Vacation Time! To Run or Not to Run?

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? 

Hello! This is Chili. I'm originally from Newfoundland and I currently reside in Eugene, Oregon (otherwise known as "TrackTown USA"). I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with a specialty in Eating Disorders and Body Image issues. I like to write about the psychological components of racing, the joys of running with others, injury prevention, runners and body image, risk-taking in racing and the experience of being a Masters runner who is relatively new to the sport.

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10 comments

  1. It really depends. If I’m training for an A-goal race, then I continue to train through vacation, especially if it’s close to race time. If it’s at the beginning of the training cycle, then I might start the cycle early, run during vacation simply as maintenance and then continue with training once I’m back home.

    If I’m not training for a big goal race, then I usually just do what I can during vacation. It’s not something I stress over because I run for fun.

    1. In other words, remember not to let Gertrude hitch a ride in your suitcase 🙂 I would recommend NOT going on vacation in the middle of training for a big race, unless your companions are runners and would like to join you for training runs. I’m not really training for anything so when I go on vacation in a month, I’ll run if the opportunity presents itself, but if it doesn’t … oh well!

      1. Yeah, I prefer not to go on vacation while training, but sometimes it can’t be helped because there are other people involved in the decision and they have their own scheduling conflicts.

        1. Well that’s rude of them! Haha. Before kids I don’t think I’d give training through vacation a second-thought, but with them it’s far more difficult, which is mostly because vacation with them is pretty tiring and I’m too tired to want to run much!

  2. “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.” – Love this! It reminds us that it’s just as much an internal/mental check as it is physical check to start training again.

  3. What is this “vacation” you speak of? It sounds magical and too good to be true! People actually take time off to enjoy themselves?! The thought!

    Kidding, but I have to say, most of my vacations are centered around a race. It’s the only way I can justify spending the money to go somewhere.

  4. I like to still try to run while on vacation when I can, but I lower my expectations and mileage. If I know about the vacation when making training plans, I’ll schedule that into my plan as a (big) step back week and just stick with shorter runs. I also plan to run no more than half the days and assume I’ll probably actually only run once or twice. I give myself permission to not feel bad about it. It’s vacation, gotta enjoy it! I do my best to avoid cutting my vacation activities/relaxing short to make sure I can get up early to run. I want to enjoy vacation! The one thing I will do is use it as an excuse to go easier on the drinking. I almost never regret that.

  5. I don’t often take vacations, but am fortunate enough to be able to take long weekends every month or two. I like to schedule these into my training as little mini-breaks – the training in between these weekends will be tough, and then I have a nice few days where I can just veg out and only run if I want to. I usually end up running or swimming at least once, or doing some other fun physical activity like hiking or climbing, but I don’t sweat it if I don’t end up working out at all. I have a hard time with scheduled “down weeks” (thanks, Gertrude) so this is what I have found works really well for me, and I usually end up feeling great once I get back into my workout routine a few days later! If it’s a longer vacation (a week or more) I just stick with the same mentality. Life is short… and I’ve found the fitness lost after even a week of doing nothing comes back pretty quick.

  6. Most of my recent vacations are centered around marathons… however, husband and I went to Vegas fro three nights and I left my running shoes behind– totally wonderful!

  7. Last July, we did a two week family vacation during the early parts of my training for a mid-October marathon. I kept up some regular running, but knew I wouldn’t get in a long run during the time were gone. I planned things so I ran long just before we left, and again when we returned. I did some fartlek work instead of formal speedwork and incorporated the unusually hilly terrain where we were visiting. Mostly, I needed the runs for the sanity break from hours in a car with my kiddos!