As winter descends on the northern hemisphere, trail runners retreat from the race track, marking the onset of the off-season. However, the cessation of races doesn't equate to rest. Instead, the off-season emerges as an opportune time for athletes to rebuild, akin to trees bracing for a springtime resurgence. The focus shifts from racing to muscular strength, running economy, speed, cross-training, and mental rejuvenation.
The Science of Periodization
The crux of successful off-season training for trail runners is understanding and leveraging training periodization—a systematic approach divided into macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. Macrocycles encompass the entire training season, mesocycles highlight individual focus sets, while microcycles break down the weekly training with specific focuses. Early season targets building strength and power, mid-season introduces more running, and late season scales down strength training in preparation for the main event.
Winter: The Season of Rebuilding
Professional ultrarunning coach, Laura Bruck Renzelman, underscores the importance of periodization for winter training plans. She advocates for an early winter dedicated to indoor training aimed at addressing weaknesses or injuries. Strength training and plyometrics are recommended to lay a solid foundation for the season.
Strength Training: The Cornerstone
Hannah Allgood, a professional athlete and running coach, champions a consistent general strength training block during winter. She echoes the findings of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which underscores high weight, low repetition strength training as a means to boost endurance, speed, running economy, and cognitive function. In addition, winter offers a valuable window to scrutinize and enhance running form, aiding in injury prevention.
Off-season training, therefore, is not a dormant period but a crucial phase of growth and preparation for trail runners. It's a time to evaluate past training cycles, strengthen weaknesses, and reset mentally. As the snow melts and spring ushers in the racing season, athletes who've harnessed the power of winter emerge stronger, faster, and better prepared for the challenges ahead.