When it comes to danger, the 16 weeks of the calendar year which contain the (autumn and) winter holidays from Hallowe'en to St. Valentine's Day can be much like treading through the swamp. Especially if you like sweets and pastries.
Early on, it's candy corn and bite-sized chocolates. We still have enough daylight to add on an extra mile or two to make up for the itty-bitty indiscretions. And then we turn the clocks back for daylight saving time, just in time to be surrounded by darkness.
So now we're hip deep -- and getting deeper -- into it. Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas, Chanukah, Christmas, New Year's; the deepest point of the muck and mire. Pumpkin pie...latkes...fruitcake...the extra beer...the champagne toast at midnight...it's all there in your face, even at the workplace (save for the booze!). Each holiday has it's share of temptations social and gastronomic. While one misstep isn't going to slide you down a bacon grease-covered pole to a pudgy purgatory, a series of poorly-thought-out decisions can destroy months of hard-earned fitness and disciplined weight control.
I have varied my approach to the holidays from year to year:
Training continues without change - every social function, dinner party and snack item takes a back seat to the daily or twice-daily workout. This is often the least desirable option in the mind of our spouses or family members, especially the ones who did not understand our running and fitness passion in the first place. Some cities are more holiday event-focused than others. I regularly receive e-mails from runners taking time to visit family members. They usually asked if they could join in a group workout, or if there was a race during a particular weekend.
Short, easy workouts - many have heard the adage, especially when talking about the budget: 'a million dollars here, a million dollars there, next thing you know you are talking about real money.' Same thing goes for workout duration. A holiday social function after work hours can really place a damper on that 60-minute run you originally had on the training plan. And, worst of all, you know there's going to be all that fantastic finger food you never get during the rest of the year. There's no law (at least in most work places) that says you can't take your walking shoes into work and exchange your midday bologna-and-cheese sandwich and chips at the desk for an energy bar and a 30-minute stroll outdoors.
Rest - some coaches have their athletes on planned periods of rest or decreased intensity; one day a week, one week a month, and some to the point of even one month a year. I have my doubts the top athletes allow themselves to go completely couch potato for an entire month. But the down month can be a good time to engage in less-intense, non-sport-specific activity. I remember hearing multiple Ironman World Champion Peter Reid talk about spending his down time "like a normal human being" cross-country skiing and watching television with close friends.
A 30-day period of complete rest, especially during the holiday month, seems a supreme test of willpower to me. When given the choice between no pumpkin pie and no workout, and pie and the (seemingly irrational) desire to get off the couch for 60-to-90 minutes...
I like pie. I'll fit my workout in some time during the day.