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You’ll be a better runner… seriously.
Written by: Scott Jurek
This column first appeared in the November issue of Competitor magazine.
After a long period of training or the culminating event of the season, sometimes I’ll sneak in one more race because I’m in great shape or, if I didn’t perform in my peak race as expected, I’ll find another event to redeem myself. But, “hibernating,” or resting completely, provides numerous physical and mental benefits that restore enthusiasm for meeting next season’s goals. During my 17 years of ultramarathon racing, taking post-season time off is a big reason why I’ve remained so consistent year after year.
I take four to six weeks off at the end of every race season to let my muscles and mind mend from the long months of hard training and racing. When I say no running, I mean NO running.
In his book, “Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way,” author Toby Tanser documents the racing and resting habits of several African pro runners—even elite Kenyans lie on the couch at the end of their seasons. Many of them don’t run a single step, sometimes for as long as two months, he wrote. “Marathon recovery cannot be hurried; I like to eat well and spend time with my children, then begin a hard buildup,” Cosmas Ndeti, three-time Boston Marathon champion, told Tanser. Nixon Kiprotich, 800-meter Olympic silver medalist, described the importance of the break as an “opportunity to relax, put on a few pounds, and catch up on family life I’ve missed while spending the summer on the European racing circuit.”
Not only do the Kenyans advocate taking time off, but they also believe in restocking fat stores during this time. While I usually put on a few pounds during my breaks, I never worry about it. When I resume running again, a couple of good base-building months is all it takes to return to my normal body composition. So stop feeling guilty about those few pounds you put on during the holidays.
The Art Of Hibernation
1. Take a break at the end of every season.
2. Run as few steps as possible during the break.
3. Eat well and don’t be afraid to put on a few pounds.
4. Make time for friends, family and life outside of running.
5. Hibernate four to eight weeks or until fully recharged.
I often spend my hibernation time volunteering at races and giving back to the running community. While some might find it hard not to race while at an event, it can be extremely rewarding and keep you involved with the sport without the physical and mental stress of racing. I also research new training techniques and plan my racing calendar and training for the upcoming season. Analyzing the past season, but not dwelling on it, can provide new insights and mental healing from a tough season. I also like to pick up a non-athletic hobby or practice exercise that’s far removed from running. Maybe it’s time to take that Pilates, yoga or dance class you have been meaning to try? Whatever you do during your downtime, make sure you embrace the time away from running.
The next time you have the urge to lengthen your race season and train through another 12 months, remember that recharging and not running can make you a better runner.