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Off Season Oxygen Debt

If you are, or have ever been, a competitive runner, you know that “off season” is a word not found in our vocabulary. For the majority of the last 12 years, I have taken ~2-4 weeks completely off each year. In general, my training cycle has three periods: a week or two of no running, 1-2 months of “off season” running, and then 3 months of serious training. My goal is to build up to 80-85% of peak mileage by the time I hit the 3 months-til-race-day date on the calendar.

I find it’s really helpful for me to have these distinct training periods, and I mentally approach each one differently. During my week or two of no running, I do nothing, and eat everything. I pay no attention to eating or sleeping schedules, and live my life as far from elite as possible. For me, this is a necessary re-charge period.

During off-season training, I have a few rules: no GPS, limited use of a watch, if I truly don’t feel like running then I don’t, if I feel like running a hard workout then I will, more desserts than normal, and starting to develop good habits for when things get serious.

When I get into the 3 month period, I try to live by the motto “excellence is a habit.” What does excellence mean? Making all the right choices to reach my goals. I’m in the middle of reading Meb for Mortals, which I absolutely recommend for every runner, regardless of ability. He has a great section that talks about choices vs. sacrifices. Instead of saying that you make sacrifices to train to the best of your ability, which has a negative connotation, you should consider them to be choices. Meb’s example was dessert. Instead of saying you are sacrificing ice cream, think as though you are choosing fruit instead, because that’s the best choice toward your goal. Regardless what you call it, life in this mode isn’t sustainable for me year-in and year-out. Having set distinctions and expectations for each part of the training cycle helps me train with fierceness that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

So where am I at right now? I have 10 more days left in the “off-season.” I have enjoyed staying up way too late watching Chopped marathons, not being strict about my diet, and not wearing my GPS since the marathon. But, just as the 3 month period isn’t sustainable for me, neither is this. I inherently crave more routine after a while.

Routine doesn’t happen overnight, though, so I have started to build better habits so that they will become routine by the time Nov. 13 rolls around. The biggest change I am making is incorporating strength work. Since I made so many changes for the TC cycle, I opted to only focus on running. Now that I know I can handle the mileage and workouts, it’s time to get stronger. I’ve been doing strength sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as a 75 minute Vinyasa yoga class on Fridays. To go along with Oiselle’s chase the bird challenge, I am committing myself to 15 min of core every day, with hopes this becomes a habit through the winter.

Today I went out for a 10 mile run and decided after a couple miles that I would try and run the 2nd half faster. This was my first true “workout” since before the marathon, so I definitely felt a tad rusty. Even though I’ve run the two races, there is a huge difference between chasing people down on adrenaline, and forcing your body to run fast. I hit 5 miles at 37:30, conveniently near a super steep, but short, grass hill. I did 8 hill bursts, then turned around and gradually picked up the pace. I came back in 33:10. My last mile was 6:04, and IT HURT. I was breathing way too hard. I’m going to chalk that up to today being another warm day (sports bra and shorts again! 71 degrees!). I somehow lost 4 LBS during the 70 min run, too. This left me feeling awful for the rest of the day and struggling to rehydrate.

After recovering, I knocked out my core routine. I tried Oiselle’s dirty dozen…HOLY HELL THAT WAS HARD. I guarantee I will be sore tomorrow.

Hurts so good!

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