intensity.
After a few weeks of being patient I start getting back to running every day and getting my miles up. Once I’m about a month back into running the workouts come back into the cycle, and that is where treadmill running becomes important for me. I don't like doing fast workouts outside in snow or ice because there is a big risk of injury. So, for a while until winter is over, I do all my faster workouts on the treadmill and then my easy base miles outside with traction under my shoes to avoid falling (I use screws for my shoes). I'm always surprised how fit I can get doing fast treadmill workouts and then slow strength miles. I honestly think the combination is really good so by the time Spring comes along I'm usually ready to get back into racing.
The off season allows me to focus back on the foundations and make sure I'm having fun. I remind myself this sport isn't worth it if I'm not enjoying it and maintaining a healthy balance. It's also a time where I tend to say yes to more fun adventures, like hiking on snowshoes and even learning how to ski. This winter I plan to go ice fishing and will find a day to hike in and get some exercise while enjoying the beautiful creation.
Kyle CurtinMy off-season from ultramarathons begins in the fall, usually after one last mountain race in September-ish. By the time the temps drop, the mountains I love to run get barricaded with snow, my legs feel the wear from the summer adventures, and all signs seem to say slow down. Who am I to say no to Mother Nature? With limited daylight, muddy & cold trails, and the next 'A' race months away, the fall offseason is much better spent embracing all the social activities from Halloween to New Years. For me, that also means running social activities. Beer miles, Christmas light scouting runs, and silly races on Hogsback are some of my favorites. Most of the year, I spend a huge amount of time training and running alone to fit a training schedule, however, the offseason is a great time to enjoy the company of others and just slow it all down.
Off-season is also bulking season! And not just because my diet morphs to look very similar to Cookie Monster's. It's a great time to rebuild some strength in the gym. It's tough to spend a summer day inside for me but taking these short days to focus on my own weaknesses really can help make next season healthy and injury-free.
One workout I do regularly (adapted from the coaches at Uphill Athlete) is great because it's simple and you can do it with just a little space and a chair. Plus, it only takes a half-hour and is great for building muscular endurance.
- 4 x 10 each with 60 seconds rest between sets
- lunges on each leg
- split jump squats (10 each side)
- step ups (on a chair or bench)
- jumping air squats
Work hard, play harder, rest even harder! Periods of rest and off-seasons are mega important to me and my training. Not only do I covet my weekly rest day during training to do things like get extra sleep, life admin (like laundry and grocery shopping), and catching up on The Great British Baking Show. I also relish my off-season to do even more of that!
I usually take at least 1-2 months off in between training cycles. After a big marathon, I don’t run at all for a minimum of 2 weeks and sometimes up to a month…it gives running and me some time to miss each other. When I’m ready to run, and running is ready to have me back, it’s kept fun with no goals, paces, or expectations. Usually, I’m just out trying to find pennies or wandering the trails with friends!
My off-season is usually filled with making art, being a night owl (yes, sometimes I even stay up until 10:30!), enjoying more than 1-2 beers or glasses of wine, doing other activities that I’m a total rookie at (Broadway dancing and cookie decorating) and powering through some epic novels or Netflix series. This is also the time that I reflect on my previous season and set goals for the upcoming one because I have a clearer head when not dealing with any extra stress that comes with training and racing. I always ask myself, “How much fun did I have? What races or changes to my training would bring me even more joy? What race scares or excites me most, and where is the online registration button?” :)
I’m always shocked at how quickly the off-season flies by, so making sure to relish every moment is key!
When I started ultrarunning a mere 10 years ago, there wasn't too much info out there on how to train and recover from such long distances. We have learned a lot in those years, and I believe an emphasis has been appropriately placed on recovery. I do have to admit I have gone through years where I haven't had any off season and I am simply trying to recover after a race as fast as possible and go right into the next training block. That usually would catch up to me with poor race results and a lack of motivation in training.
This winter is different, and I have taken a long break from structured running. I still run but I don't have time or pace goals. I am just doing it because I love it and I need it mentally. I took two weeks off completely after my last race and have just been keeping it fun and easy. I ride my bike more now and try to spend as much time doing walks with the dog and hanging with friends and family without the stress of having to get a certain amount of miles in.
This is not a time for me to be 100% lazy though and I use this extra time to focus on strength exercise and mobility. I still mix in some quality running by doing shorter intervals when I feel like it that day. I am not committed to any plan and it's a really nice mental break to not have to adhere to a structured training schedule. I do crave the structure though and love training so the break will leave me refreshed and really motivated to attack any future goals.