How Pro Runners Handle the Holidays

Kelly O'Mara
by Kelly O'Mara
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How Pro Runners Handle the Holidays

While they have to stay focused most of the year, even professional runners celebrate the holidays. Or at least, if they can’t celebrate in full, they celebrate when and how they can.

We all know to be their best, athletes are supposed to take breaks and recover during their off-season. And we know most of us regular people tend to take our own breaks from working out this time of year. But instead of wondering if we’re doing it right, why not ask the pros how they do it?

Here some Under Armour pro runners share their plans for the holidays, how they do their off-season and what they splurge on. One tip we can all take from the best: A little time off to relax and recharge is important.

NICK ARCINIAGA (DISTANCE RUNNING, MARATHONER)

A 2:11 marathoner, Arciniaga doesn’t necessarily take the holidays off. After all, he still had one last big race in December: the U.S. Marathon Championships in Sacramento. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the season, though.

Arciniaga and his wife usually drive to Southern California to visit their parents and old friends in the area — some of whom he’ll run with while there. “This time is mostly dedicated to family and friends, so if I can’t squeeze in a run, then I don’t try to force it,” he says. Although his running might dip during this time from his usual 100 miles per week, he still gets in about 10–12 miles daily, which means he’s still burning plenty of calories. “I rarely have big events coming up in January, so I don’t worry about indulging too much over the holidays,” he says.

When he does take a full break from training it’s usually based on how he’s feeling. Usually, he just takes some recovery time after a race. But if he gets through a big race and feels particularly banged up, then he’ll take two to three weeks completely off (which can happen at any point in the year, not just around the holidays). “If I do take time off, I take it completely off, other than going on walks with my wife and dog,” he says. When he starts back up again, he gives himself three weeks to return to normal training. During those three weeks, he allows himself seven days that he can take off whenever he feels like it. From there, the training is easy, to gradually to get back into things.

NATASHA HASTINGS (TRACK AND FIELD)

The two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 4x400m relay takes six weeks off from serious training every year. During that time, which usually falls from September to October, she still does light workouts two to three days per week: yoga, rollerblading or easy jogging. She also does an annual evaluation of the season, the ups and downs and what worked or didn’t. “From there my coach and I are able to plan for the next season,” she says.

Mostly, though, she lets her body and mind recharge. And she splurges a little. “I also enjoy an old-fashioned cocktail with my dinner during my off-season. Bacon cheeseburgers are another fave,” she says.

That includes splurging on her mom’s cooking over the holidays. Although she gets back to her regular training in November, she doesn’t let it get in the way of the holidays, when she goes home to visit family. “I will go out and get a light workout in on Christmas Day, but I don’t allow that to ruin the holiday spirit for myself or my family,” she says.

RACHEL SCHNEIDER (TRACK AND FIELD)

The Georgetown All-American is new to the professional running scene, but the miler has been scoring PRs on the track and training hard off it. When the outdoor track and road-racing season is over, usually in mid-September, Schneider takes a two-week break. After the break, she slowly eases back into running workouts, so by the time the holidays hit she’s putting in some winter training to prepare for the indoor track season.

“During my break, my coach doesn’t give me any scheduled training,” she says. That means she can be as active or inactive as she wants — definitely no running workouts, and if she does easy jogs then it has to stay low mileage. The goal is to totally recharge, mentally and emotionally, “so that when we start the next training cycle we go in feeling rested, re-energized, and excited to start up again,” she says. Typically, she uses that time to go hiking and camping, “because I love the outdoors,” she says. It’s also a good time to loosen up on the diet and strict schedule — even if it’s not during the holidays.


READ MORE > SHOULD ATHLETES WORRY ABOUT GAINING WEIGHT OVER THE HOLIDAYS


YIOU WANG (ULTRA RUNNING)

Right now, Wang is on an around-the-world trip, where she’ll visit 30 countries by next summer (and has blogged about it for MapMyRun). But before that she was the 2017 50K trail national champion, which means she runs a lot of miles and takes a lot of breaks to let her legs recover.

After a big race, Wang takes at least a week off of running and then gradually eases back into things based on how she feels. She also tries to space out her races over the year, so that there is clear time for several weeks off at some point. During that time, “I’ll sleep in, lounge around and eat all my favorite meals,” she says. “Going out to dinner on a weekend and not worrying about what time I have to go home and get to bed is a big reward!”

When it comes to the holidays, though, she does something a little different: She actually runs more than usual.

Because Wang also works as a teacher, the holidays are “the only time I can really live on a pro athlete schedule,” she says. That means she uses the days off to get in more mileage, more cross-training and more self-care like stretching and foam rolling. She’ll also visit her family and her husband’s family, who are supportive of her big goals and who help her stay fueled during the training with home-cooked Chinese food. “My mom makes such delicious food that refueling is the best part,” she says.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly O'Mara

Kelly is a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her works appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine. She also co-hosts the podcast, Locker Room Talk, for WiSP: The Global Women’s Sports Network. And she trains. A lot.

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