Holidays, summer or winter, are often seen as a time to bump up the training, whereas the alternative opinion would see this as a time to recover.
For many runners the year-end holidays in South Africa, or the winter holidays in July, have almost become a marker to increase the overall distance in preparation for the Two Oceans or Comrades marathon in summer, and a total rest period in winter.
These can be reasonable strategies if you have been injured in November and are just making a return, or in post Comrades mode.
For example to compete in these two ultras a runner needs a qualifier in the form of a 5-hour marathon, which in the case of Two Oceans must be completed by end of February or early March. It is clear why many consider the festive week as a great time to cram in the distance, but in many cases this may be a mistake.
For the majority of runners, normal everyday life requires the juggling and squeezing of work, family and social life around their training objective. This constant time manipulation is a consistent and draining stress. Holidays give the opportunity to remove this from the equation. However removing the stress of work and replacing it with added family, social and training commitments does nothing to relieve the pressure or to have a break.
Holidays can also be seen as a time to catch up on the DIY projects or the overdue house or car maintenance, and while it is true that a change can be as good as a holiday, most runners would benefit from switching to low gear in their training over the holiday period.
The year end has added challenges: No matter how you celebrate the year end festivities, it is hard to get around the extra calorie intake on offer wherever you go and for some the fear of gaining extra kilos is a driving force to being out on the road. Again this tends to be overstated.
A nominal increase in the natural energy belt could well be the foundation for a quality running season. After all the main peak in training will come a few months down the line and if you are already in lean-mean-running-machine shape, then you will be risking over-training by the time you reach the key distance or high intensity phase.
From the above it should be clear that there may be significant benefits to dropping the distance and even the number of sessions over the holidays. That does not, however, mean you need to lose all the hard earned fitness, but what it does mean is that you should take a different perspective on your running.
Start by cutting the running down to say three sessions per week.
Keep one longer easy run about the 2/3rd to the full distance of your longest run in the past 6 weeks, and ideally at least 90 minutes.
Then for your next run have some fun with street furniture! Lampposts, telegraph poles, litterbins, seats, and road signs all make ideal markers for picking up and slowing down the pace of a 35-45 minute run after your first easy 15 minutes of warm up.
As many people will be in hotels or have access to gyms one of the most beneficial sessions can be to use the treadmill. Begin by warming up on the cycle or rowing machine with some easy work but preferably at a high cadence or row-rate. Aim for over 95 cadence on the bike and above 30 strokes per minute on the rowing machine. When warmed up move to the treadmill. As these often have a 20 minutes time restriction this session fits into that. Commence with an incline of 1% and a speed just faster than your 10km pace. For example if you run 10km in 50 minutes your race pace is 12km per hour so start at 12.5 -13km per hour.
Now run on the belt for 35 seconds then using the side arms lift yourself off the belt and stand with your feet at the side for 20 seconds. You now have 5 seconds to lower yourself back onto the moving belt for the next 35-second burst. This gives a total of 1 minute for an interval and so you get 20 minutes out of this session. As the session proceeds increase the speed by 0.2 or 0.3 km per hour, as you feel able, (particularly over the first 8-10 minutes).
An alternative way to increase the load is to increase the incline for a couple of efforts and then you may drop it back to 1% but increase the speed. Play with the workload in this way until you have completed the 20 efforts by which time you will probably be running at a speed closer to your best 1500m time.
This is a short but exceptional session that boosts all the key physiological markers, yet takes only 30-40 minutes including the warm up and cool down.
Remember that many treadmills switch off automatically if no one is running on them. However simply increasing the speed or incline while you are off the belt tends to over ride this auto-stop so put the speed up and down every 10 -15 seconds when off the belt and you will not be bothered by this default.
While on holiday you may be running in unfamiliar territory and this will work for you by taking away the ‘stress’ of comparing how fast or slow your run was over those regular course. This is a great advantage as you simply run as you feel. Make a point of not monitoring everything to a detail, as this will give you freedom to work with your body. If you are staying at home over the break then try removing your watch and run the more regular routes in reverse or mix up your normal routes since it is unlikely that you have the same time pressures to finish your run by.
These three sessions will maintain your fitness over a three week period but if you feel the need, (that guilt feeling), to be training more try to replace running with an alternative such as cycling, swimming, skating hiking or even some faster walking. It doesn’t have to be much but make it of sufficient effort that you feel you did something for 30 or 40 minutes.
Alternatively use the gym and make your priority on core work. Mix planks, bosu ball work, upper body exercises such as pull ups and lat pull-downs in a short 30 min session. (see core session articles) Holidays are that – so have a change – have a holiday and in doing so the recovery from the normal pressure of training will refresh the body and the mind in preparation for the up-coming new running season.