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Photo credit: Ioulia Bolchakova.

A runner’s guide to surviving Christmas

20-Dec-17

Last updated: 29-Aug-18

By Sarah Cooke

These days, we are forced to count down to Christmas before the summer is even over. Christmas cards, gifts, mince pies and more appear on the shelves and we are constantly reminded of how many shopping days remain until the big day. As the year goes on, television becomes increasingly festive. First it’s the adverts, and then sitcoms and films bombard us with Christmas spirit. Some people are happy to embrace the festive cheer and it can be a magical time for children.

However, commercialisation of the holiday season can add to the pressure to be seen to have a good time. For many, the reality may be that family dynamics are stressful, money is tight and healthy eating and exercise go out of the window. So how do those of us that feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations created by the media and retail industry stay sane?

1. Stop comparing yourself to other people

This applies to anything you may be doing over the Christmas period. We all know people who appear to have it all sussed. Maybe your Mum used to be able to cook Christmas dinner for 15 and still have a smile on her face; maybe your neighbour has saved up all year to buy his children everything they want; and maybe that girl you follow on twitter has managed to wrap all her presents, volunteer at the local homeless shelter, host a party and still stick to her training plan. Try to remember that these people are in a minority and that you are probably not seeing the whole story.

Social media can fuel negative self-comparisons. If you are already feeling stressed or have low self-esteem – you will notice all the things that suggest other people are having a great time and overlook the evidence that most people are dreading seeing their in-laws, regretting the office party and struggling to find time to get out in their running shoes. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then try taking a social media break. Instead of watching that 30-minute Christmas special, maybe you could go for a 3-mile run.

2. Modify your expectations

Now we have established that we are surrounded by unrealistic representations of Christmas, it’s time to adjust your expectations accordingly. You know yourself and you know your family. It is not your responsibility to ensure that everyone around you is enjoying themselves. Use your previous experiences of this time of year to predict what you can expect from family members and also from yourself. Be clear about what you can and cannot achieve.

If you know that you are never able to get dinner on the table by 1pm, then tell people it will be at 2pm. If you need help with something, then ask – family members may be relieved to have a role and to reduce the burden on you. If you are not the one cooking, then offer to help but recognise when someone prefers to be left to get on with it.

If you look at your Christmas plans and can see very little time in your schedule, then don’t plan to run a 20-miler just because you think you ‘should’. You will either end up cancelling other engagements or, more likely, you won’t be able to stick to your plan and will feel like you’ve failed. Instead, set realistic goals.

If running over the Christmas period is important to you and will help you to manage your stress levels, then discuss your plan with your significant others and work out when you will get the opportunity to run. Even the odd short run is an achievement at this time of year. If you are able to schedule a longer run, then let people know why this is important to you – conflict is less likely if everyone knows what is going to happen.

Other family members may also appreciate the time to pursue their own interests, or you may be able to combine running and socialising or family time – there are lots of parkruns over the festive period which older children may enjoy taking part in, or maybe you have friends you can run with prior to a Christmas drink and exchange of presents. Get your kids active by running alongside them while they cycle in the local park.

3. Don’t be alone

For some people, it may be the lack of family that makes Christmas a difficult time. It’s a tough part of the year for those who have suffered loss or separation, or are not in contact with family. There are many charities and community groups offering activities and support at this time of year. Don’t be ashamed to use them – you may even find that your presence helps other people who are lonely.

If you volunteer yourself, then this can also be a great way to keep busy and make a difference. Running can also be a means of surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Consider going along to your local parkrun or looking out for festive running events and races. It may be a good time to join your local running club, or see if they have any Christmas events open to non-members. 

4. Take time out

It’s ok to need some time on your own. If you are someone that needs your own space, then running can be a great way to clear your head and take time for yourself. Many people feel guilty about overindulging at Christmas, and the odd run may help you feel like you’ve struck a sensible balance and can enjoy some treats. Try to avoid saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ – you only have so much time available to give, and setting clear limits may help you avoid feeling like you’ve let people down.

5. Set a goal

Resolutions don’t have to wait until January 1st – you can make a new start or begin a fresh challenge whenever you choose. This might be a goal to achieve over Christmas, or you could set a goal for the New Year that allows you to start thinking positively about 2018. Perhaps you could identify a target race for 2018 and submit your entry, or take some time to draw up a training plan.

Alternatively, perhaps you would benefit from a non-running related goal. For tips on how to set realistic and achievable goals, check out Alice Morrison's article on resolutions and my article on achieving your running goals.

However you choose to spend it, I wish you all a Merry and stress-free Christmas and a Happy New running year.

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