Hitting the Reset: Downtime
The training cycle can be a difficult thing to navigate. Finding goal races, making sure you have time to recover in between your races, staying motivated to train, and keeping the body and mind feeling fresh are all challenging components to consider when writing training schedules. As coaches that work within a fairly dense and developed running community, this can be even more of a challenge. Now, we are not complaining as we love the fact that in our community (Huntsville, AL) there is always something going on. Whether that be a race every weekend, pub runs during the week, RunningLane long runs (check out our Facebook page for details) or course preview runs on the weekend, you really are not left without opportunity for racing and training on a community level. However, with the always going attitude of runners mixed with some fear of missing out (FOMO, the young kids taught us that one), it is hard to get people on a solid training cycle that includes an often feared subject, downtime.
Now, we are not going to get into exercise physiology or dense training philosophy, but let us talk about some commonly accepted things that are included in a training cycle. Every training cycle generally includes some type of base training (general mileage without much specific pace work), more specific training that is geared towards your goal race distance, some type of taper and peaking for your goal event. The often forgotten component of the general cycle is the downtime that follows the conclusion of a racing season. Let’s dive a little deeper into this subject of downtime and what it means.
Our bodies were not designed to go 100 percent, year round at anything. In work, school, running etc., we were not made to be in peak shape or performance at all times. It just isn’t possible. That is why we must consider the need for built in rest in our training cycles. For instance, one will notice that most elite marathoners typically will do two marathons a year. Now this is not because they are only capable of doing two, but because they know how to manage their cycle of peak performance, rest and rebuilding. Often these training cycles are 16-20+ weeks of preparation followed by a few weeks of limited running and lots of extra recovery built in. This happens as the precursor to the next cycle. Now, we are not all pro-athletes, but that doesn’t mean the philosophy is completely different. We all are humans that need some type of regeneration after hard efforts and long training cycles. From a physical perspective we are simply taking a step backwards, so that in the next cycle we can hopefully make a few more steps forward. The muscles are asking for that time and so is the mind. From a mental perspective the need for downtime may be the desire to get away from the sport a bit and for others it is the need to step away from a disciplined lifestyle for a few weeks. Whether it is allowing the body to heal some of the aches from the previous training cycle or it is letting the mind rest for a bit, this is all critical for longevity and further development.
One of the main inspirations for this article was helping our athletes understand that rest between cycles is equally as important as the training cycle itself. As many athletes are currently taking a small “break” between track and cross country or about to take a break between a spring season and a big fall half marathon, marathon or ultra, we want to nail down what downtime looks like. Downtime can look a bit different across the running population. For some it may mean taking two weeks totally off from running. For others it may mean two weeks of very little running. For example, a runner that runs 7 days a week in season may run 6 days of the next 14 during downtime. Often this is a time we tell athletes to run when you want, don’t feel controlled by a schedule, indulge a little extra if you’d like and most of all, let yourself get excited about running and hard training again. By the end of this cycle you should want to get back to it. It doesn’t make you lazy. It makes you smart. Take the time to be appreciative of the work your body has allowed you to do and prepare yourself for the hard work you are about to do.
Coach/Athlete Note: I HATE downtime. I usually love it for the first three days of “rest.” I enjoy it by sleeping in, maybe enjoying a few more sweets, running when I feel like it, but by the end of the first week, I usually am chomping at the bit for a strict schedule again. However, over the years of learning to balance cross country to indoor track, indoor track to outdoor track and outdoor track back to cross country, I learned how much my body was restored during those periods. Now after a marathon build, I know my body and mind crave the same type of restoration. If you have any questions about your training cycle, please let us help. Leave a comment or send us a message if you have any questions.
-- Coach Alana