January 13, 2017

In Praise of Taking an “Off Season”

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