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Strategies to mentally handle downtime
Your weekly training tip for running inspiration.
McMillan Running Tuesday Tip for 01.30.18
TRAINING TIP
September 25, 2018
THE CHALLENGE OF MENTAL RECOVERY
At the end of a big training cycle, whether it's the summer racing season, after a long race like a half-marathon/marathon or at the end of cross country season for school-based runners, all coaches recommend some downtime. (Downtime is usually defined as 1-2 weeks of reduced training before beginning the next training cycle.)

The purpose of downtime is partly physical - to rest the weary body - so it's ready for the next training cycle.  And, the other purpose is mental - to rejuvenate the mind, which like the body, can only go so long before it needs a break.

Intellectually, runners understand the need for a physical break. It's easy to feel the physical-side, particularly after a marathon where the legs are sore for a few days. But many struggle with the mental-side of downtime.  Mostly because we don't really feel the mental side like we do the physical side. It's more subtle, which can set up runners for mental burnout if they don't heed the advice for a little mental downtime 2-3 times per year.

There are two key reasons downtime can be challenging:

1) Running is Therapy

For most of us, our regular running routine sets the day and structures our week. It is our time to think through family, work and life. For many, it's also a social outlet. Running friends are often our best friends.  And, most of us agree that running makes any day a better day.

So, changing our normal running habit during some downtime is especially challenging (which is why I include some running in the downtime programs like m
y Marathon Recovery Plan as I find the "just take two weeks off from running" to be a tough pill to swallow for most of us).

If you are the "running is therapy" type runner, then get your mind ready for a short time with an altered routine. It won't last long and you'll be the better for it. I promise.

2) The Goal-Focused Runner

Running is definitely my therapy so when I take downtime after a training cycle, that's what I struggle with the most - missing my daily run. My wife, however, is more goal-focused when it comes to her motivation to run. She needs a big goal and that's what drives her. Remove/finish the goal and running changes for her.

I know a lot of runners struggle with this. Finishing a race/season and taking some downtime means there is no big goal in the near future. They feel adrift. "Why am I even running?"

I find this is the case with many new runners. They often sign up for the next race before they even get through the one they're training for just to avoid a loss of motivation. They just stack big goal on top of big goal. Then, when they're asked to take some downtime between races, they don't know what to do with themselves.

Helpful Hints for Mental Recovery

Recognizing
the mental challenges of your downtime period is imporant so that you can get through it.  Because not respecting the need for downtime will eventually wear you down. Psychologists will tell you that it's much better to train/race hard for a period then rest up and rejuvenate and then attack your next training plan. This is much preferred to the slow wearing down of physical and mental ability that comes from overtraining and over racing. Downtime can, of course, vary from runner to runner but my experience has been that 1-2 weeks with reduced frequency (number of days running per week) and reduced running volume can do wonders for the quality of your next training cycle.

Here are some ways to help you get through it:

1) Volunteer: During your downtime, a great way to stay connected with the sport and your running friends is to volunteer at races and group training events.

2) Family/Work Focus: Less running time means more time for family or a house project or that proposal you've been wanting to produce for a new work project. Immerse yourself and the downtime will fly by.

3) Donate Blood: Runners are warned against donating blood (something many want to do to help their fellow citizens) during heavy training. So, downtime is a great time to donate. After all, your training is very light and the reduced performance won't matter.

4) Planning Period: Runners are planners so take your downtime to reflect on the previous training cycle and chart your plan for the next one. My Building Your Next Training Cycle series is a great read to get you started on this project.

Final Thoughts

Do it right and you'll finish your downtime itching to get back to full training. This is the best sign that you are rejuvenated and it's highly likely you'll see a jump in your training quality in the next training cycle. So, take some downtime after each training cycle so that you can come back mentally and physically more prepared for your next goals.

 
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