The up-coming holidays offer great potential for runners and can be a fantastic training boost for those doing the targeting a marathon at the end of February such as the Old Mutual Buffs Marathon in East London or the Weekend Witness Marathon in Maritzburg on 25 and 26th February.
Alternatively this holiday period can become a nail in an over-training coffin. The secret as to what the holidays will mean to you is determined by how you balance the training and recovery with the stress and excesses of the festive period.
The holidays are exactly that:– a break from the stress and routine of early morning travel to work, traffic jams, pressures and deadlines of corporate life, more traffic on the homeward journey, the squeeze to fit in a training session and then, if you are lucky, still sometime to enjoy with the family!
There is a tendency to look at the holidays as an opportunity to extend the distances of training, or even to double up on the number of sessions per week. The increase in available time is tempting, but this period is also often one of late nights, parties, excesses of food and alcohol, and inevitably even more places to go and things to do!
So while the holidays can be a break from the routine they often bring their own and new stresses. In many cases the stress levels do not truly reduce they are just different.
Consider for example the stress involved in flying internationally:
Apart from the hectic two day rush to ensure you have everything you think you are going to need, and the challenge of fitting everything into a case that meets the weight or size requirements, the actual flight has a major effect on training potential for any runner.
Some people mistakenly work on the basis of time difference between where we are and where we land.
A trip to Europe, for instance, may only result in a one or two hour time shift, but an overnight flight squashed in the restrictions of economy class and submitting to the temptation of all night movies, coffee and a diversity of drink will cost you three to five days before you are anywhere near the recovery to achieve your normal training performances.
For those staying at home a few late night parties, and an excess of calories which is effectively a complete change of diet will take a couple of days to recover from.
The one area where we do tend to ‘catch up’ is in sleep, where the late morning lie-in can help to compensate for the other excesses.
Sleep is a most efficient form of recovery, both physically and mentally. If we don’t indulge in the other festive excesses, and opt for the recovery of an extra couple of hours in bed then it would be possible to bump up our training by 7 to 9 hours in the week without actually having any real increase in our training load.
Alternatively if we increase the amount of sleep and keep to our normal training regime then the overall load will be lower and it will be as though we have taken an easy week.
The point is that how you opt to mix sleep and partying will dictate how much training you can do and what you can expect four to six weeks down the line.
If you play hard, train hard and travel hard, then the effect of the next three weeks are likely to catch you up six to eight weeks later with less than favourable results.
If you increase your sleep, but moderate your festivities, and maintain your normal training regime, you gain the effect of an easier two to three weeks which will see you refreshed and ready for the final and critical eight week build up to the next marathon or race in the first 6 to 8 weeks of the year.
The third option is to use this period for a focused and intentional increase in training by focusing on extended sleep at night and augmenting mid day naps.
This is an acceptable but dangerous option unless there is an opportunity to reduce the training after the holidays.
One reason for bumping up over the festive season would be for those runners who have been off or had to restrict their training in the 4 to 6 weeks prior to the holidays.
So as the schools, factories, offices close and even the traffic reduces its time to assess and decide what is best for your training at this time, and for the vast majority the best answer will be to eat, drink and be merry, be disciplined to do the training and be disciplined not to do too much training – but above all benefit from the recovery of love, laughter and those extra hours in bed!