For those of us who live in a northern climate, it’s finally the point in the season that many runners have been looking forward to for the past few months; the last big snowfall is hopefully behind us and we can actually get some miles in during the week while the sun is up! For some people, a March break trip down south has been planned for some time and how great will it be to not have to pack your tights, nylon shell, toque and gloves?
You’ve been dedicated to your training throughout the winter and things are progressing according to plan towards your big race goal coming up this spring. You know you have a busy week of activities planned for your vacation and wonder how you’re going to fit your training in during the week. I’ve seen a few Project PB clients either leave their running shoes in their suitcase, or not even pack them altogether. Then when they return home, they pick up their training program and jump back in as scheduled, only to be discouraged that they’ve lost some of the fitness they’ve worked so hard to build, or worse, shock their system to the point where an injury creeps up, and then they really need a vacation from running. If you have an upcoming spring break trip planned, don’t let this happen to you! This article discusses some points to be mindful of in an effort to ensure your trip includes the perfect combination of running and vacation fun.
In his new book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?, The Globe and Mail’s Jockology columnist Alex Hutchinson cites a study performed in 2008 by Paul Williams of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Williams published some surprising results about a phenomenon he called “asymmetric weight gain and loss,” based on the experiences of 55,000 runners in his National Runners’ Health Study. Put simply, he found that you gain more weight when you stop exercising than you lose when you subsequently resume the identical exercise program. “In other words,” he says, “if you stop exercising you don’t get to resume where you left off.”
Although you won’t have to pay duty on an extra five pounds, there’s no need to bring it back across the border with you. Below are some tips to consider so that your metabolism keeps working even when you are on holiday:
Over the past couple years my wife Maura and I have been fortunate enough to go on two separate week-long holidays to a warmer climate, both for weddings. Two years ago it was for a destination wedding in Juatulco, Mexico for a good friend of hers from physiotherapy school, and this past summer it was for her brother’s wedding in Orange County, California. Where we were staying in California was ideal for running, as a paved bike path along the Pacific Coast Highway extended much longer than I needed for an out-and-back 22 mile long run, and I was aware of this ahead of time as I had asked my brother-in-law what the environment would be like for running. Mexico, it goes without saying, was a big question mark. I foresaw that getting significant mileage in while at a resort in Mexico would be difficult, so when I was drafting up my training program a few months prior, I scheduled in a recovery week for the seven days I was going to be away, and planned it so that my long runs would occur the day before we left and two days after we got back, as I wasn’t sure how feasible a 20+ miler in Mexico was going to be. As well, since I’d be on a recovery week, the potential for a higher percentage of missed mileage wouldn’t be as great.
For the California trip, I knew ahead of time there’d be a number of family and wedding-related functions to attend, but there would certainly be ample opportunity for an overall solid week of training. Thus, when I was drafting up my Chicago 2011 marathon training plan, I didn’t even factor the California vacation into the equation. To pass some time while en route from Halifax, however, once I had a pretty good idea of how the itinerary for the week was shaping up, I juggled my training week around to accommodate for various obligations. I.e. move a recovery jog to the morning after the wedding, as a long marathon-pace run wasn’t likely to happen.
A lesson I learned on both trips was to try and front-load my week with the longer and quality runs I had planned, so that they were in the bank early. It was a nice feeling knowing that by Wednesday mid-morning all of the tough stuff was behind me and I just had a few easy runs to finish off the week; that tempo run wasn’t going to be hanging over my head until Friday.
Be bored, but be safe!
I had no interest in exploring the Mexican countryside, but the above options allowed me to get my scheduled training volume in while on vacation without becoming demotivated at the prospect of repeating the same mundane run over and over again throughout the week.
Spring getaways are a great opportunity to recharge your batteries while spending quality time with friends and family. Since running is a regular part of your day-to-day routine, nobody should be surprised when you take running with you on your holiday. Know ahead of time what time-slots are available to fit your runs in so that your party is inconvenienced as little as possible – first thing in the morning before the days’ activities get under way is often the way to go, but every situation is different.
If circumstances conspire against you while you are away, however, rest assured that it’s not the end of the world. In his book, Alex Hutchinson goes on to say that “the literature on ‘detraining,’ or loss of fitness, is surprisingly complex, because different adaptations to your muscles, heart and metabolism fade away at different rates. As a rough rule of thumb, the evidence suggests that you retain endurance gains for about two weeks without training, but by the time you hit four weeks you’re back to baseline. The drop-off happens sooner if you’ve just started exercising; long-term (runners) have structural adaptations like a larger heart and more capillaries to take oxygen to their muscles, which will endure for several months.” So if you didn’t get in all the runs you had planned, there’s no need to defer your race entry until next year. Following your training program to the tee while you are on vacation is not always feasible, but there are ways to be creative and work with your situation as best you can so that you return home refreshed, fit, and eager to continue working hard towards your spring racing goals.
About the Author: Greg Wieczorek is a Chartered Accountant and 2:25 marathoner residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has coached his wife Maura from a 4:17 marathon debut to a personal best of 2:58 and helps others maximize their road race potential through his online coaching service Project PB.