The off-season is an important phase in training where you can recalibrate mentally and give your muscles, joints and tendons the break they need to repair and recover to stay injury-free. A lot of runners spend late fall and early winter pondering one big question: Do I need an off-season? As you may expect, the answer depends on many factors including the frequency, duration, intensity of your training.
For example, recreational runners who run a few hours per week and compete in one or two races per season, might not need a long off-season. Stopping running altogether for two weeks to two months might be overkill. In fact, taking a long time off might even derail your newly formed run habit if you just picked up running this year.
So, when do you really need to take some time off? We break down the signs that suggest you might need a break.
TAKE AN OFF-SEASON IF …
YOU’VE BEEN INJURED THIS SEASON
Nursing a stress fracture, dealing with a digestive issue or battling yet another head cold? Those are all signs your body needs time off to heal, and a light week won’t cut it. Use those training hours to sneak in extra naps, trips to the doctor if you’ve been putting that off or massage and physical therapy appointments.
YOU’RE HAVING TROUBLE GETTING OUT OF BED
Feel the need for a mid-afternoon nap most days, nodding off during conference calls or movie night? An off-season might not be necessary for your legs, but using those extra hours for sleep instead of running can help you catch up and remind you how great it feels to actually get 8 hours per night. Proper sleep is directly related to performance, as it offers your brain and body time to repair and recover.
YOU’RE FALLING BEHIND ON COMMITMENTS
Feel like you’re always playing catch-up? Even if your body is feeling great, but you’re feeling emotionally or mentally drained, or you’re starting to feel like you’re never around for your friends and family, an off-season can be a great way to reconnect with loved ones. It can also be a great time to take on that big project you’ve been putting off at work or around the house — it’s easy to let those long-term goals and jobs slip in favor of getting in your weekly mileage during racing season.
YOU WANT ONE
This is probably the biggest indicator an off-season is a good idea. If you actually relish the idea of a couple of weeks away from running, take them. In the long-term, two weeks of not running to get you excited about lacing up your shoes again is going to serve you a lot better than grudgingly getting out the door when you don’t feel like it. Plus, there are many other forms of exercise to keep you busy if you just feel like cross-training.
SKIP OFF-SEASON IF …
YOU’RE FEELING EXCITED TO KEEP RUNNING
Your emotional state is one of the best indicators of your need for an off-season. If all systems are a go and you’re feeling pumped on your weekly long run, there’s no need to bring your training to a halt. Just focus on taking the occasional rest week to avoid burnout or overtraining, and factor in a few weeks off when it makes sense for you.
YOU’VE BEEN HEALTHY AND HAVEN’T HAD ANY FATIGUE
Still bouncing out of bed in the morning with no nagging aches and pains, feeling like you could get in your morning miles before turning on the coffee machine? That’s a great sign you don’t need time off, though a light week is still something you should add in regularly to retain that chipper attitude.
YOU DIDN’T HIT A NEW MILEAGE HIGH THIS SEASON
If you’ve been doing that same Labor Day 5- or 10K race every single year and sticking to the same training plan, skipping off-season in favor of hitting a few extra intervals or sneaking in a couple of extra long runs could be the push you need to take your training to the next level. (This is only if your current high mileage is still hovering under around 7 hours of training most weeks — if you’re regularly running multiple marathons in a season, you should take time off.)
YOU HAVEN’T BEEN TRAINING STEADILY ALL SEASON
Take a critical look at your training log on MapMyRun over the last few months. Did you skip more runs than you completed, consistently cut runs short or bail on races? A lot of us have over-inflated visions of how much time we spend training, but if you haven’t actually put in the hours you planned to run, you may not need time off.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Note the frequency, duration and intensity of your training, and you’ll get a sense of the best time to take a break. Skipping the off-season doesn’t mean skipping rest weeks. You should still follow the general training rules of taking rest days on a weekly basis and having one lighter week each month. But you might be able to skip the idea of a full off-season (taking anywhere from two weeks to two months off).