#PTonICE Daily Show – Friday, November 17th, 2023 – The running off-season

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Endurance Athlete faculty member Rachel introduces the concept of an off-season for runners in order to focus on physical recovery, mental recovery, strengthening, and rehab. Rachel lays out a structured off-season approach for clinicians to use when working with runners.

Take a listen to the episode or read the episode transcription below.

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Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the PT on Ice Daily Show. Okay, I’m happy to be here as your host today. My name is Rachel Selina, and I’m a TA within our Endurance Athlete Division. So I TA for our Rehabilitation of the Injured Runner, both our live and our online courses. Our online course starts again on January 2nd, so if you’re hoping to get into the next cohort of that, registration is open now, you can jump in online. It’d be a great way to kick off your new year Um, so we’d love to have you there again, January 2nd is when we start that next cohort. Um, so today, today we are going to dive into some running related topics.

I want to talk about the running off season and kind of what it is, how it could be structured and really at the end of everything, like why we should take one or why we should encourage our runners to be doing an actual off season and what that could look like. Why do we need this? It’s a big missed opportunity. I don’t think many of our runners are taking an actual off-season, even though in almost any other sport, we see an off-season that has a particular structure that looks different than our typical in-season, pre-season kind of training. But we don’t often see that in running. And here I’m mainly talking about our recreational runners. So not our elite, elite, highly competitive, like they’re getting paid to run. Um, but our everyday person that has goals has things they’re trying to achieve with their running. Um, but again, not quite that high end elite athlete. Um, and it’s really not what I see people doing. Okay. So what I often see. And I live in Michigan, so this is a bit skewed for kind of our timeline, but the same kind of like concept applies. I live in Michigan, so most people end up having like a fall goal race. And that might be a like a marathon or a half marathon. But they train a lot over the summer, building up to that race. It happened in the fall. And maybe they’re using that race as a like a they’re going for a goal. They’re going for a PR or they’re using a lot of people are trying to qualify for Boston. OK, so either way, that that fall event is something that someone is really training for, has a specific time goal, and is pushing, usually pushing their limits to get there. After that, right, event happens, and then people usually take one to two weeks off totally, like no running. And then usually I see it as people kind of taking that totally off of like anything. And then after that two week period, I kind of jump back into running, back into training, maybe slightly less volume, right? Long runs aren’t going to be quite as long, but I typically see people kind of jumping back into the same type of schedule, like training five to six days a week. I’m still usually working in some like sprints or hill work, track work, something like that. Um, so really not a, apart from those two weeks immediately after not a clear, like differentiation from what their training was prior to that race. On the flip side, I see some people where they do the race and then they’re just done running. Like I don’t want to run in the winter. Um, so I’m, I’m not going to run it all after my goal race until spring. Can I argue both of those probably are not our ideal situation. So I think, like I said, it’s a missed opportunity and I think it’s missed because there’s a lot of benefit in doing an off season. Primarily four reasons we’re going to cover. So I’m going to take this down a little bit.

I think the first one is physical recovery, right? Someone typically, if they’re building up to a goal race, has just spent the last three or four months, like progressively overloading every single week, building, building, building mileage, right? It’s a continuous training cycle that adds up to a lot of fatigue. Some runners, right, we can encourage to take recovery weeks during their training, which can be helpful to like mitigate a little bit of that fatigue. But for the most part, people are constantly building their mileage, increasing their mileage and intensity over that three to four month period. So by the end of it, right, that’s been a big stressor on the body, whether someone feels like recovered after their one to two weeks off of running, right? There’s probably a little more going on underneath that the body is not actually fully recovered where they could jump back into full-on training and expect to do well. Okay.

So physical recovery and then also mental recovery. Training to that extent, having to put in that amount of mileage and time into running to train well, right? Means we have to say no to a lot of other things during that time. We maybe have to say no to some family obligations or time with friends or just other activities that we like doing that aren’t running, kind of everything takes the back burner. So it can also be really just mentally fatiguing and draining. So coming off of that, being able to have a period of time where we can be a little bit more flexible, be able to do different activities, not have to say no, and also be able to prioritize sleep. or like how many people are trying to fit in their running around a work schedule, family schedule, right? So often we compromise on sleep to be able to make that happen. So having a period of time where we can really build back some of those recovery practices is huge. And I think what we miss. And then it also gives us kind of that third point.

It gives us an opportunity to really help our runners do a full on strength training cycle, like intentionally trying to build strength. Um, we talk about this in the running, our live running course about trying to have runners incorporate strength training into their train, like into their endurance training, um, separate sessions, but concurrently meaning they’re, they’re doing aerobic training and then they’re also in a separate session doing strength training. And we want that because it can help reduce the risk of injuries, but it can also help improve their performance. However, in that in-season cycle, that preparing for competition, most people aren’t able to load to the intensities needed to really build strength. And it kind of takes second place to the running training. So having a two to three month period, where we can switch that narrative and make strength training the focus can be super helpful to actually help someone build the capacity in their tissues, right? Here’s a two to three month period where strength training is going to be kind of our priority. We can actually build the capacity of your Achilles tendons, your quads, right? Your glutes. And make sure that when you go into that next training cycle, you’re actually coming in more resilient, ready to train. Your tissues can tolerate more load.

