Monday, November 24, 2014

A Runner's Thanksgiving Holiday Survival Guide

Author's note: The following article was originally published Nov. 21 in the Sierra Sun.

Fall colors on the PCT at Donner Pass

Another Thanksgiving, and your Aunt Marge’s house is already filled with the smell of turkey and pie and the sounds of squealing children, boisterous relatives, and football games on TV. By 3:00 you’ve had your first glass of wine and an unknown number of Triscuits with some weird cream cheese spread.  You’re hiding in the kitchen trying to avoid a cousin who wants to do nothing but talk politics when Grandma corners you to inquire why you still don’t have kids and don’t you think you’re getting a bit old and tick-tock. When you finally sit down with a mountainous plate of potatoes, turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole to accompany a third glass of wine, you realize you’re already exhausted and not even very hungry. At the end of the evening you’re painfully full, incapable of any more polite chit chat, and profoundly intoxicated. You beg your husband to drive and roll out the door, falling asleep on the ride home.

How are you ever going to make it through the holidays?

While I do hope that description doesn’t capture your Thanksgiving exactly, there is very likely at least one element of truth in there for most of us. I love the holidays, but all the excessive eating and drinking makes me feel fat and grumpy. For athletes, it can be an especially challenging time, what with trying to maintain training during a busy schedule while simultaneously avoiding too many See’s chocolates. So, here is some advice for getting through Thanksgiving, and the holidays beyond, with your sanity and your training schedule, if not fully intact, at least not completely obliterated.

When it comes to squeezing maximum workouts into a minimum of time, I suggest modifying your run instead of skipping it. If you nip out for an easy three miles Thanksgiving morning instead of bailing on your workout because you’re too busy, you will be in a better mood to socialize and carry less guilt when you can’t resist that second piece of pie. The same holds true for Friday’s workout. You don’t have to do anything high quality, but nothing cures a hangover like sweating it out on a run. (Not that I would know.) Save high quality workouts for Saturday and Sunday.

If at all possible, try not to overeat. I mean, do as I say, not as I do. If I’m not sprawled on the sofa in pain at the end of Thanksgiving with the top button on my pants undone, I consider it a major accomplishment. But if you have even a modicum of self-control, you can probably avoid this situation. Just remember that you don’t have to taste everything on the table. It all pretty much tastes the same as last year, right? Try to skip a few items, and keep your mountain of potatoes to a mole hill. Also, save room for dessert. I mean, you’re going to eat it regardless, but you’ll be happier if there’s room.

You can also be the instigator for a little more physical activity. Try gathering family and friends for a friendly game of flag football instead of watching sports on TV. More time spent running around on the grass means less time drinking beer! If you suck at football like I do, you may want to push for capture the flag or ultimate Frisbee. I’ve found that those games often favor distance runners in the second half. Most people seem to get really tired, and that’s when good endurance can make up for poor sprinting and crappy hand-eye coordination.

Even if you’re not training for anything specific, it is truly helpful to maintain something of an exercise routine through the holidays. You’ll stay a bit fitter, feel less guilty, and be in a better mood. Plus, a long run is a great way to avoid everything when obligations just become too much.

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