What do you do when you’re in between races?

In between races

What do you do when you’re rolling off one training cycle and it’s not time yet to start the next training cycle?  You want to stay fit but you also need to recover.  How do you keep the weight off and still stay within striking distance of your next goal?

This is a challenge that I personally have been confronted with in my endurance sports life.  After a long, hard training cycle, and potentially a long hard culminating event, you want some time off to decompress before you start training in earnest for your next big thing.

But, you don’t want to totally fall off the wagon.  You don’t want to be starting from scratch.  You don’t want to put on 10 pounds and lose all the hard-won fitness.  Overcoming inertia to successfully train for an event is fun, but at some point, you start to fall into the yo-yo diet syndrome.  You’re either pounding out tempo miles or eating Ben and Jerry’s on the couch.

Even if you’ve got an event scheduled, let’s say in the fall, you may have 3-4 weeks before you have to start training in earnest.  What do you do in the mean time to recover but still stay fresh?

  1. Many times, coming out of a hard cycle you will have some niggles and aches that you need to take care of.  These are due to the intensity and volume of a training cycle.  Now is the time to let them get better.

Going into your next cycle with aches and pains is a bad idea.  You have to let stuff heal.  You are going to do this by lowering your intensity and lowering your volume and getting core and stretching done.  This will not only let your poor old corpus heal it will make you stronger and more balanced as well.

  1. Soften it up. If you have been running roads or tracks get off them and on to something softer.  Trails or grass or whatever your locale offers up in terms of natural surfaces.  This will help your aches and pains heal, but also strengthen your feet and ankles. It will give you some useful proprioception work.  Trails also, by necessity, slow you down and relax you.
  2. Every-other day. Chances are if you are exiting a serious cycle you were running every day or close to every day.  In this intervening place cut down to every other day.  This creates a nice cadence.  On the off days do some structured core work, stretching or yoga.
  3. Cross it up. Of course your off days are a great time to jump on your bike and get a cycle in.  You can also do some swimming, or take a class of some kind.  Depending on the length of your off time you can even structure in some other training program and get fit in a different way.

My caution would be to take it slow and easy with these new pursuits.  Don’t jump into the advanced class.  You will bring in your aerobic fitness from your previous training cycle that may allow you to go harder than you should in a new exercise.  You are using new muscle groups and can easily hurt yourself.  You are in good shape, but for a specific activity and abruptly changing activities at high intensity can hurt.

  1. Your next goal. Chance are you will be dropping into a training plan in a few weeks.  How do you position yourself to be successful in that training plan while still giving yourself the room to recover?

This is one of those ‘it depends’ answers.  Is your next goal more distance related or speed related?  If it is distance related, like an ultra or an ironman you’re going to want to tweak your recovery plan in that direction.  Likewise if you are gunning to take 10 minutes off your marathon time in the fall you might lean towards more speed related recovery.

  1. You can never go wrong with aerobic fitness as a good base for any training campaign.  To maintain or build aerobic fitness in your recovery you slow it down but go a bit longer on your run days.  For example, Tuesday and Thursday go out for 1:30 at zone 2 heart rate.  Stretch/yoga or core on Monday and Wednesday.  Bike on Friday for 1:30.  Rest Saturday.  Go 2 hours or more on Sunday.

That will give you 3 good aerobic runs in the week to get your base ready for your next campaign.

  1. If you want to start building up or retain some speed add in a couple 2-3 minute pickups into your runs at speed or tempo.  You can do these as fartleks or set your watch to go off every 20 minutes.  What I’ll do, since I do all my off-season training in the trails, is run hard up certain hills on my route.  Or hard down certain hills.  This brings my HR up and lets my legs remember what race effort feels like.  We affectionately call these ‘surge’ runs.

Of course, don’t do any tempo or speed work unless you are fully recovered and injury free.  You’re not trying to stress yourself, just keep it fresh.

  1. To race or not to race? If you are trying to recover racing is going to put stress into that process.  If you can curtail your effort level and run those races as training runs or recovery runs then it may be ok.  In general a hard road 10k is going to run counter to your goal of recovery and build.  But, a casual 20K in the woods might be a fun outing to build fitness.
  2. Long runs? For a maintenance long run I’m assuming you just rolled off a training cycle so that you have the fitness to go a bit longer.  What I will typically aim for is to go 2 hours one of the weekend days, in the woods at a very low intensity.  For me this nicely translates to somewhere between 10 and 15 miles.  That is long enough to put you past the glycogen wall but not long enough to damage anything.

What do you do during the in-between training cycles time?  You recover and build for your next cycle.  You do this by lowering the volume and intensity of your workouts.  You do this by stretching and strengthening.

It’s time off from the physical and mental intensity of training for an event.  Enjoy the time off.  Enjoy it by doing what you love in moderation and trying out some new things as well to create a stronger and more vibrant athlete for the next season of you endurance life.


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