As distance runners wind down their fall racing seasons, tuck away their five-ounce racing flats and grab the last remaining acorns of fitness before winter hibernation, few consider that this downtime is a chance to advance goals rather than shelf them.
While downtime is critical to a longer and more effective racing career, how you approach these down periods is as important, if not more so. Here's how to rest and use it toward greater goals.
Take Physical and Mental Rest
Many runners have a hard time with resting. Time away from training is lost fitness is a sentiment shared by many in the running culture. However, even within the highest tiers of the sport a break from training—both mental and physical—is not only common but recommended.
So as you conclude your final fall and early winter races, put running on the shelf for a couple of weeks and focus your energy elsewhere.
Sport Psychologist Stan Beecham, author of Elite Minds and consultant to many of the world's top long distance runners, echoes these ideas. "Even when your body is resting between seasons, the mind is not," says Beecham. "Most of us are addicted to thinking, planning, or anticipating our futures. We usually view this as a necessary and beneficial trait. I find it can actually be hurtful. Just as your body needs a rest so does your mind. It is important that you are able for a time to be away from your sport both physically and mentally."
Setting goals is another area in which runners tend to underachieve. Many runners, including elites, don't have concrete goals.
Research shows that athletes with specific targets, as well as plans for achieving those targets, are far more likely to succeed than those with no goals or goals that lack specific definition. The offseason is an excellent time to reflect on past seasons and charge forward with your next set of goals. Remember a few key points about goal setting.
1. Be sure to have "perfect day, perfect conditions" goals. Think of breaking your goals into multiple tiers: A+ goals, A- goals, B+ goals, etc.
2. Make sure all of your goals are not based on the stopwatch. Even though distance running is a very black-and-white, numbers-based sport, make sure that a few of your goals are independent of time, such as to finish in the top 20 or to get first place in your age group. Time-based goals are often mitigated by elements outside of your control, such as climate, so it's a good idea if a few of your goals relate to things other than time.
3. Have process goals along with your outcome goals. Western culture tends to emphasize performance and outcome. Did I PR? Did I win? Did I beat Sally? Focus the goals you can control—how much sleep you get every night, how much fluid you drink every day, how long you run on Sunday, and so on. These are known as "process goals," the type you can control. The more process goals you check off daily, the more likely you are to achieve the outcome goals.