Training through the late fall and early winter has its challenges. Colder weather and shorter days can make anyone question their motivation to get out the door. But there’s another reason why this year will be my first December marathon. The Holidays.
Choose an October or November peak race and you can relax during the holiday season. I certainly have. Running a little less, drinking extra glass(es) of wine, and eating probably a few too many cookies. Hangovers (food or alcohol related) don’t translate to fast runs. And I’ll admit to gaining some seasonal pounds. But speaking from a dietitian’s perspective, that’s okay in the off-season.
This year, though, Thanksgiving falls 10 days from the California International Marathon, which is my peak race of the season. So what’s my plan? Stick to my typical taper rules, with some flexibility.
Rule 1: Eat Clean. In the last two to three weeks of marathon training, your mileage tapers and so should your calories. In the lead up to the race, shorter runs and less intensity help you hit the start line feeling fresh. However, it’s also important to cut back on extra calories, so you don’t end up with any last minute weight gain. During peak mileage, a runner’s caloric needs increase making it okay to enjoy a Friday morning croissant and some Saturday night beers. But you should always ensure that a majority of your calories come from nutrient dense foods (of course). Think fruits, veggies, nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains, lean proteins, plant fats – you get the picture. During the taper, this clean eating becomes even more important. This year I’m not going to skip out on Thanksgiving to eat clean and neither should you. But, I plan to limit my indulgence to one day. Often holidays extend into multiple get-togethers and days of non-stop eating- party after party, treats everyday in the office, and leftovers that never seem to go away. So turn down your co-worker’s homemade peppermint bark (your favorite? mine too!) and say no to taking home that leftover sausage stuffing. With a small frown, I’ll be giving away my extra pecan caramel apple pie to keep my dream goal of setting a PR.
Rule 2: Limit Alcohol. I enjoy my fair share of wine, beer, and spirits. A glass of wine or two with dinner and weekend drinks with friends is typical for me. Recently, I learned the hard way that I’m too old for weeknights out (especially with a younger crowd). If alcohol isn’t your thing, skip this rule and move on, otherwise keep reading. So, for starters, why should you limit your favorite beverages? For one, they add extra empty calories. Remember what you learned from Rule 1: taper time is reducing calorie time. Second, alcohol creates an inflammatory response and there is no reason to add any unwanted inflammation to your body leading up to a race. Personally, I usually stop drinking any alcohol 2 weeks before the big race. It’s an easy way for me to reduce calories and get race ready. This year I won’t be such an extremist and plan to enjoy a few glasses of wine on Thanksgiving with my friends. But before and after I’ll stick to my temporary teetotaling.
Rule 3: Hydrate! Maybe this rule seems obvious to you. Drink water, drink water, drink water…you’ve heard it a million times. However, during the colder weather months runners often don’t hydrate enough. In the heat, I will finish a long run and find myself grasping for more liquids all day. Yet when both the temps and mileage decrease, you won’t find that same body signal to drink more. Therefore, it is key to think about how much water you are drinking. Don’t drink excessive amounts of water, especially the day before or morning of your race. Simply aim to stay hydrated with regular intake in the weeks and days before and you’ll attain normal hydration for race day. If you’re finding Rule 2 difficult and drinking more (instead of less), increase your water intake to avoid those nasty hangovers and aid in maintaining adequate hydration.
Rule 4: Sleep More. Balancing work, family, and friends with marathon training is hard. Sometimes sleep is the last priority on your to-do list. Then add on family visits, travel, and holiday social gatherings, I often find myself stretched thin. By moving sleep up the priority list, you will truly feel better and be able to deal with that Uncle who won’t shut up while the turkey keeps cooking… it is never done on time. Since at this point you’ve told everyone you’re marathon training, use it as an excuse to leave the party early. They are already judging you as the crazy runner, anyway. Especially in the last few weeks before your peak race, find ways to save time and make an effort to get in bed earlier, aiming for 8 hours a night.
Now if I can stick to my own rules this year for Thanksgiving, just maybe I’ll accept the next challenge and sign up for a January 2019 marathon. Houston anyone?
Katie Hynes is a Registered Dietitian , Diabetes Educator, and Sports Nutrition Consultant. A former Division I collegiate field hockey player turned competitive 2:51 marathoner, her passion for fueling the body with healthy foods inspired her to enter this field. Katie has worked with numerous athletes to help them improve their performance through nutrition and proper fueling.