By Darcie Murphy
CTS Ultramarathon Coach
Virtually no one’s schedule magically gets less busy during the holiday season. Generally it’s the opposite and we must squeeze even more into an already demanding schedule. But we also want to reach the New Year with a training regiment and some fitness still intact. So, how do we approach this balancing act? Here are five tips to help keep your training on track through the holiday season:
Hold Tightly to your Habits!
According to Charles Duhigg’s research, 70% of our day is made up of habits, things we do without really thinking about them. Ideally your workouts fall into this category. Utilize all of your superhero holiday powers to keep those training habits intact. Sure, you may have only a few minutes available for training when your typical schedule provides more flexibility. Maintaining habits doesn’t mean you necessarily will continue adhering to your normal training regiments.
What can you do in a few minutes to keep a general workout habit in place? Strengthen your feet and lower leg muscles by doing calf raises in the shower. The stronger your feet and lower legs, the less likely you are to incur an injury when your mileage increases. Grab a quick set of push ups or sit ups immediately when you get out of bed. Take the stairs at work or purposely park far away from the office. If your climate and routes permit, run to work or commute by bike or ski. These tactics may free you up from clearing actual space in your daily calendar, but it will keep you in the training mindset and continue that craving for exercise and movement.
It’s very likely you have more demands on your time and energy this time of year. Be willing to compromise by decreasing the duration and/or location of workouts, but don’t give them up completely. These compromises may result in a little less sleep or recovery time than usual. That’s not ideal, but since the holidays last only a few weeks, this will be a relatively acute time of sleep deprivation. Maintaining your training habit will benefit you more than the cost of cutting into recovery time-so long as the decrease in recovery time doesn’t also become habitual. All things in moderation (more on that below!)
Take Care of the ‘January You’
Have a conversation with your New Year’s self. How does that ‘you’ want to look back at the December ‘you’? After the New Year you will most likely be grateful for the effort and sacrifices you made in December to maintain a level of fitness. Don’t place the January ‘you’ in a position of needing or trying to make up for lost opportunities and major slips in fitness.
Be specific about how you want to arrive in January: how many miles do you want to be able to run in a given week next month, without risking injury? Whatever that number may be, your heaviest weekly volume in December should be no less than about 40% of January’s weekly volume target. Keep this vision in mind at gatherings where there may be opportunities to over-indulge. Moderation and steady work will probably be rewarded in a few short weeks.
Plan your week before it starts. Holiday gatherings, travel and work deadlines will hold workouts for ransom you give them permission. If you have a coach, work with them to optimize the time you have available for training. If you typically run in the afternoons or evenings but have fewer evenings available during a given week, move the workout to the morning. Or, complete two shorter runs in a day rather than one longer run. Use a treadmill; it can be a terrific tool to simplify your run workouts, especially if you live in a cold climate and heading out for a run requires dressing in several layers. Be creative to work within the confines of your holiday schedule.
Create Peer Pressure
Commit to working out with a friend or offer to lead a weekly group run. Most of us can more easily justify skipping workouts if we are only accountable to ourselves. We’re less likely to skip a workout if we are accountable to a friend or a group of peers. Again, look at your week before it begins, coordinate available time that you and someone else have open, make a plan and stick to it. Time out on the trails in the dark and colder temperatures often passes more quickly when you share the experience with others. If you absolutely cannot run with a friend, join a virtual challenge like the ones commonly seen on Strava to increase your accountability.
Celebrate the Season
The holidays come but once a year. So, even with the ‘January You’ in mind, also take time to share and celebrate life’s treasures with friends and family. January will be here soon enough. The risk in not taking time to fully embrace the season could be that you grow to resent your training. Take time to feel the magic of the season, be generous to yourself and those you love. Ideally that generosity will come full circle and will propel you to greater achievements in all things, including your running. Love the season, love the training. With proper planning, patience and specific goal setting you can maintain the balance that this season requires. Best wishes on your holiday endeavors!