With December comes snow and cold for those reading in the Northern Hemisphere and the end of the 2013 racing season. In ultra-marathoning, the last big race of 2013 is The North Face Endurance Championships, happening this weekend in San Francisco.

If you are the type of athlete who had a super focused 2013 race season, a few “a” races and have been on the go since last January, now is the time to do the hardest thing you’ll do this year.

Let go of your peak fitness. 

What that means is to stop seriously training and preparing for your upcoming races in 2014. I suggest for at least a minimum of 2-4 weeks.

This suggestion is geared towards those who have been training for 10-12 months consecutively, with different races and events thrown in. Your downtime does not have to be in December. In my case, I am training for a big race in February. I took my down time in August/September this year.

Also, those who have just started to run or who run for fun, by all means keep going. I’m speaking to the more race focused athlete. However, you may want to take a look too!

Wait, you want me to get out of shape? On purpose?

Yes. Let me explain why.

First off, you will lose fitness. You will not be able to run as fast as you did before your last race. I want to make that clear.

That is what we want.

You cannot be in top physical condition all of the time. If you try to maintain such a high level of fitness 24/7/365, you put yourself on the road to overtraining, burnout and eventually imploding.

For the majority of European-based MUT (mountain/ultra/trail) runners, they turn their sites to ski mountaineering (skimo) cross country skiing, as well as hiking, snowshoeing and climbing. Those activities still keep them active, but provide a very different feel when compared to running.

The upside is you will get back to that peak fitness earlier in your next training cycle and even surpass it for your next race. That is what you want, right? To be faster for your next race?

Letting go of peak fitness allows your body to recover and rebuild and puts you on the path towards your next race. Think of it as what comes before prepping for 2014.

Here are a few ways that you can let go of peak fitness and maybe even enjoy it.

Train at your lowest distance or time. If you do decide to continue training, your sessions shouldn’t exceed your shortest distance or time during your 2013 season. Example: If your shortest weekly run was 30 minutes, your longest run should now be 30 minutes.

No structure, just fun. If you do not need structure, I recommend simply doing what you want to do. Maybe you want to rock climb, or ice skate, or go the gym or take some crazy dance class. Whatever it is, keep it fun and decide what you want to do when you wake up.   

Treat yo’self. Use this time to get a few massages and work out those niggles, aches and pains which have accumulated over the racing season. Sit in the hot tub, stretch out, do yoga, whatever can help rejuvenate your body and mind.

Come out of hiding. We’ve all missed parties and commitments because of training. Get out of hiding and enjoy it. Have a few drinks, eat some food, and enjoy the free time that comes with down time. You’ll soon be back into preparations for your next race.

Sleep. Yes, sleep. Sleep in, sleep long, sleep will help you recover and allow your body to recover. After races, many athletes become sick because their body is depleted from the long year. Sleep can help you avoid that by helping boost your immune system.

After a few weeks of transition time, you can begin to prep yourself to get back into normal training based on your schedule. You’ll be 100% and ready to go.

Remember, your goal isn’t to be in top shape now, your goal is to be in top shape for your 2014 “A” race.  

What do you do during the off-season?

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