How to Run Healthy Through the Holidays

Though it can be harder to keep your fitness up, running through the holidays allows you to give yourself a truly valuable gift: novelty. Accept that gift, use it well, and you’ll enter 2017 a better runner than you are now.

How does that work? Here’s an overview:

Often we travel during the festive season and are in new places or settings, running on new routes, at new times of day, with new people, seeing new things. Even if you don’t travel, your routine will likely change and you can choose to change it intentionally where possible.

This often involves changes of distance and terrain and possibly weather. Your runs may be hillier or flatter, rougher or smoother, windier or stiller than usual. This changes your muscle activity and challenges your coordination, wonderful things for your running health and even your evolution as a runner.

Running at a different time of day may mean it’s darker or lighter than usual and you can see a different distance, and this affects your muscle tonus throughout your body and how much you direct your attention outside vs. inside yourself.

There are also some less obvious forms of novelty: running in a different phase of your circadian rhythm, with different activities immediately beforehand and after, different food in your belly, and maybe even in a different mood. All of these change your energy, metabolism, and coordination and can improve your adaptability.

Running unfamiliar routes also gives you great practice in managing your experience of fatigue, as the newness of the route can make you feel you’re running longer than on a familiar route (when your attention is low and time seems to pass quickly) even if the distance is the same. Knowing less about what’s to come also increases your perception of fatigue. All of this is valuable experience to bring to races next year.

Your life outside your running also almost certainly changes over the holidays. Perhaps you’re not sitting at your desk so many hours, or because you’re traveling you’re sitting in different chairs, sleeping in different beds.

This can be good, but it also can be bad! Even if your experience is the latter, though, it can help you get some insight into the effects of your furniture and the amount of time you spend in it on your running technique—a larger effect than most of us would like to believe.

You may also experience the stresses of travel: bad car, train, bus, and airplane seats and the prolonged sedentary time that shorten your hip flexors, stiffen your body, and interfere with your gait. Add to that jet lag, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and dehydration that impair your judgement, coordination, and recovery from exercise.

These are negative effects you’ll need to be very mindful of and take extra steps to restore balance to your system–also a very valuable skillset to develop, and one you’ll definitely need again in the future.

I’ve created a tip sheet for coping with the challenges of travel, cold weather and many of the kinds of stress that so often are also a part of the holidays. Get yours here:

As the pace of activity changes and perhaps accelerates in the coming month, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of novelty for Christmas. Even if you can’t run as long or often as usual, see if you can run at least a little bit and relish everything new and different about it.

If you find on January 2 that you’re somewhat less fit than you were on December 2, you may also find that you’re a bit better rested and very much refreshed as a result, and ready to let what you’ve experienced over the holidays help shape and enrich your running life in 2017.

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