There’s a whole bunch of factors that makes maintaining running fitness difficult over the holiday season. The frigid cold, ice, and snow make running outside uncomfortable and at times unsafe, the shorter amounts of daylight mean you’re likely to be running in the dark, and travel and holiday celebrations can make it more difficult to find time for a run.
However, finding time for working out and staying fit over the holidays benefits your health and well-being in many ways. The calories burnt from running bring balance to holiday treats such as Christmas cookies, pies, and cocktails. Even a short thirty minute run a few times a week will help maintain your running base for when you resume training for a spring race. Additionally, the feel-good endorphins released from working out can battle seasonal affective disorder and boost your immune system during flu season.
I personally find that developing a detailed plan or small goals helps me continue to run and stay fit over the busy and cold holiday season. These small goals can aim to run five days a week, strength train at least once a week, or run 20-30 miles per week. Weekly goals provide accountability and remove the guesswork from daily workouts. Instead of having to think about what to do for each day, it’s easier to just go out the door knowing you’ll run for 45 minutes that particular day.
I got the inspiration of this plan from a plan in the November digital issue of Competitor Magazine.
One thing I find super helpful during the winter months is to run for time, not for distance. If you are in an off-season from racing, running for time provides a mental break from training for a certain mileage. I find it easier to go out and run in the cold when I can focus on how it’s only 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back, rather than 3-4 miles.
The great thing about winter running is that you don’t need to worry as much about speed workouts. Since cold temperatures and snow can slow you down, keep most of your runs at an easy and conversational pace. If you race in the spring, summer, and fall months, an easy pace in winter running will provide you with a break from harder runs with prescribed paces and thus create an “off-season” for you. Once a week, add in either a effort-based fartlek workout for speed or a short tempo workout to increase your lactate threshold and maintain a bit of your hard-earned half-marathon or marathon stamina.
This holiday training plan covers the six weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. I didn’t specifically alter certain days for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, partially because those days vary from year to year and partially because some people want to rest and others want to workout on those days. The importance with this plan, even more so than a race training plan, is flexibility. If you know you’re not going to run on Christmas Day, for example, add in an extra run earlier in the week or just don’t worry about missing one day. If the weather is really inclimate and you don’t have access to a treadmill (which can often happen when visiting family for the holidays), substitute your run with some power yoga, strength training with cardio intervals such as plyometrics or jump rope, or activity of your choice.
Always remember that something is better than nothing when it comes to fitness! If you originally planned to run for 60 minutes but the demands of the day or weather only give you half an hour to get out for a run, 30 minutes is still a lot better than nothing. Focus on what you have done, not what you didn’t do.(Disclaimer: I am a certified running coach but I may not be your coach. Please always modify workouts and training plans according to your own fitness level.)