What exactly does ‘off-season’ mean? I keep telling fellow runners and friends that I am off-season at the moment and they just look at me with a glaze in their eye. Off-season implies rest, but what then does rest mean? Ask your average runner what rest means and they may say it is having a day off running and spending time with family and friends. However, I have two children, and in my household having a day off running does not necessarily mean rest!
However, ask a Kenyan runner what about rest and they will tell you that it means ‘complete rest’ – i.e. lying down and doing as little as possible, or even better, doing nothing whatsoever. Professional athletes (and African runners in particular) are not just exceptional runners, they are also exceptional at resting! They don’t go down to the shopping centre on rest days. They don’t hang out by the swimming pool in the baking sun on rest days. They don’t eat and drink excessively on rest day. They rest!
So back to the term ‘off-season’. My personal definition of ‘off-season’ is that I am running less than I do when I am ‘on-season’, but this does not necessarily mean that I am exercising less. It just means that instead of going for a run, I may go cycling or swimming or play 5-a-side football. There is actually very little rest involved, and this is frequently the problem for the majority of runners – we are generally poor at giving our body’s sufficient recovery time from our running.
My local physiotherapist is always smiling politely whenever I talk to him about my training and my aspirations for the coming season. You can see him thinking “great plan Mark, but where is the time to give your body a rest”? He is also probably thinking “I’ll be seeing more of you in the coming season, on the physio table”!
All we hear about in the news is advice that we must do more exercise. This is well and fine, but what about us running addicts who probably do too much exercise?! Where is our advice? The lesson for the serious runner is that we must also consider rest and recovery within our running training, and not focus 100% on the activity itself. This is easier said than done for most of us, but valuable advice nevertheless.
So next time you are planning your next block of training, or your next race to enter, don’t forget that an ‘off-season’ and ‘rest’ will also help you achieve your goals!