The Holidays are here. If you haven’t started working on your Christmas list yet, yes, you should begin to panic. Christmas cards may have been charming when you were in college, but you’re not fooling anyone anymore. Open another tab on your browser and let Father Amazon save your chestnuts.

On the training front, the Holidays are a good time to start panicking. At this point, you shouldn’t still be in your post-season break because if you are, your break is beginning to compete with your season for time spent and any fitness gains you enjoyed last year are in no danger of transferring to next season. Yet, if you are training, the daylight, temperatures, commitments, food, stress, and travel during the Holidays seem almost perfectly designed to prevent you from training well.

So how do you emerge on January first not reeking of Baileys, fifteen pounds overweight, with fitness that wouldn't trouble toddlers on a Strider?

Zoom out first. As ever, the first step is to loosen your grip on the Bailey’s bottle and think big picture. What doesn’t serve you during (in fact, what rarely serves you) the holidays and guarantees failure are extremes.

Since you’re undoubtedly a fitness-thirsty, try-hard gravel nut with aspirations of dethroning Keegan Swenson in the Lifetime Grand Prix, the first thing you probably thought of when I said extremes are your tendency to train way, way too much, and you’d be right. However, I also include the opposite side of the spectrum here, those gravel racers that hung up their bike sometime in October and have yet to peel themselves off a couch since then. If you fall into one of these categories, you’re doing it wrong.

I’ll demonstrate this in reverse. If you haven’t gotten off the couch since October, you’re definitely well-rested at this point, but whether you realize it or not, you’re bleeding fitness and digging a gigantic fitness hole for yourself that’ll take until June to fill, especially if you’re not 22 years old with nothing better to do than train.

"But I know a pro that takes two months off every year!"

You’re not a pro. Do you know why pros take two months off every year? Because they race sixty times a year, live on the road, and even after taking 1-2 months off, they still train 700+ hours a year. Their first week back to training is fifteen hours. Their second? Twenty, but not on a trainer in a basement, in the luxurious desert air of Tucson, AZ. 

Setting everything else aside, the huge advantage a pro has over you is time. When you start training again, maybe you start at 8-10 hours, and that’s admirable with a life! But realize that for every week you train, they’re training two. 

That’s why they can take a month or two off the bike and expect to return to and even exceed last year’s fitness, but you can’t. So, difficult and inconvenient as it is, you’d better get that trainer set up and start turning those legs over. 

 

You might feel like it’s a pain and futile in the face of Holiday logistics, but starting to train, however badly at first, also has the easily missed yet power of a Keystone Action.

A Keystone Action is an action that triggers a cascade of behavior patterns. A keystone habit, like all habits, isn’t intrinsically bad or good; it’s just a spark or primer for a whole sequence of decisions.

For example, let’s say, just hypothetically, that you have a real oyster problem. Let’s say that canned oysters are often available at the holiday gatherings you attend. Once you spear your first oyster with a toothpick and sample the exquisite combination of fatty cholesterol and salt preservatives, your willpower dissolves. You find yourself hunched over the entire tin can, wolfing down oyster after oyster in view of distant relatives. Worse, tin-can oyster portions are small, so your appetite shifts to other kinds of seafood, like a plate of Aunt Jill’s fresh-caught jumbo-sized shrimp, which you dunk in vats of cocktail sauce and eat so furiously that you don’t bother to clear errant shrimp tails or escaping sauce off your Christmas cardigan. Before you know it, silence fills the room as second cousins and small children stare at the horror of a seafood crime scene, the silence only broken by the sound of a newborn child crying because of the pungent stench of crustaceans filling the air.

The moral of the story is, don't eat oysters.

If you’re lazy, your Keystone Action is to train, even if it’s a bit half-hearted and unspecific. You should start to train because other positive things happen when you train. For example, you won’t smash a gallon of egg nog before you ride because you don’t want to throw up on your ride. After your ride, the endorphins and feelings of accomplishment will reward you and make you want to train again the next day. After a few days of this, you may even feel glimmers of self-respect and sensations of old fitness, making you start dreaming again. 2023 won’t seem like a distant problem future-you will deal with it later; it’ll be something you want to attack and meet head-on.

Before you know it, week piles on the week, Christmas passes, and it’s January first, and while part of you wishes you started earlier, your bibs fit again, and you’re eager to go bite-off a three-hour ride dressed like your bar-hopping on a snowmobile.

You may think I’ve been picking on the lazy cyclists among us, but don’t think I’ve forgotten the training nuts.

