On The Run: Take the Winter Off

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January 13, 2017

In Praise of Taking an “Off Season”

By Yitka Winn

Elodie Chaplain of Bellingham, Washington revels in the joys of the off season at Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Yitka Winn

 

 

When I moved to Seattle from the Midwest nearly eight years ago, I often told people I did so for the weather. This inevitably garnered a laugh — but it was also true.

When you’ve spent a lifetime enduring humid, 100-degree summer days, then shoveling heaps of snow on winter mornings, the cool, mild Pacific Northwest feels like paradise.

Perhaps most of all, I fell in love with the Northwest climate because it permitted me to run outside in all seasons. While I enjoy snowy winter sports, trail running has long been my greatest passion. In Seattle, the ability to run outdoors year-round felt like a giddy indulgence.

In the winter of 2013, though, a new job opportunity moved me to a tiny mountain town at 7,000 feet in western Colorado. The Northwest had erased my memory of those pesky things called “seasons.”

I was dismayed to learn upon arriving in a state frequently cited as the trail-running capital of the country that, in fact, I wouldn’t be able to run trails there for many months each winter. From roughly November until April, most remained buried under a thick, impenetrable blanket of snow.

For my first two winters in Colorado, I resented this. I whined and I pined for the Northwest, sweet enabler of my obsession with running. Then, one day, I overheard a conversation between two of my co-workers, both avid rock climbers.

“I hate winter here,” one of them grumbled. “I miss climbing.”

“Yeah, I get that,” said the other. “But I also have come to really appreciate the off-season that winter here forces. It lets my body take a break from climbing and lets my mind focus on other pursuits I tend to neglect in the summer, like writing and playing music.”

That got me thinking. I considered passions of mine that tended to fall by the wayside amidst my frenzied training, racing and big-mountain adventuring in the warmer months. I thought of neglected stacks of books I wanted to read. Quality time I wanted to spend with friends and family who don’t share my fondness for running long distances in the mountains. New recipes I wanted to try. Stories I wanted to write.

Even if the weather allows otherwise, I’m now a passionate proponent of taking an “off season” for at least 4 – 8 weeks each year. This doesn’t have to mean a complete cessation of running — just a break from racing, structured workouts, high mileage and the sheer time commitment that a competitive running habit can require.

The off-season is a wonderful opportunity to focus on more cerebral pursuits for a while, or lower-impact physical activities like yoga, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Not only are there great physical benefits to be reaped in the way of recovery and injury prevention, an off-season offers terrific mental boons, too.

By the time spring rolls around, my running stoke is high again, body well rested, motivation refreshed and, perhaps most of all, a healthy sense of balance restored to my life.

Yitka Winn is a freelance writer, avid mountain runner and OutdoorsNW’s On the Run columnist. Follow her adventures at yitkawinn.com or on Instagram @yitkawinn

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