We asked Cathal Dennehy to catch up with some of the elite middle distance world to find out what they wll be doing during the off season. Cathal Dennehy, who won the media 800 meters at the London 2017 World Champs (sub 2 minutes, baby), travels the world, searching for a great athletics story. We were fortunate to get him stateside for a good couple of stories…
Planning a wedding, moving house, re-arranging vacations, eating junk food – for elite athletes, the plans for the off-season vary, but they also share a common theme: this, at last, is the time they can do all the things they’d been putting off all year.
For some, the off-season will be reduced to just a handful of days – a result of too much unwanted time off during the season – while others will allow their breaks to stretch several weeks to allow their bodies and minds a chance to refresh after an exhausting summer.
For many of the world’s best middle-distance athletes, the season ended with four minutes of ripping downhill through the streets of New York in the Fifth Avenue Mile earlier this month.
When they reached the finish and stood basking in the warm glow of a September sun alongside Central Park, the atmosphere was universally relaxed – winners and losers united in the satisfaction of an upcoming well-earned break.
But for some, like world steeplechase champion Emma Coburn, the stress was only just beginning. She will now turn her hand to race directing, organising the inaugural Elk Run 5K, a charity race on September 30 in her hometown of Crested Butte. After that, she’ll have just two weeks to prepare for her wedding in Hawaii with fiancÃ© Joe Bosshard.
“It’s all fun, all good,” she said. “It’s a lot of planning ahead, but I’m not overburdened.”
Coburn planned to take less than a week off running, an adjustment from previous years. “I’m going to take a shorter break than usual but do a really slow build-up,” she said. “I’ll just be running when I feel like it through the wedding.”
In New York, however, shortly after signing hundreds of autographs for adoring kids, her immediate concern was a much more straightforward task. “We’re going to go get some milkshakes,” she said.
Her wedding, on October 14 in Hawaii, will also feature in the off-season plans for her friend Jenny Simpson, who took victory in the Fifth Avenue Mile in a course record of 4:16.6.
“My husband and I have not been on vacation since 2010 and we’re finally going for Emma’s wedding,” said Simpson. “We’re going for a week before the wedding and we’ll finally have a week away from running to get away from all the people we bother all year long with my racing and problems.”
However, the 1500m world silver medallist will not be hanging up her running shoes for long.
“I usually take 10 days off and then start jogging and get back to work,” she said. “Some people need that month off to put their entire mind away from racing and running, but part of it is I live in Boulder, a place where going out for a run is what people do on their lunch hour, so it’s a part of the culture. You’re tempted to get some really nice fall runs in before the winter comes.”
For the men’s winner at Fifth Avenue, Nick Willis, the off-season break was set at just three or four days, a result of Willis having missed extended periods of training earlier this year with shin splints. “I had such a late start to the year so I feel relatively fresh,” he said. “I’ve been training pretty high volume right up to this race, 60 to 70 minutes a day, so that when I resume training I won’t get injured jumping straight back into higher mileage.”
The runner-up in New York, Chris O’Hare, took a trip back home to Scotland with his 10-month-old baby son Ronan, where he enjoyed a vacation before returning to his base in Boston. “I’ll spend lots of time with my little man in the swing park and we’re going to Scotland so he can see all my family,” said O’Hare. “Hopefully he’ll pick up an accent.”
For fellow Britons Jessica Judd and Laura Weightman, who both made the podium at the Fifth Avenue Mile, the off-season is all about vacations.
Judd had originally booked a stay in Miami but made a late change given the impending hurricane and spent the past week in Hawaii instead. She will take 10 days off then resume training with a view to competing at the European Cross Country in December. “I love cross country, it’s a bit of fun, then I’ll really start working hard in the New Year,” she said.
Weightman, meanwhile, set off for Italy with her boyfriend before resuming training for 2018 and a tilt at the Commonwealth Games in April. “I’ll take three weeks off, chill out, enjoy Italian ice cream and pizza and put my feet up by the beach,” she said.
Others, like Brenda Martinez, have no choice but to utilise their off-season in more productive fashion. “I’ve been dealing with achilles issues for two years now, and I need PRP [platelet-rich plasma] shots so I’ll get those and take two weeks off,” she said. “I want to die down on the travelling and just rest.”
Elite athletes, by nature, often have to be single-minded, but for many the off-season is a chance to give back to those close to them. For Colleen Quigley, that meant helping her boyfriend move apartments in San Francisco. “I’ll get in some extra weightlifting,” she said with a laugh.
Like the others, she was also planning to use her time off to loosen the reins when it comes to her diet: “I’m looking forward to eating some ice cream, drinking some wine and just relaxing for a couple of weeks.”