Some of us approach the Holiday season with the sort of strategic planning, ardor, and focus on training and diet so out of proportion with the occasion or place in the training year that it should earn a designation in the DSM. I’m talking about certain individuals who won’t let their children open presents on Christmas morning until they’ve completed a three-hour trainer ride with sweet spot intervals on the back end and will refuse to participate unless they’ve hit their wattage targets. I’m talking about certain individuals that approach the Christmas buffet with their MyFitnessPal app open and unironically ask everyone who brought a dish if they can scan the QR code of the food they brought so they can nail their macros. I’m talking about certain individuals who won’t stay up past 7 pm to chat with family they never see because they have a four-hour Zwift ride planned the following day and don’t want to be too groggy. I’m talking about individuals that use any spare moment to engage in mobility poses in their suits in the middle of family functions because they don’t want their hip flexors to get too short just sitting around all day. And I’m talking about individuals that spend vast amounts of time during the holidays skipping out on sledding, skating, singing, present opening, snowman making, and anything else involving cheer and community because they’re sitting on a screen reading cycling websites or obsessing over their 2023 setup.

Don't be that individual. Don't be a Training Grinch.

If training so consumes your life that it actively diminishes not just your Holiday but actively interferes with the happiness of others, stop, go to the dessert table, put a cookie on a plate, grab a glass of egg nog, and go sit down. Take three deep breaths, exhaling slowly, and turn to aunt Maryanne sitting next to you. Ask her about the tango classes she’s been taking, and for the love of God, CHILL THE F OUT!

Your extended family didn’t plunge decades’ worth of time and money into you in the hopes that you would come back for Christmas every year to pass on Grandma’s Tuna Casserole, turn up late for everything because you were training, and steer the holiday conversation toward how many watts you put out. They hoped you’d turn into a decent person, you know, someone who’d shovel the snow off the driveway for guests, make grocery runs, keep Uncle’s old-fashioned topped up, get the kids out of the house to burn some energy, and swallow daring holiday cooking with a straight face.

The Holidays aren’t a training camp; if they are, you have a bigger problem.

As ever, sadly, the middle way is best. The extremes always present powerful, satisfying emotional comfort, but the problem with doing nothing and doing too much is the same – you miss out.

If you’ve found me somewhat convincing and are sufficiently persuaded to do something, you may find the following practical guidelines on training and lifestyle through the Holiday gauntlet helpful:

You don't need to bike to bike fast.

I’ve written an entire article on this, but remember that your aerobic system, the foundation of an endurance athlete, is fairly agnostic regarding adaptation. In other words, you don’t have to ride your bike to get a good workout. You could:

  1. Play indoor soccer
  2. Jog
  3. XC ski
  4. Alpine ski
  5. Skimo
  6. Hike
  7. Walk briskly
  8. Row
  9. Stairmaster
  10. Swim

The only exception is snowshoeing. SNOWSHOEING HAS ZERO BENEFITS AEROBICALLY, DON’T BOTHER.

If it gets your heart rate up for a while, congratulations, you got some training in. 

BUT! A little specificity goes a long way.

Two specific, short workouts on the bike a week right now will do the trick. You can do three if you’re SUPER motivated. Maintaining a little specific training frequency this time of year to bridge the gap between bike workouts will remind your legs why they exist (it’s NOT to walk!).

You are not a food dumpster.

When dieticians study longitudinal weight gain, they find, on average, that most people gain 2-6 lbs per year after their mid-twenties. Logically, you’d think all this happens a few hundred calories at a time throughout the year and adds up gradually.

Wrong. Most people gain these 2-6 lbs through the Holidays and then fail to shed them during the following year, repeating the cycle year after year. Suddenly you’re 40 and 25lbs over your twenty-something race weight.

But how do you prevent that from happening without opening MyFitnessPal at every meal?

Easy! Eat like Grandma. Older people lose their appetite but still want to like eating, so they try everything. The trick is they rarely finish their plate, don’t go back for seconds or thirds, and don’t snack because they were born before the food industry brainwashed us into thinking it was our God Given Right to snack constantly on processed foods if we felt slightly hungry, bored, sad, happy, or basically any other feeling.

"There are sober kids in India."

Remember in your childhood when your parents tried to guilt you into cleaning your plate by saying, “Kids in India are starving,” and your Uncle was on his fourth Old Fashioned and quipped that he was drinking because of all the sober kids there? Me neither, but the joke sort of makes sense.

You know where this is going – watch yer boozin’! Taking the edge off so you can loudly profess your support for TRUMP 2024 is fine, but getting so litty you find yourself on the neighbor’s rooftop in your underwear, pretending you’re Santa at 2 am is going to catch up with you.

Add Your Heading Text Here

I hope I’m not making you nervous with this one, but taking 10 minutes to sit quietly in a corner, pretzel style, breathing slowly in and out, trying not to think, could change your entire Holiday.

If the Holidays are anything, they’re busy. No matter how busy they are; however, I guarantee you have 10 minutes a day to try and be the opposite. If you can make nothing else happen, make this happen. 

Why? Because if you can slow down when everything else is speeding up, it’ll give you a slight feeling of calm in the social chaos. That calm will percolate throughout your day and help you remain more present, deliberate, and focused throughout your day, improving everything. 

What do they call that? Oh yeah, a Keystone action. 

Alright, I’m out. I may have given you shit about being behind on Holiday shopping, but I haven’t gotten anything for my wife yet. I hope she these cooking pans I found on sale at Fleet Farm

Happy Holidays!

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