UD Ambassador Jason Schlarb lives near the San Juan mountains in Durango, Colorado. The San Juans are notoriously fickle with bouts of heavy snowfall and super cold temps. Even though Schlarb loves skiing in winter his primary focus is on summer trail and ultra races. So how do you manage to have a productive offseason in challenging conditions? Here are some tips from Schlarb with some additional wisdom from his coach, David Roche.
What the heck are we supposed to do during the off season?
Focus on speed training?
Keep training as normal?
Travel to the southern hemisphere or hot places?
Ride a bike?
Let’s cover some of the exceptions first: if you were injured, can’t or didn’t have a summer season of training and racing, then maybe your approach to the winter season will be different than I suggest. If you live in the desert, then your off-season “winter” could be the summer or some sort of a mix. For the fairly healthy, not injured or overly injury-prone runners that want to improve their running and have a great full season of racing/running through the summer, here is what I suggest for winter training.
Make a plan
Make a plan with a coach, partner, friend(s) or use a spreadsheet. The winter is inherently challenging when it comes to staying motivated. Short days, cold, lack of trail access, snow, less racing… I’ll stop depressing you now, but winter is tough for almost everyone. Even if the “plan” isn’t that great, it is way better to have one to keep you moving in the right direction and to be more accountable.
If you challenged your body during the summer with a season of running, give the body some rest. It sucks to be in your best running shape during the winter and it’s difficult to apply fitness to awesome trail races or trail adventures during the winter.
As my coach David Roche says, “you only have so many arrows to shoot.” This means you only have so many hard race efforts to give each year so don’t shoot a lot of arrows during the winter. Our bodies are only good for a handful of hard endurance (long) races a year (unless your name is Mike Wardian). The exception can be to race some road races or shorter trail races to work on speed.
Winter is the time for speed and run economy. While I think we should all stay in touch to some degree with speed throughout the season, winter is THE time for speed. Winter is also a good time to set good habits with core and strength work specifically aimed at reducing injuries our running bodies are susceptible.
Mix it up
Ski, backcountry ski, nordic ski, ski mountaineer/randonee(skimo), snowshoe, swim, ice climb, pickleball, have fun! That said…don’t have too much. Don’t keep running full time AND pick up a new endurance sport because you will show up to summer overworked or injured. The same goes for trying to have a full focused season with another sport (often times with skimo racing) sandwiched in between full seasons of running.
You need an off season!
For me, running is priority and skiing (skimo and alpine/resort) is my way to still be in the high alpine and mountains and is also as an alternative low impact training stimulation. I mix skiing into my training 1-3 days a week while I follow a 4-6 day running regiment focused on getting “fast AF.” Your training mix will be dependent on your own situation (mine is just an example). In conclusion, winter is a great time for a runner to reduce running volume, focus on getting faster and also an opportunity to explore some winter sport adventures.
With the right balance of fun and training, winter is a perfectly placed season to help prepare us for long summers of trail and mountain fun.