One of my favourite quotes regarding training and Christmas comes from two of my favourite middle distance athletes, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett.
In the winter of 1979, during the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Moscow, I remember training on Christmas Day.
It was a harsh winter (harsh enough to bring down a government), but I ran 12 miles on Christmas morning. It was a hard session, and I got home, showered and felt pretty happy with what I had done.
Later that afternoon, sitting back after Christmas lunch, I began to feel uneasy but was not quite sure why. Suddenly it dawned on me. I thought: “I bet [Steve] Ovett’s out there doing his second training session of the day.” I put the kit back on, faced the snow and ice and did a second training session. I ran several miles, including some hill work.
Not long ago, over supper in Melbourne, I told him the story. He laughed. ‘Did you only go out twice that day?’ he asked.
While most avid distance runners would have already seen this passage, and these two were the most elite runners at the time, it begs the question ‘should you train on Christmas Day?’
Many athletes will go out and train on Christmas Day with the thinking that most others will not train—ultimately giving them an extra day of training across the year. And maybe this is enough extra credit to get them across the line on race day.
But does one extra day of training matter? Are you doing an additional session on a day where you would typically be resting or recovering? Is it more important for your mental health and wellbeing to spend time with your family and relax or hit the track for a workout?
One extra day of training is far less critical than the consistent training you would have completed for the other 364 days of the year regarding overall fitness and performance. However, adding this extra day may increase your risk of injury if it falls on a day where you would normally be recovering or resting. This is an important consideration to have. If you look at the research coming out about training loading and what percentage increases in training increase the risk of injury, one additional session may be enough.
The idea of having a family day on Christmas Day can be essential for mental health and wellbeing. However, this is a very individual, and you would need to look at this on an athlete-by-athlete basis. Some athletes will struggle more with being given the day, while others would relish it.
My personal opinion would be to rest up and enjoy your time with family, especially with the year we have just had! However, if you choose to put on your training gear, there are several considerations you need to take into account.
Picking the right time to go for a training run will depend on when and how you celebrate your Christmas festivities, unwrapping gifts, and meals. You still want to be able to train appropriately and comfortably. This is not going to happen if you are overloaded with Christmas ham and trifle. I am based in Australia so hot weather is also a huge consideration as the temperature is more often than not above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hydration is probably one of the most overlooked components in a training regime. If you are training on Christmas day and the days after hydration is an important consideration. Both Salty foods and sugary foods increase the need for hydration. Both are common in a Christmas feast. Excess salt in your diet means you need to increase your water intake so your kidneys can function correctly. Whilst sugary foods tend to increase urination to clear excess blood sugar, so again a need for slightly higher fluid intake. For the adults reading this Alcohol consumption at Christmas also increases the risk of dehydration as alcohol acts as a diuretic (causes the body to remove fluid through the renal system). Couple this with a summer Christmas and you need to consider fluid intake leading up to Christmas and post-Christmas.
As you can see from both Timing and Hydration food has a significant impact on training around Christmas time. The first step here would be not to overeat, which takes a fair amount of self-control, and the second step is to avoid or limit the foods higher in salt, sugar, and alcohols. You want to be still able to enjoy Christmas and all the joy that comes with it you need to exhibit a little self-control and better judgement on food if you are going to train.
Most commercial venues will likely be closed or have limited trading hours over the Christmas and New Year period so your training selections will need to reflect that, this will need to be addressed with a coach-athlete conversation before the Christmas period.
Is there any real magic to training on Christmas Day? Well, it depends if you believe or not. However, if you consider what Christmas Day can throw at you, I am sure you can have a terrific day of training.
Merry Christmas for all of us at teamgazellerunning and we look forward to seeing you running into 2021 with a smile.