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Chasing Potential: Off-Season Training Begins

 Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It's been over a month since the Medtronic TC 10 Mile, and I'm enjoying the off-season. That doesn't mean I'm sitting on the couch all weekend (I have 3 kids after all...) but my workouts are more relaxed. My focus is back to rebuilding strength while Coach MK Fleming plans out my running to build a bigger aerobic base. 

I firmly believe that the off-season is where PR's are earned. Sure, in-season training may be more challenging and it is certainly important, but without a solid foundation from the off-season, your possible peak fitness level is diminished. Stronger foundation = greater potential. 

What are off-season priorities? If you're coming off a big race, it's important to recover first. That could mean 1-2 weeks of walking or cross-training with some light running and extra rest days. After a marathon, some runners need as much as 3-4 weeks of rest and easy running before ramping up again. Here are some focal points for the off-season: 

  • Get Healthy: If you've been nursing an injury, now is the time to rest and/or rehab. Take care of it before you ramp up training again, and see a healthcare professional if needed.
  • Get Strong: Address any strength deficiencies or muscle imbalances that could affect your next season. A Functional Movement Assessment with a Personal Trainer is a good launching point to see what's working and what isn't. I did one of those in October as part of my annual physical at LT Proactive Care. With my injury history, I was actually surprised that I only failed one assessment - the Deep Squat. My lack of low-back mobility, tight hamstrings and tight calves limit my range of motion, so squats are a real challenge. I need more dates with my foam roller, as well as more flexibility & mobility work. That's all on my agenda this winter!
  • Fine-Tune Nutrition: OK, this might be a challenge to suggest around the holidays. Maybe instead of 'fine-tuning', should I say 'maintain'? It can be very hard to stay on-track with nutrition over the holidays, but it is something to plan ahead for. I also look at the off-season as a time to work on body composition goals without the physical demands of high-volume training. For many runners, it is easier to lose weight when training volume is low. You don't have as many blood sugar swings to deal with, or the ravenous hunger that can follow interval sessions and long runs (especially if you're a serious carb-burner). Think in advance about how you'll approach holiday parties and the endless buffet of treats that may invade your office. You're an athlete in training - is the sugar rush it worth it? I'm not suggesting 100% avoidance, but if you can just pick your favorite treats to indulge in or find some healthy alternatives, you can still enjoy some splurges without totally derailing your nutrition. For now, I am cherishing a rare treat, like the orange-coconut Paleo cookies I made on Sunday night. With only a handful of approved ingredients, they were easy to make, tasty and healthy! I'm also going through an allergy-elimination diet, as we try to get to the root of some old gut issues that tend to flare-up post-baby. We'll get into that more in another post!
  • Build or Rebuild your Base: If you came off a fall marathon or half, you're likely going to work on slowly rebuilding your mileage. Depending on your previous volume, your off-season mileage may be significantly less, or it could actually exceed what you were doing during the season. In my case, my volume was pretty low last summer (under 30 miles/week), so I expect to exceed that later this winter. Coach MK wants me to focus more on strength-building right now, so we're not ramping too quickly. 

Fall is my favorite running season!

Above all, the off-season is a time to dream about your next big race, and lay the foundation of fitness that you'll need to ramp up safely in the spring. If you struggle with staying motivated in the off-season, consider joining a group, hiring a Run Coach, committing to a Run Plan, or drawing up a calendar of fitness activities you can stick with. 

Here is what my scheduled off-season workouts are looking like: 

  • Monday - Basic Strength + Towel Pull + Your Choice! I'm back to strength building to firm up my core. Here is MK's description of the Towel Pull: 'Lie on the ground, small of your back on the floor, soles of your feet on the floor, knees bent. Take a small towel and place it under the small of your back. Press the small of your back against the floor so one of your kids couldn't pull the towel out of he were able to grab one and and tug gently. Hold for one minute. This will strengthen the girdle that supports your lower back.' It is simple, but effective! My back pain is almost gone, and my core is slowly starting to feel stronger.
  • Tuesday - High Knees, Treadmill Edition (62 min) + Towel Pull: 'Warm-up 15 minutes. Get off the treadmill for 30 seconds of high knees in place. Back on the mill for 10 minutes @ 140. 60 seconds of high knees in place. Repeat two more times. Cool-down for 15 minutes.'
  • Wednesday - Big Girl Pickups (65 min), Basic Strength + Towel Pull: Easy run with 60-second pickup to 10K pace at the end of every mile. MK calls these "Big Girl" pickups because the usual pickups are only 20 seconds long.
  • Thursday - Your Choice! MK is giving me 5 options on the 'your choice' days: '1. Take the day off completely. 2. Go for a brisk walk, no more than 30 minutes with HR no higher than 120. 3. Do a super slow recovery shuffle. 4. Swim (GENTLY) 5. Easy bike ride with the kids.' I'll be honest, I've taken option 1 on pretty much every 'Your Choice" day. Yay for the off-season! 
  • Friday - Stride Sandwich (60 min) + Towel Pull: HR stays under 140 first two miles. 6x30 second accelerators. Finish with HR< 140. 
  • Saturday - Aerobic 80 + Towel Pull + Basic Strength: 80 min easy run to 'get back to fat-burning happy places'
  • Sunday - Recovery 30: Easy run or run/walk with firm HR cap of 120.  

This lake path is one of our only flat, gravel stretches near the Life Time Corporate office, so it is my favorite spot for pick-ups. It looks & feels more like September than November!

The last few weeks have been a mixed bag of good workouts where I could get into a rhythm, and some missed or very slow runs that turned into walks. It still boggles my mind that I could run a 65-minute 10-mile race, while an easy run on a sleep-deprived morning sometimes brings me to a walk! At least we have had a beautiful fall, so the slow runs were more enjoyable than they would be if we had more seasonal (cold) weather. 

It's hard to complain about a rough run when the trails are so pretty!

Enjoy your off-season running! If you're interested in a custom Run Plan to keep your running on track this winter, learn more at

Last blog post: "TC 10 Mile Recap" 

Read more: Blog Index

Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager at Life Time Fitness. Follow me on Instagram at rebekah800, on Twitter at @rebekah_mayer and our team at @lifetimerun. Find us on Facebook at