training through the holidays

How to Improve Ultramarathon Training Through The Holidays


By Darcie Murphy,
CTS Ultrarunning Senior Coach

The holiday season is upon us! Whether that conjures panic or glee, apathy or excitement, or perhaps a combination, the season will happen with or without you. And it’s probably going to affect your training, too. It is possible to keep your training intact while handling the social engagements and holiday shopping. The key is to keep expectations realistic, stay patient, maintain a sense of humor, and keep your long-term objectives in mind. Here are a few specific guidelines to help you reach the end of the Holiday Season feeling joyful instead of wrecked.

Make realistic commitments early

Consistency is the cornerstone to this entire adventure called ultrarunning. Any individual long run or specific threshold workout matters less than just getting out there most days. You’ll be better served by cutting back your overall training time rather than decreasing the frequency of training sessions. For example, if you’re running most weekdays for about an hour and two hours on both weekend days, that equates to approximately 10 hrs/week. You could cut that in half, run 30 minutes most weekdays and an hour on the weekends. This opens up more time and energy for the holiday extracurriculars while keeping your basic running adaptations intact. More than anything, it will keep your habits and routines intact, which are often the most challenging aspects to maintain.

If you have a favorite route, running partner or specific type of workout, anchor those in your schedule ahead of time because they will provide a boost to your motivation. If some workouts must be wiped off the calendar completely, drop some of the low-intensity endurance runs; retaining the intensity in your training is key to maintaining your fitness.

Leave room for error and opportunity

Life happens to everyone, from elite athletes to beginning runners. Maybe it’s a sick kid, a later-than-anticipated night, or being asked to organize a party. At some point, we must react on short notice. Some people are strict planners while others are great at reacting to quick changes. No matter where you are on this spectrum, it is possible to keep training on track while simultaneously making room for additional items on the calendar.

First, take a deep breathe. Look at it from a problem-solving perspective rather than the world trying to hijack your plans. You can no longer run after work today? Then you’re taking a rest day, which means you should have more energy for the next workout. Perhaps that creates an opportunity for including intervals into your upcoming workout or to run a harder, hillier route. The point is, with the right mindset, creativity and patience, you can probably make lemonade (or eggnog) out of a situation that may initially seem likely to derail your original plan.

You must also be forgiving. Shopping, planning, decorating, and socializing take a toll, even if they don’t register on your activity tracking device. If you find yourself feeling more tired than you anticipated during a workout, or a string of workouts, you have permission to slow down or cut the workout short. You probably won’t win or lose your spring or summer event by altering a workout in December. However, there’s a good chance you could get to January feeling uninspired because you asked too much of yourself during the holiday season. How you treat yourself throughout the next few will probably have a large impact on your New Year outlook, which leads me to my next point.

Keep the long game in mind

If you’re working with a coach, or even if you aren’t, hopefully you’ve mapped out what we call a Long Range Plan. These plans paint the big picture for the season, including when the high-volume training blocks will be scheduled, when you’re going to focus more on speed or climbing, and whether you may have a heat adaptation protocol on your calendar. It helps to plan schedules well in advance to help you gear up mentally for those big pushes and know when you’ll have some periods of rest.

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Take solace in that long term view, it can help you realize there will be many opportunities to improve your fitness and train specifically as your goals get closer. I tell a lot of athletes that we’re just trying to cover the basics during the holidays, that the primary goal is to be ready to train in January, and this season doesn’t really have to resemble training. So long as you’re keeping that consistency intact and staying in the mindset that you’re an athlete, you’ll be more likely to get the job done.

Don’t sweat the fact you may be too busy and distracted to adhere to the strictest training protocols day in and day out. Think of the Holidays as a time to spring load your ambition for the weeks and months ahead. Pulling back now can help propel you with more urgency and enthusiasm when you tackle the heftier, arguably more meaningful, training blocks at the beginning of the year.

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Celebrate the season

Although the Holidays often bring another layer of complexity to the table, it’s also a chance to celebrate and connect with traditions and people that matter most to us. My daughter was born on Christmas Eve and she loves every single thing about the Holidays. Luckily, that makes it even easier for me to be excited about their arrival. She’s now old enough to cook and decorate, so it frees some time for me. But the point is, as challenging as it can be, revel in the chance to be joyful and give thanks.

Most of us squeeze training into already-demanding schedules, and kudos for that. This time of year provides a chance to slow down, reflect on all that you’ve accomplished, and relish the people, foods, traditions and sights that are unique to the Holidays. It can be an invigorating and inspiring practice to simply take time to recognize the good thing in our lives. May we all be well with the arrival of the season, may we all celebrate the goodness. Cheers!

Comments 1

  1. What strategies can be employed to enhance ultramarathon training during the holiday season? greeting : Telkom University

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