As I sit at my PC to write this blog post (it’s the 19th of December), my wife is at her second Christmas Lunch of the festive season and I’m just about recovering from last week’s all-day-boozy-xmas-extravaganza. We also have several other family functions and various parties to attend (including a trip to Edinburgh) between now and the New Year.
There’s nothing unusual in this scenario, it’s what most people in predominantly Christian countries do at this time of year. But it got me thinking about the effects of alcohol on running performance – for training and racing. And how best to survive the silly-season without overdoing things and spoiling your race training. Especially for those that have a marathon early in the New Year.
We all need some respite and the ability to occasionally let our hair down (even baldies like me). Having a few drinks can certainly help you relax and forget your troubles. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that or drinking alcohol in general. Providing that it isn’t taken to the extremes. Which is a principle that can be applied to most things in life.
So what do you do when a ‘must attend booze-fest’ party is smack in the middle of your race training for a significant race – a major marathon or other challenging event? In particular if you’re also raising money for a charity and you want to do your best and don’t want to let anybody down. Plus you know that annoying friend, acquaintance or relative will be there – the one that’s always trying to ply you with copious amounts of grog-water and takes huge offence if you refuse.
Before I give you my recommended tactics, first of all, let’s take a look at what the effects of alcohol consumption are on your body. So that you can make a reasoned judgement about whether or not you should be concerned about the potential impact on your training or not. In particular, let’s concentrate on the properties of consuming alcohol that might affect athletic performance:
It’s not all bad news. Alcohol does have some good points too:
I’m not even going to attempt to offer advice on safe alcohol consumption limits. Mainly because there generally is no real consensus amongst the experts and many countries have very different ‘guidelines‘. Also I’m very much of the opinion that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Because, people are all very different and have different physiologies and metabolisms. Those that drink regularly can ‘cope’ with much more alcohol than those that drink very little and infrequently – like me.
So my best advice in this regard is to ‘know your own limits’ and try as best you can to stick within them. No need to abstain completely. If you enjoy a drink, then have a drink. But be mindful of your training and racing plans and adjust your alcohol consumption to fit in with them as much as possible.
There’s no need to give up the booze completely and you can even push-the-boat-out on occasion. Just make sure that you have enough time to recover before your next ‘core’ training session. Also be flexible with your training and swap and move training days around to accommodate your partying/celebrations. If you can’t avoid a training day directly after a party – then implement my tactics above. Reduce your alcohol consumption and make sure you don’t go to bed dehydrated. I will quite often down a pint or 2 of water before turning in after a party – just to make sure. This is less likely to be necessary if you’ve been following the ‘intervals’ tactic of interspersing soft/non-alcoholic drinks with your booze though.
If a party falls the day before a major race that you’ve been training hard for. Then if you want to do well, I suggest you cut right back and restrict your alcohol consumption to no more than a couple of beers or a glass of wine. Jump at the chance to be the designated driver – that should make you popular too.
Whatever you plans over the festive season, I hope you enjoy yourself and your running. We’ll catch up again in the New Year,
Hi, I'm Dave. I'm a UK Athletics qualified and licensed Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and Endurance Event Group Coach. I coach groups and individuals of all abilities both online and in person.I particularly enjoy coaching beginner and improver runners in the 40+ age range.I'm also a regular recreational runner and I've been competing in races from 5k to marathon distance for over 30 years.
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