Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Off Season

The off season used to terrify me. The mere idea of taking a break from structured, intensive training caused me huge anxiety about vast fitness losses and weight gain.

Of course I'm older and wiser about it now, I've learned the benefits of taking real time out. It isn't about hibernating entirely, but taking the pressure out of exercise and doing it because you want to, not because you feel you have to. Ideally, this would be the case all year round but realistically most of us are inherently lazy and need a goal or event on the horizon to motivate us into action.

There are several other benefits to a change in the regime too. Trying other activities and using different muscles is a good one but in our house, the off season weight gain provides not only a bit of welcome insulation but more importantly, the 'winter boobs' phenomenon (where they migrate back for the winter). Winter boobs are great for festive parties but less helpful for fast running.

Some loss of condition is expected, but I've learned over the past few tears that any losses are generally outweighed by the benefits of recovery, and that your enthusiasm comes back with a vengeance after a proper break. So long as a general level of fitness is maintained, it doesn't take long to get back up to peak condition.

The main problem is the mind. A month or two into the off season and you start doubting yourself, you start worrying that you'll never get back to where you were. Cold and windy training sessions leave you exhausted and Strava starts telling you that you're trending down.

I've dropped a good four minutes off my 5k time, a time I worked so hard on last year. I was starting to worry that I'd lost all my pace and then we went over to Toulouse for the weekend to visit a friend. They have a brilliant Boris Bike type scheme where you rent a bike for 24 hours for about £1 and you can drop them in and out of any stand in the city during that time. The dirt cheap price doesn't make the crazy French traffic any less scary though so on our last day I chose to run alongside on our excursion whilst the others braved the city streets. I kept up by cutting corners and sprinting over crossings, being led by the delicious smell of boulangerie. I hadn't thought of the run as training, just a fun blast where my only challenge was to not get dropped by the (very heavy and not particularly quick) bikes.

On stopping to pick up some especially large pan au raisins I realised it was the fastest I'd run in months. No huge fitness losses or dramatic weight-related slowness, it just needed my head to be in the right place.

It has been a solid off season, and the most chilled since I vowed to go healthy, but the final excited kilometre of that run where I ended up racing a French man over a bridge has left me hungry for racing. Well rested and newly motivated, it should be a good season.

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