Coach Mike Mead

November 2013

Off Season Training

If you are a high school or college distance runner, then early November usually marks the end of the cross country season, unless you are able to advance to a national meet of some sort at either level. If you did your summer training, you are likely feeling it both physically and mentally!

But just because the season is over doesn’t mean you should stop running! The key to making big improvements in performance come during the off-season training. I did not mention those runners who may not have down much summer training. You may not be as mentally or physically fatigued at this point because you’re just getting into relative shape!

This tends to be a common problem for inexperienced runners – taking too much time off between seasons and losing all the conditioning it took to get you to the end of the season. This time of year, the major challenge is adjusting to the changing seasons and colder weather. It’s not as light or as warm as it was when you got going, whether it was in June or August!

If you do not fully embrace the sport of running, then one begins a cycle of getting in shape, then getting out of shape. I had that “duh” moment about the last year of high school when I realized I was an idiot to get out of shape!

Why did I put myself through the pain and torture of running to get to a point that racing was enjoyable, only to get out of shape and repeat the painful cycle? The simple solution was to NOT get out of shape.

By my senior year of high school, instead of taking a few weeks off after each season (cross country & track), I would just take a couple of days off, then maintain my fitness by running base miles. It was critical to stay fit transitioning from cross country to track because the base needed for speed!

When you are at your fittest, one is usually at his or her fastest. To become even faster, one has to build on their base and the only way is to keep it going.

What kept me going in the off-seasons were road races. These days, it seems to be the other way around – that is, runners are introduced to running by competing in a road race, rather than the first experience being a cross country or track race.

During my formative years of development, I ran road races to keep me motivated during my off-seasons. Since the road race distances were usually longer than what I was racing in high school (3 miles for cross country and up to 2 miles in track), I got more out of them than just doing a run on my own.

There were also other types of running events that helped me with my speed during the off-season. I remember one nasty winter running in a two-person relay of alternating 400’s on a frozen Notre Dame (yes, that University!) track for five miles. We had planned to go 10 miles, but race officials cut it short on account of the blowing snow and ice-crusted track.

The bottom-line, if you truly want to make gains as a distance runner, you have to get to the point that you are running almost every day. All it takes is that first step. But the challenge is all the off-season distractions that may not have been an issue when you were more dedicated and focused during the season.

There are no shortcuts. There are no gizmos or gadgets. There are no magic pills or secret foods that will substitute getting you stronger and faster than plain old running. But to be successful at running – and everything in life -- you must have a goal, a desire, or a motive. Once you have that, you’ll discover that there never is an off-season in running!