That period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, made mercifully shorter than normal this year thanks to the vagaries of the calendar, might be, as Andy Williams sang, “the most beautiful time of the year,” but for the majority of runners, it’s anything but.
Buffeted by the potentially overwhelming combination of shorter days, colder and often slipperier weather in much of the country, and the demands of the holidays – parties, shopping, and end-of-the-year deadlines – it becomes nearly impossible for all but the most dedicated runner to maintain even a semblance of a regular training plan. And indeed, with many just ramping up their training after an autumn marathon and the prospect of a spring 26-miler seemingly too far in the future to provide motivation, it’s easier to throttle back to just a bare maintenance schedule of workouts, or, even worse, skip running altogether and just have another plate of cookies washed down by a glass of eggnog (and how come the American Dairy Council hasn’t been promoting that concoction as a post-workout recovery drink like chocolate milk?).
However, there is potential for salvation, or at least loss limiting, in an activity that tends to pop up not long after the first decorations begin to appear on neighborhood houses: to wit, the holiday run.
I’m not referring to holiday-themed races, although there are plenty of Jingle Bell Jogs and Santa Runs following a few weeks after the tsunami of Turkey Trots. Rather, these are informal gatherings of anywhere from a handful to a hundred, relatively short and always at the most leisurely of paces.
Sometimes they’re in lieu of a running club’s final workout of the season, while other times they’re held on a specific day (Boxing Day seems to be a popular occasion, since most runners are clamoring to get out on the roads with others of their kind after spending a day cooped up with relatives opening presents and watching endless reruns of “A Christmas Story.”).
But perhaps more than any other time of the year, these runs are held after dark, with the stated intention of a pedestrian tour of some of the more highly decorated sections of a town. Thanks to the advances in reflective gear, strobe-like LED lights and headlamps that rival automobile high beams, it’s possible to undertake such evening runs with almost the same degree of safety as one at high noon.
One other seeming constant in these runs is that most are followed by a fairly decent-sized session of eating and drinking, especially if it’s a night run held before a weekend or an actual holiday. So in that sense, whatever caloric benefit accrued by the run itself is usually more than undone by the party that follows. But hey, it is the holidays after all, and few miles around the neighborhood can serve as justification for that extra helping of cookies and egg nog, right?