A good training program incorporates some element of periodization. Without getting too deep into it, periodization is a way of structuring our training to ensure progressive loading and rest periods to absorb that load. In each week, we should aim to have a rest day. Each training mesocycle (roughly defined as a 4-6 week training block) should have a recovery week. Every year should have a transition period. As Tudor Bompa, one of the creators and experts on training periodization, writes “a transition phase is necessary to remove fatigue developed across the competitive season and enable the athlete to recover from the physiological stresses of competition. Additionally, the transition phase allows the athlete to relax and prepare psychologically for the next annual training plan.”
The transition period (and rest in general) is a time for us to go a little easier, drop our mileage and drop our intensity in training. Depending on where you live and what your goals are, this transition period might fall at different times of the year. In the Tahoe-Truckee area, November is a great time for this to happen. There are fewer races on the calendar. Trail running season is wrapping up, but the snow hasn’t arrived yet. How long this transition period is can vary for the individual, but I typically recommend a 2-4 week period where there is less structure to the training.
What are the benefits? Let’s focus on 3 key benefits to this restful transition phase of our training:
- Physical rest. Our bodies need a break. Sometimes it’s forced upon us through injury or illness. But it’s better to preempt those things by taking a physical rest. Training itself is stress on our bodies. In our recovery periods (days, weeks, months), we allow our body to absorb the stress of training and improve our overall fitness. Even if you feel like you could keep training, it’s important to build the physical rest in.
- Mental rest. Training demands focus and diligence. Preparing for an “A” race can be a mentally taking effort. Getting ready for any race or event requires discipline that is not an unlimited resource. Getting out on the days when we’re not as motivated, or the weather sucks, or when we have to be on a treadmill—all these require additional mental effort. Focus and motivation are limited resources for humans. The transitional period allows us a mental break and an opportunity to strengthen those mental skills through prescribed rest.
- Reflection and future goal-setting. Having less on our training plates gives us more room to reflect on the past season and look ahead to what’s next. Even if you don’t race, it’s still good to reflect and analyze how things went. Did you get all the runs in that you wanted to? Do you feel like you improved? Why or why not? Did you struggle with any injuries? These are some good starting point questions. If you have races to look back on, you can ask yourself, “What went well? What’s worth improving on?”
Just like with rest and recovery days, I would recommend taking the rest of a transition period before you think you need it. That way you can continue pursuing your goals with good energy and good focus. Don’t wait until you’re totally exhausted! There’s plenty of fun cross-training ahead in the winter months! Take the rest now to build your base this winter. I’ll close with what coaches and writers Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg have dubbed “The Growth Equation”, “Stress+Rest=Growth”. Keep that formula in mind as you take some downtime this transition phase.
Have questions you want answered by a coach? Reach out to Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll find someone who does! The goal is to be a stronger and healthier runner, so you can put as many miles in as you want.