Don’t get me wrong, I love training for a race. I thrive on the daily schedule of how many miles at exactly what pace. I love seeing improvements, checking off each long run, and preparing for race day. Most of all, I love racing, that feeling of pushing myself past what I thought my limits were in pursuit of a new PR.
However, right now, I’m not training for any specific race, and I love it. I’m not even sure right now what my goal spring race will be or when I will start my next training cycle. I’m not upset though, and I’m not neglecting my running. Instead, I’m thoroughly enjoying everything about off-season running.
What is off-season running? Quite simply, it’s running without training for a specific time or distance. For most runners, especially elites, off-season occurs during the winter months, after a fall race but before spring training begins. Logistically, winter works well as an off-season, since cold temperatures and snowy sidewalks keep many runners inside for weeks on end.
Off-season, however, is not a time when you don’t run. You may run less during off-season, especially if you cranked up your mileage significantly during your last training cycle. Right now I’m running 25-30 miles per week, instead of 30-35 miles per week as I was during half-marathon training. Not a huge difference, but just enough to let my body recover well from training and the race while maintaining fitness and speed.
I haven’t worked with a specific plan since I finished my race. I try to run five days a week and 25-30 miles per week, although I’m not beating myself up if I run only four days per week. I also try to include one faster pace workout, in the form of a progressive run, tempo run, or intervals at 5K to 10K pace, but since my weekly mileage is low, I total only about 3-4 miles in hard, fast running. Most days, I just head out my door or hop on my treadmill and run, determining the distance as I go. Some days I only run 4 miles, other days I hit 8 miles because it simply feels so good to run.
That’s the most amazing thing about off-season running. It reconnects you with why you love to run, with the pure joy of fresh air, fast feet, and scenic paths. Instead of running on a flat loop where I know I can hit my target speed work or tempo paces, I head out along a hilly path that offers some beautiful natural scenery. Running becomes a simultaneously exhilarating and relaxing experience, where each run leaves me deeper in love with the sport.
During off-season, there’s a certain sense of freedom from the Garmin or whatever GPS running device you use. During training, I was glued to my watch to see if I was on pace during a tempo run, how far I was into my fartlek repeats, or whether I was at an appropriate pace for my long run. I still wear my Garmin for off-season running, but I only look at it when it beeps for each mile split, if even then. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I run fairly fast without constantly monitoring my speed. While I kept easy runs during my training around an 8:50-10:00/mile pace, I’m consistently running around an 8:05-8:30/mile pace without pushing myself too far. This may be because of the lower mileage or less fatigue in my legs from hard workouts, but it still feels pretty great to hit faster (for me) paces.
Surprisingly, I also love off-season running because of the weather. I’ve some how evolved into that person who thoroughly enjoys bundling up in tights, layers, gloves, and a hat to go run in 20-something degree temperatures. The cold air feels so refreshing, and now that the suffocating humidity and sweat-inducing warmer temperatures are gone I feel like I can move my legs without impediment.