Don’t let the holidays destroy all the work you have done all year long. This time of year is a good time to let the body recover and rebuild from all the training you have subjected it to all year long, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing any activity at all. Stay motivated and active and don’t pack on any pounds this time of year. Try new activities, join in on the Holiday Triathlon Streak, or follow any of the tips in the article below. Keep up your fitness now so you can get even faster next year because you won’t be starting at zero! As always, come on in to KONA Multisport for inspiration, advice, and all of your triathlon supplies, gear, and equipment!
Thrilled with his finish in the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2007, Alvin Gunkel of Fairfax, Virginia, promptly signed up for a spring marathon and took a few weeks off to recover. After his break, however, he found it hard to resume training. “I didn’t run once between November 14 and December 7,” says Gunkel, 36. He went out for a six-mile run on Christmas Eve, began to feel pain in his knee around mile four, and ended up limping home.
Gunkel’s abrupt return from his holiday hiatus resulted in two months of physical therapy and his doctor telling him to forget about his spring marathon. “That was pretty devastating,” Gunkel says. “I thought I could do anything after Marine Corps.”
‘Tis the season for training to come undone. Between social gatherings, family obligations, and the pursuit of the perfect present, runners oft en find it difficult to stick to a routine. And once the mileage plummets, so goes the body and mind.
“If you flat-out stop running around Thanksgiving and don’t pick it up again until January, you could conceivably lose 30 percent of your cardiovascular fitness,” says exercise physiologist Jeff Potteiger, Ph.D., of Miami University in Ohio. “You could be back to where you were when you were sedentary.”
A total lapse in training not only shrinks your heart and widens your waistline, it can also hurt your head. “When you stop running, things tend to go south in a hurry, psychologically,” says sports psychologist and runner Michael Sachs, Ph.D., of Temple University. “You’re used to running to help reduce your stress levels. Now you’re making a choice not to do it at one of the most stressful times of the year.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to log mega-mileage during the hectic holiday season to preserve your fitness, sanity, and motivation. Here’s how to do just enough to keep you ready to train in earnest come the New Year.
An abbreviated training schedule can keep you in shape—if it packs enough intensity and enough duration. “Just because you’re doing less doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time,” Potteiger says. “You can cut back a day or two a week and still maintain your fitness, as long as you train hard enough and long enough to offset the fact that you’re training less.”
That said, all runners should aim for a minimum of three runs per week. If you were getting out six days and logging 40 to 50 miles per week for marathon training, you can cut back 50 percent of your volume and maintain a baseline fitness level. But that may be too much of a cutback if you logged fewer miles. Two of your three workouts should elevate your heart rate to work your cardiovascular system and maintain your VO2 max level, or at least prevent it from significantly decreasing during this reduced-training period. The third workout should target endurance—reaching at least half the distance of your previous long runs.
You want to run, but there are all those presents to wrap and parties to plan, and you feel selfish sneaking out. But don’t let guilt keep you off the roads. “When times are stressful, people rely even more on proven coping strategies,” says Sachs. “For many of us, running is one of our most effective strategies.”
If your partner or kid is giving you a hard time whenever you pass up the ‘nog for the treadmill, says Sachs, try saying something like “When I run, I’m more productive, more energetic, less crabby, and can be more helpful to you.” Or more simply, “I’ll be a nicer person if I run.”
Running when you’re tense or angry can cause injury. Here’s how to unwind safely.
If you’re blessed with an understanding family, round up everyone and head out for a jog together. “It’s a nice way to get some time together over the holidays,” says Sachs, “and you’ll be helping them to better understand why exercise is so valuable to you, and they’ll get some of those benefits themselves.”
Maintain your focus by signing up for a Turkey Trot, a Holiday Ho Ho Ho 5K, or a Resolution Run. Just remember to embrace the glad tidings and cool those competitive engines. “Don’t go out there and really race it,” says New York City-based coach Mike Keohane. “This is not the time to set a PR.”
Find a race or event near you.
Better yet, set a longer-range goal with a group of friends. In Massachusetts, the Brookline-based Heartbreak Hill Striders kick off training for April’s Boston Marathon around December 1. Sure, it’s a little early for serious running, says coach Jim Carroll, “but it helps with the group’s collective motivation.”