The 5 F’s of Christmas

The Christmas period can be one of the most challenging times of the year for many triathletes, more so than at any other time of the year. It’s often a time when training consistency will be challenged the most largely due to a large number of social and family commitments. For many it can feel like a recipe for disaster.

What makes it worse is that many triathletes have already started their training for 2018 and are starting to feel their fitness return. It’s a period of training where the greatest gains are being made because you are starting from such a low base. This progression is then abruptly interrupted by Christmas.

Each year I see athlete getting worried about not being able to maintain the same level of training consistency through this period. They also have an on-going battle in their heads because they feel they are losing ground because they are doing less training. Obsessive compulsiveness rises to new levels and athletes will do anything to get all of their workouts done, even if it means fitting a weeks training into 3 days to accommodate everything!

Mentally it’s far better to accept that December is unlike any other month of the year, so a change of mind-set can play huge dividends. It’s all about finding a good balance because there is simply no other month like it for all of the reasons I’ve listed above. It’s a time where you need to be flexible in your training approach, you should also accept that there is more to life than just swimming, biking & running.

There’s also an opportunity here to bring a new positive element to your training plan. I know my athletes will train hard, but the biggest challenge I face is actually making sure my athletes rest enough and have a good training-work-life balance. It’s so important athletes take time out to spend time with their family & friends because it enriches the training process. The love and energy you get from people is quite often underestimated. Training well is not just about the training itself; it’s also about feeling spiritually, mentally and emotionally fulfilled in all areas of your life. That’s why the Christmas period should be welcomed because it’s a time where you can stock up on all of the above. This special energy will then help fire your motivation for the start of your 2018 campaign.

When athletes ask me what they should focus on over Christmas period, I tell them to prioritise the 5 F’s:

1: Flexibility
2: Family
3: Friends
4: Feasting
5: Fun 

It’s not that the training needs to stop, far from it. But you should factor in these elements as being something of a priority in this period. Training is what you do with the time left over so try not to be too rigid in your structure. Going with what you feel is manageable is always a good barometer at this time of the year.

I would also suggest if you are going to train over this period that you do something a little bit different from the norm, think a bit more outside of the box. One of my favourite sessions I used to love doing each year was my Christmas day morning run around Cardiff; this would take in all of the areas that I grew up in and remember as a child. I would run past my old schools, playing fields, through the City centre, around the Millennium stadium and up into the beautiful Welsh mountains to say hello to the sheep. Sometimes it would be 10 miles but other years it could go up to 20miles if I was really enjoying myself. This was probably my most favourite training session of the entire year because doing it brought back so many great memories of growing up, it also meant I could eat a double serving of Christmas dinner & dessert.

I like call these sessions ‘nostalgia sessions’ and every athlete should have a number of them to give them a much-needed boost when they need it. You just have to find what works for you and then lock them away until they are needed. It really isn’t about the distance it’s about doing something that you feel will warm the soul and make you feel good in the time you have available. Even if that means sitting on a turbo trainer in a quite room for an hour to get away from the in-laws!  You could also call these ‘sanity sessions’. They all have value, just choose the session wisely.

So my best advice is to expect December to be a different month that can bring so much to you if you allow it too.  A sensible balanced approach will always work best and will help to keep everyone happy. You might even have lots of spare time to train so get out there and do it, you will be a better person for it.

Just don’t forget to eat, drink and be merry and don’t feel guilty for doing it, you will only benefit from it in the long run. It’s all part of the training process that will help fuel your motivation for a successful 2018.