How to Stay in Shape During the Holidays (And a Huge Announcement!)

December is awesome: Christmas parties, gingerbread men, and endless eggnog make any Scrooge excited for the holidays.


Runners can usually escape the dietary excess of the season without too much weight gain because of our high workload.

Long runs, interval workouts, and strength exercises torch extra calories very effectively. Don’t let those “chronic cardio” weirdos tell you otherwise.

But it’s not the junk food that derails most runners.

It’s the lack of running. Sure, good training will keep your weight in check despite all those second helpings. But boozy parties, colder temperatures, and hectic shopping all threaten to derail your running this holiday season.

With some flexibility and strategic decisions, you can stay in great shape despite these temptations (and still enjoy them!).

You don’t have to settle for a heavier, slower version of yourself on January 1st.

Instead, dominate December so you start 2013 on your way to running faster than ever.

The Value of Flexibility

I’m not suggesting you skip the pumpkin pie and eggnog. Nor do I think it’s best to run instead of spending time with your family. Trying to squeeze in a workout when you’re tired or hung over from Santa’s special brew isn’t the best way to stay in shape.

As my college coach Jim Butler was fond of saying, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.”

Making up mileage or cramming too many workouts into a compressed time period is a recipe for injury.

If you have to skip a workout, then take the day off and move on. It’s OK to skip a run – perfection is for losers. <– Like that? Click here to tweet it!

You may have to abandon a long run or alter a workout. No worries. Running more quality (i.e., faster) when you can’t do more mileage is a good strategy for staying in shape if you simply don’t have the time.

This is exactly the strategy I took while I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon. My volume was cut in half and I ran fewer workouts (who wants to train on their honeymoon anyway?). But several months later I ran a 2:39:32 marathon PR!

The strategies I used while on vacation were the inspiration for the free ebook How to Stay Fit While on Vacation, which is free for newsletter readers. But the main principles work:

  • Replace long runs and maintenance runs with shorter, faster workouts
  • Reduce volume entirely
  • Prioritize those strength exercises that benefit you the most

By focusing on a few basics for 2-3 weeks, you won’t lose much fitness and you’ll be ready to crush harder training in the new year.

Rest is Not a Bad Thing!

One of the many benefits of taking some down time during the holidays is that you come back refreshed, motivated, and energized to accomplish your big running goals. You’ll often feel amazing with a little bit of rest as your endurance is one of the last aspects of your fitness to erode.

So skip a few runs this holiday season. Enjoy the spiked eggnog and stay up late singing carols. Your body will barely notice when you start harder training again in January.

Just remember that  your muscular strength – muscles, but also tendons, bones, and ligaments – is one of the first things to diminish. So when you start running again, you’ll have weaker legs supporting a strong cardiovascular system.

The analogy I like to use is, “don’t let your engine outpace your chassis.” More on that here.

Make sure you do consistent strength exercises to bring your muscular strength back to the level of your aerobic fitness.

The Mentality to Persevere

Holiday Cheer

If I can’t convince you to take a little bit of time off (even if your fitness won’t completely disappear), then there are ways to keep training through the holiday temptations.

A simple behavioral change strategy is to put your money where your mouth is. People value stuff they pay for – and their perceived value increases the more they pay.

So make a “commitment contract” with a friend using Stickk. It’s essentially a bet – you set the terms, put a dollar value on your failure, and you’re ready to start. You only pay if you don’t live up to your own terms.

Another option is a customized training plan built to your holiday schedule. If you have a New Year’s Eve race and four holiday parties in the next few weeks, it’s going to be hard to show up in good shape.

But a plan built around your schedule, to your goals, and with your fitness level is the best way for you to succeed. You can learn more about the PR Race Plan here.

Above all, it’s critical to value the small wins. Every success in your training during the holidays is a cause for celebration.

Completed the full workout in time to bring the kids to see Santa?

Hit your weekly mileage goal despite an office party and, ahem, a few too many hard ciders?

Finished all of your ancillary work without your wife calling you a core whore?

Celebrate! It’s tough to train hard over the holidays and it gets busier every year. Momentum is your best friend when it’s difficult to train so build it early, build it often, and keep it going.

Those who can do it are poised for great things in 2013.

Here’s to a fun, productive, and cheerful holiday season!

PS. I’m Homeless

Earlier this year, I made Strength Running my full-time job. I couldn’t be happier helping runners with their training. It truly is a dream come true.

Since then, I’ve accomplished a lot:

  • I’ve  become a running contributor to
  • Matt and I opened Run Your BQ, welcoming another group of passionate marathoners
  • Offered a slew of giveaways – free training plans, Active memberships, and even $200 in running gear
  • Partnered with 12 other runners and coaches to write 13 Lucky Racing Tips – a free ebook for you

I’m deeply proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish – and I want to thank you for making it all possible.

Now it’s time to take the next step. Instead of remaining near Washington, DC, my wife and I are embarking on a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii and Australia.

A perk of working on SR is that I can do it anywhere. So I’ll be writing the best training I can from my luxurious (ha!) studio on Maui for the next month, then traveling along the East Coast of Australia for a few months.

What does this mean for you? My goal with this trip is two-fold:

  1. Allow me to take a new perspective on running, working, and life. I hope it influences my writing here.
  2. Refresh my own running so I can come back and run faster than ever.

You’ll notice no interruption in posts here or in training plans. Rest assured, this trip is designed to help Strength Running!

I can’t wait to see what this new chapter brings. And I hope you’ll come along for the ride…

Photo Credit, Photo Credit

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  1. Great article (as always). I am a member of Run your BQ and will be using one of the plans (still unsure which though) for my spring marathon! I am very excited!

    Best of luck in Hawaii and Australia! I spent 6 months in Australia in college and still have many friends there!! Let me know if you need any recs 🙂 It literally is the best place on this planet.

  2. I’m a new reader, and am so glad I came across your site! Happy travels, looking forward to being envious of your new running routes.

  3. Wow! What an amazing adventure you and your wife are embarking on! I am thrilled that you are able to do it and thrilled that us readers will benefit in our own way. Best wishes!

  4. Wow! That’s huge Jason! Wish you guys all the best! Will you be stateside on April 15th? Patriot’s Day?

  5. Missy Moody says:

    Wow Jason, what an opportunity! I’m a new reader and am really enjoying Strength Running. Good luck and safe travels to you and your wife. I hope we get to see pictures.

  6. Good for you! Happy holidays and keep up the great work here.

  7. Sounds amazon, Jason. I hope you guys have the time of your lives! I can’t wait to see what the new experiences teach you (and us!).

  8. Jason, your advice about the holidays sounds great. I was planning a bit of a mileage decrease, and now I’ll definitely try to run my fewer miles faster, as you suggested. As for strength work — like your ITB rehab routine and body-weight squats and calf raises and such — how much is too much for those? Is every other day OK during the holidays, or should it be more like twice a week?

    Have a great, memorable trip!

  9. First of all, great article as usual Fitz. And good for you man, the trip sounds fantastic and the rest will do your mind and body good. Good luck on the next phase and thanks for all the great tips. Working with Caleb now so he’s keeping me healthy too but I still haven’t missed a standard warm up in like 18 months and I still haven’t gotten hurt. 🙂

  10. Premshree Pillai says:

    Fantastic news Jason, good luck to you and your wife in your new adventures!

  11. Totally cool! I would love to have my training plan from one who owns such discipline, yet so free and even audacious. That’s why I like running. Every single step that I take, I earn my freedom. Nothing more, nothing less. Congrats!