Last year the big learning curve as an athlete came when I realized and accepted cross training was essential for continued uninjured success. This year the lesson I've taken to heart is that there is a need for seasons to training. A time to train hard and a time to recover.
I believe the adaptations and strength we gain when training for a marathon for example are all positive. But we also accumulate stress on our bodies, schedules, minds and our ability to follow strict diets when following a training plan. While there are great ways to manage this stress during training (nutrition, sleep, massage etc) there is a good reason we tend to get sick right after the big day of any goal race. Our bodies hang on and then simply release themselves to an expected and deserved break.
For me this has meant that since the Vancouver marathon my running mileage has dropped in half and most of it has been confined to running for fun rather than just for fitness gains. While I do feel I've already lost some running fitness I've been able to keep myself at near peak levels with little workout effort and in what I think is a good space for the next training cycle.
I've also filled that bonus time with yoga, swimming, cycling and family time. It's not like I've committed myself to potato chips and Nintendo marathons. Though for about a month after the race I did pack on 8 pounds while throwing myself into the arms of the baked goods and sweets that always tug at my inner demons. This is not a recommended approach to your lull time in training but we are all on our own learning curves right?
I've now dropped 6 of those pounds rather easily returning to some clean eating and I can tell that a transition is happening where I feel rested enough to start considering new goals and a new training cycle. I had thought this spring that I would train hard over the summer for a fast 10k race as I'd love to beat my 38 minute PB but I'm glad I've put that aside for now.
I've observed a lot of runners just continuing with the same training schedule all year around giving their body no rest periods until injury strikes or they are no longer able to perform at peak levels due to accumulated stress. Finding your key races to train for and giving yourself an ebb and flow to your year may actually allow you to get stronger in the long run as you're less likely to fall from training altogether when injured or burnt out.
So for your next year take a good account of what's important to you, what you want to train hard for and when the low times will be. Use those low training level times to explore new activities and maybe to gain strength before your next training cycle by visiting your local gym and doing some cross training. And if you don't heed this advice then pay attention to your energy cycles and injuries and map out if you should.