With many runners’ goal races, perhaps half marathons and marathons, behind them, I’m beginning to hear the term “off season” these days. In school “off season” was the term coaches used to plead—or scare—runners so we wouldn’t abandon running and get out of shape.
Now off season is one of my favorite times of year as a runner. Simply put, my off season is the deliberate time I take away from structured training designed toward a race goal. The focus of my off season is simple: ordinary running.
Ordinary running is your basic get-out-there-and-put-in- the-miles running. It doesn’t have a technical name like Tempo, Interval, Pace, or Long. And it doesn’t define our weekly running by increasing the number of miles or repetitions or speed of our runs.
Like the term "off season" somehow, the term “ordinary running” carries an unflattering reputation—like undisciplined or sloughing off. Sometimes ordinary running is seen as second class because we use it when we’re not focused on a race or when we’re recovering from an injury.
In defense of ordinary running, even without calculated goals, ordinary running is abundant with benefits. I enjoy just letting my running body find a place it can enjoy in a low-key mode, where it can have more fun and more stress relief. Rather than get absorbed in week after week of advanced planning, I’ll spend more time alone with my running thoughts and dwell less on my pace.
Shifting my running to ordinary doesn’t close any doors to achievement or enjoyment with my running. In fact through the repetition of ordinary running during my off season, usually a phenomenon takes place—improvement. My body actively recovers from the stress of the competing season. My stride becomes smoother, my core muscles get stronger, and my ordinary pace gets faster. I’ll discover some new insights, achieve new capabilities, and set some new goals.
I already have my sight set on a spring marathon, and the time to train for it will be here soon enough. For now, I’m enjoying the transition to the off season and the treat ordinary running brings.
The ordinary running in my off season is vital to my running life. It’s legitimate running and it’s earned. The reality is ordinary running during the off season is a key component for me to achieving the full benefits of my running. I’ll emerge better, healthier, lighter, and more refreshed when it’s time to train again next spring. And deep down I know that ordinary running is the foundation of what running breakthroughs are made of.