Sweet, and then our final thing I think that we could use off season for is really having a period of time where we address nagging injuries, right? Oftentimes we’re seeing people come in, they’re in the middle of training, their goal is to do this race. So we might let some things go or people might avoid addressing some issues because they want to finish their race. So having, again, having a period of time where we can fully address that injury, not just kind of do what we need to do to reduce symptoms and get someone to the starting line, um, could be a really helpful thing so that it doesn’t become this chronic, um, you know, it goes away when I stopped training a little bit, but then it comes right back because I’ve never actually addressed it. It’s also a good time to address our running mechanics, right? Sometimes when we’re in the middle of like a really high volume training, We might want to make some changes to mechanics, but those mechanics, when we change them even a little bit, can have a big impact, which can be good, but it’s also hard when the volume is so high. So having a period of time where our volume is lower lets us adapt to that new running pattern, whatever the changes that we’re making in the gate mechanics, without it being such an overload because the volume’s lower. Right. So we can kind of ease into that new pattern when we go back to our like building cycles for running, we’re able to kind of already have that, um, but like internalized and have our body adapted to it. So it’s kind of the, like the, the big pillars of what it could be, but then what that would actually look like, like, okay, that’s great.

How do I actually help my runner to structure an off season? If we go back to that initial goal race, race happens. And then we do want to encourage people to take that next one to two weeks off of running, but that doesn’t have to mean off of all activity. So I’d encourage runners to focus more on active recovery, not running, but maybe they’re doing some light cycling, swimming, yoga, anything else that kind of helps them to recover. But then also really focusing on refueling, right? Making sure we’re sleeping enough in that time, just kind of replenishing the body after everything we depleted it from, from that baby vent. So that would be like one to two weeks. And then having another one to two weeks of a reverse taper, which is where we go from not running in those two weeks off and kind of gradually build the running volume back up, um, to kind of just a moderate level. So if we think of an actual taper before a race is the opposite where we’re, we’re at a higher volume, we kind of drop over one to two weeks. Um, and that purpose is to allow the body to be fully rested going into a race. So that would put us about a month out from a goal race, a month after it. And then I would encourage you to ask your runners to take two to three months after that of an off season. Okay. And that would look like keeping the volume at like no more than 60 to 70% of what they were previously running. Like as their, like their top training weeks or kind of their, their average volume week over week. So if someone was training 40 miles a week in preparation for, say, a marathon or half marathon, having them drop down to where they’re not doing more than 24 to 28 miles a week. And that might look like going from training five to six days a week, running training, to dropping that down, running only three or four days a week. And that extra time, again, it doesn’t have to be Like you just have to rest. Um, but filling it in with other activities that someone likes to do strength training, maybe it’s CrossFit or swimming or yoga or climbing. Okay. And then finally, the intensity of this time should also be dropped down. Okay. We don’t want, this isn’t the time to like be working on our hills, our hill repeats, our sprints, our interval work, our track work, right. Keep the pace. low enough that it’s like easy running. Okay. And then when the body is actually fully recovered, we can enter into that next cycle, ready to go, ready to push again and actually see benefit because the body’s recovered and able to adapt to that new training stimulus. So the, the only other, um, It’s kind of different situation here. Like what I’ve been talking about is someone who running is their main thing. Like they like to run year round, they’re maybe doing a couple of different races in a year. If we have someone who’s a true like multi-sport athlete, where they’ll run during say like summer and fall, but then in the winter they switch, maybe they switch to skiing. Okay, that person’s going to maintain their aerobic training, from the skiing, and they might not really wanna run at all, which I think we also need to have a bit of caution there, using that other sport as the off season, because running has such a different training load, right? It has that impact that differentiates it from any other activity. So we don’t want someone’s tendons and tissues to become unadapted to that stimulus of loading and running. So even if someone is taking their off season to pursue a different sport, still encouraging them to get like two to three, at least exposures to running or plyometric training. And it doesn’t have to be long, right? Maybe it’s asking your runner to do like, can you give me two 20 to 30 minute runs a week, right? Even with your other like skiing training. If they’re like, nope, I don’t want to run at all. Can we at least get some plyometric training? Can we work a little bit of jump rope in there? Can we work some just other kinds of jumps, box jumps, drop jumps, anything like that to still get exposure to impact loading? And I think like a lot of that can be more coming from a coaching perspective, but I think it’s also important in the clinic, especially if we think that most people, when they have a running injury, they don’t come to us until it’s a big deal. That’s kind of our typical pattern, which usually can look like someone coming to us shortly before a race, right? So our focus there to help them meet their goal has to be a little more on kind of like putting out the fire, helping them get to the starting line for their race. But if we can set patients up with the expectation, hey, this is going to help you get to your race. But then afterwards, like I want you to come back and see me. so that we can really address what’s going on, right? I want you to take, especially if someone’s dealing with an injury, I want you to take this off season afterwards. We’re going to work through to make sure you’re 100%. We’re gonna drop your running down a little bit, make sure you recover so that when you go back to that next cycle, you are actually ready to go. This issue is no longer nagging you, you’re stronger, you’ve had adequate recovery. So I think it’s a big point for in the clinic, just the same as it can be outside as we’re thinking about maybe our non-injured athletes. Perfect, I would love to know your thoughts, so you can throw them in the comments. Let me know if you’re taking it off season, if you encourage your runners to do so, or just any kind of thoughts you have around the topic would be great. So thank you for tuning in, have a great weekend, and we’ll see you next time.

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