For most endurance athletes, there comes a time each year when they are evaluating what is next on their calendar. Many athletes choose to just continue down the path of race, race, race, race, then the weather gets cold, so they do marathons, half marathons, and more race, race, race. At some point, the body is going to start to reject this mentality and regiment. Overtraining can cause a deep level of fatigue that only rest and time away from the sport can cure. This is where “offseason” comes into play.
I like to compare our bodies to a car, really for lack of a better analogy at this point. If we continue to drive our car around at fast speeds, you are going to burn through your gas much quicker. If you drive around slow all the time, you are not ever using all cylinders in the engine that it was designed to do, although you may save a little gas in the process. Sooner or later, if you forget to perform regular maintenance on that car (i.e. oil change, air filter changes, etc.), that car is going to start to clog up the engine and things begin to fall apart and it won’t drive as smooth or as fast as it once was. Regular maintenance insures you are taking necessary precautions to make sure your car is ready to perform every time you turn over the engine. On the flip side of that, if you left your car parked in the garage, sitting, never starting it, never driving it, what will happen? Well first and foremost, your car’s battery will slowly die. The alternator helps recharge that battery every time you drive your car. If your car is never started, that battery never gets charged and will soon stop working. Now take it to the extreme, what if I don’t drive it for a SEVERAL months. Sooner or later, those tires will start to go flat, the battery will be dead, and it will take A LOT of effort to get it driving again.
So let’s look at the body now. Sure, if you do too much speed work or “long slow distance” work in your exercise, you will start to experience different circumstances. Too much speed and you will run out of gas in your other workouts. Not enough speed and you aren’t training your cardiovascular and muscular system the way it needs to be trained. If you drove 55 mph everywhere all the time, it’d take you the same amount of time to get there and your body is the same way. You can’t expect your body to start running a 7 minute pace if you only run 8 minute paces all the time. What happens when we don’t schedule regular recovery periods in our training (i.e. regular auto maintenance), your body is going to start to break down, your breathing is going to be labored, and your everyday tasks are going to be much harder.
Let’s say you have done a great job for the past 10 months with your endurance goals, workouts, regular recovery sessions/periods, and have set all sorts of new PRs in your races. What is next? Sure you could try to harness that fitness and try to carry it through to the next year. I can’t advise against this enough. At some point, your body is like the car without regular “overhaul” maintenance sessions when you all the sudden need new brakes, new tires, oil change, transmission fluid change, etc. If you don’t do an annual overhaul on your body, you can’t get any fitter. In fact, physiologically, you are going to bury yourself. This is when people start talking about overtraining and/or “off season.” You need to learn when to turn OFF your body switch just like the light switch. Your body is likely begging for some downtime after 10-12 months of constant endurance “abuse.” So if you are smart and schedule your offseason, how long is too long? How much is enough?
This is different for everyone, but just remember if you leave your body “parked” in the garage (couch) too long, that ticker is going to start to lose function, the alternator is not recharging it each day, and sooner or later those legs (tires) are going to go flat and you are going to have to start from scratch. There is no perfect answer to how long or how much of an offseason each person should take.
The only real answer is that if you are truly an endurance athlete, you need some down time at the end of your season if you expect to improve next year. Don’t continue to bury yourself 12 months a year and expect to magically perform at a new level the next 12 months.
Everyone has their own idea of how to “power off the switch” on their body, for how long they should do this, and what exactly does that mean. My point is, ensure that you start your offseason with some R&R and let your body recharge with some rest. Save some gas, perform some regular maintenance, and when the time is right (or you are driving your family crazy), get back out there and start to recharge your battery and put some air back in your tires. If you are unsure what sort of down time you need, how much or how long you should take, or what offseason actually means, maybe it’s time to consult a coach at C4 Endurance to help you figure those out.
Happy Trails!~Coach Troy Clifton