I sit here, lazily lounging on the lanai at our rented condo in Maui, Hawaii. The birds are chirping and there’s a gentle breeze wafting off from the ocean. My view is of the blooming trees, the blue sky and the turquoise ocean. Gently, I gaze into the distance as the lush green of the tropics lullabies me into a… WAIT! I can’t do this! I can’t sit here, sipping island coffee and lulling myself into a luscious daydream. No! I have to run.
How many of us runners have experienced, time and again, the guilt laden conflict of training through a vacation? To non-competitive athletes, this may seem a no-brainer. What’s the deal with training on a vacation? I mean, what on earth is provocative about getting up at an obnoxiously early hour in the pre-dawn morning to hit the pavement and place all focus on a long, elevated, intense, or, for heaven’s sake, “easy” run?
I asked myself this very question just this morning, and when I posed it to my Salty Running colleagues, I got a lot of support. Any of us runners who take our running seriously asks the same question and experiences the same conflict: I’m on vacation, do I run or not?
I do enjoy running, immensely, but I’m not a runner who runs for fun. Although I am a recreationally competitive athlete, I do take my running and racing seriously. This means that when I train, I train with a focus, I train hard and I train for results. I also train with a sense of urgency, knowing the limitations of my age and that my PR days are numbered. All of this naturally leads to a tremendous amount of conflict and guilt when it comes to training while on a family vacation.
After reading the experiences of many of my Salty Running comrades, I am honored and humbled by their stories. They too, struggle. And I’m reminded of how fortunate I am that my competitive distance is within the shorter realm of long-distance running. I mean, I’m having guilt over a workout which takes up so much less time than marathon or half-marathon training. If I were in that group, I’d be looking at hours of training. Countless times, I hear stories of vast amounts of mileage run on honeymoons and of the challenges of configuring a run where there are minimal, if any, options.
As I contemplate this further, I realize that my conflict isn’t solely about how this affects my family. After all, I’m most often running before anybody even awakens for the day. My husband, who is not a runner, is incredibly supportive of my training. He’s never given me grief about my carving out time to run.
After another sip of coffee, I also consider the message that I am sending to my step-daughter. Am I modeling for her what it is to be committed and dedicated to something or am I displaying some form of obsession? Honestly, I know that it is not the latter. All you need to do is ask my coach and running buddies. Rather than being obsessed about my workouts, I have a reputation as the “queen” of recovery.
I also know that despite her youth, my step-daughter totally embraces and loves the idea that vacations are for RELAXING and I don’t see anyone swaying this position. She’s actually a good model for the rest of us!
So, with this knowledge, I become acutely aware that 99% of my conflict is about the effect of training on MY vacation time and MY quality of experience. Sometimes it even bumps up against my core set of values.
I’m a dedicated and committed runner AND I’m also a strong proponent of downtime and balance. How, then, do I resolve this inner battle of being committed and hard-working and, at the same time, give myself a break from the mental and physical stress that is inherent in competitive training? How does one balance the importance of total relaxation with the potential loss of hard-earned fitness?
To help find the answer, I turned to some research to see what the experts had to say about the pros and cons of running or taking time off while vacationing.
Even pros take time off. According to Dr. Doug Graham, “If you train year-round in your sport, you don’t do as well as if you take two to six weeks off.” He also states that most professional athletes, of all levels and experience, take time off to do the things they don’t always get to do, be that catching up on errands or just enjoying other fun activities. Well, this is reassuring.
Reducing the number of runs you do is fine, but don’t skip them all. If elite pro athletes can take this time off, then so can I! If only it were that simple. My concern is that I have several vacations lined up, in a short period of time this year, and this “time off” is during my pre-race season, a time when I’m “supposed” to build strength and endurance. So, I’m bound to play catch-up if I don’t run at all. In other words, even if I don’t feel like running, it’s probably not smart to bail on it either. A few runs seem reasonable.
Don’t try to nail workouts on vacation, give yourself some wiggle room. In these types of situations, Chris Heuisler suggests that we “dial back on the pace and distance if you’re dealing with travel stresses or a hectic schedule, especially if running is harder than at home because it’s warmer, more humid, hillier, at altitude, or on a different surface like dirt trails or beach sand.” In other words, if you feel the need to run, give yourself some leeway. Don’t try to train at the level or intensity that you would at home.
Recovery requires rest and rest will make you stronger. Additionally, there is A LOT of research and articles written on the importance of taking time off. In Give it a Rest: The Lost Art of Recovering Between Training Cycles, Chris McMillan states: “Science is discovering that the chemistry of the brain, the hormonal system and the immune system are compromised during hard training. Breaks rejuvenate these systems, allowing us to train better, more consistently and with more zeal across the next training plan.” He adds that great athletes not only rest, but they gain weight and spend time with their families.
Hey! This is a recipe for success! Chris adds that it’s not so much about the fitness you lose but more about how recovered you are and how ready you are to energetically move into the next training cycle.
So, there you have it. Running and training with consistency is good and there are not too many of us runners who will argue this. That said, it’s okay to take time off, or at least give yourself an opportunity to dial it back a bit.
Sometimes the best running and racing comes after a period of rest, relaxation and a total break from training. Balance is the key! Aloha!
What do you do when a vacation overlaps with your training plan?