The Secret To Surviving The Holidays (There Isn't One)S

This is the hard part for me. The race is over and all I have pushing me is my own determination, which is another way of saying "nothing." It's especially dangerous now, too, that the holidays are coming up, which is so weird when you think about it.

We just arbitrarily made a month, month-and-a-half-long period of the year an acceptable time to indulge. I get that Thanksgiving is basically a celebration of food, but then that carries through Christmas and New Years and everyone just accepts it as a time where things go to shit, dietarily speaking. I mean, I wrote "...dangerous now that the holidays are coming up" and every single one of you knew exactly what I meant. Kind of weird that we just accept that as a thing. But we do; I am going to write about it in this very spot. And what's worse, there is like a cottage industry of self-help to combat it: 3 Secrets To Surviving The Holidays or some such. The secret is there is no secret. You just try to do the best you can.

I didn't make a playlist this week because I haven't run all that much and when I have it's been with my wife and dog. I like being unplugged for those runs. Anyway, here we go.

I was totally planning on slacking off for much, if not all, of that time but did I mention I'm married to a Runner? Days after the race, we had a new challenge. Run every single day from Thanksgiving to New Years. This is quite literally the exact. Fucking. Opposite. Of whatever vacation from running I planned for myself. She saw it one of her Psychopath's Runner's Weekly magazines or something and the basic premise is you run at least one mile every day during the holidays.

Me: OK, sweet. I'll run one mile every day. I can do that.

Her: No, that is the min-i-mum.

Me: I don't make the rules, I just follow them.

Her: You can't just do one mile every day; that's nothing.

Me: "Nothing" is what I was planning on doing. This is more than that.

Her: [looking directly at my paunch, arches eyebrow] Fine.

Me: [single hand clap] Fiiiiiiiiiiine, I will run more than one mile a day.

And I will but, man, what a bunch of bullshit. You accomplish something and think you're entitled to a little break and pat on the back and—BAM!—run every single day during the season best suited for being a shiftless, sack of contentedness, personified. Run every single day when what you were truly planning on was to put to shame literal potatoes on literal couches. Run and sweat and get that godawful aching in your lungs when it's cold out while your family is inside eating cookie sandwiches with cookies in the middle. Hey, Christmas Vacation is on. Run, while Clark taunts his yuppy runner neighbors. You are no better than Todd, you miserable embarrassment.

But, hey, yeah, it'll be cool to have more goals and stuff, right? I basically took a week-and-a-half off after the race to do absolutely no physical activity other than walking the dog and now I've got to run every single day starting next Thursday. I have to run on Thanksgiving. I know I ran last year on Thanksgiving and recalled it being a sort of transformative moment for me, but I didn't have to run that day. I just figured, hey, let me run before I go all in on mashed potatoes and gravy. Now I have to run, which is psychologically so much worse, like reading for homework. I'll read books on my own time no problem, but as soon as Mrs. Flinter tells me I have to finish Julius Caesar by next week it becomes The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me. That's going to be a bare-minimum one mile day, for sure.

I figure if I do 3 miles most days, and have one short day and one long day (i'm thinking 6 miles-ish) that should be pretty good. If you read that sentence it means it got passed my copy editor and is acceptable.

It's obviously more than a week and a half between the race and Thanksgiving, so I've clearly been running already. We're visiting family in Cleveland and my wife has taken me to run through some of the Metroparks she ran through growing up, including one that has a hill she calls The Widowmaker. This was my first day back running since the race. She took me to "The Widowmaker." Ha Ha Ha HaHa. I was alternating running and walking the whole time. First, we walked down The Widowmaker and even that was fucking treacherous: rainy, leaves everywhere and slippery rock at a 45-degree angle. Good luck not breaking your neck! Sure, we walked down, but eventually we had to go back up The Widowmaker to get back to our car. We were running back and I stopped right at the foot of the monster. I was going to walk it. I mean, obviously. There's an unspoken understanding here that we are not going to be crazy and try to run up this thing.

"I'm going to try to run up it," she says.

Son of a bitch.

I instantly revert back to elementary/middle school me and have to try and impress the ladies, right? Only this time, impressing the ladies isn't being sweet at basketball, it's trudging up the side of a mountain not so much running, but walking in a running motion. Like slo-mo running, really. I ran up most of it, but it wasn't pretty.

It's nice, though, having that driving presence. Even if I did it for totally immature reasons, I still did it and there's absolutely zero chance that happens if I'm running by myself. We ran again, the next day and my pace was much faster than it usually is. Her pace is obviously much faster than mine, faster even than what we ran together, but I still push myself so much more when I'm running with her.

Similarly she has driven me to get back on the for-real calorie-counting train because she's taken up Weight Watchers. She wants to lose, seriously, like four pounds. We're both doing it and it has so far been a disaster. I am totally on board with the concept of Weight Watchers—I know for sure it is 50 percent of the reason I dropped all the Larry Birds—but the timing is atrocious. Diets, in general, thrive on two things: control and routine. If you can successfully control what you eat, where you eat it and how it's made then you're well on your way to shedding pounds. Routine helps because even doing something ridiculous like using a food scale becomes another mindless task like rinsing off vegetables if you do it enough times.

Those elements of control and routine are seriously disrupted if you travel to visit family in Cleveland, say. And actually starting a program that requires you to literally account for every morsel of food that goes into your mouth is impossible. We've gone over our allotted points every day and we haven't been particularly gluttonous on this trip, or eaten any kind of junk food or anything like that, but it's difficult to live that spartan lifestyle required of dieting when you're enjoying time with family. We leave today to visit more family—a baked goods wiz—and then it's on to my family for the actual food holiday. I said my wife was pushing me to run because I wanted to impress her, but I was also thinking about those sweet, sweet activity points that could at least mitigate some of the damage.

The silver lining is, even if you're keeping track and going over what you're supposed to be eating, that's the worst that happens. You messed up, but no one's going to kick you out of Life for screwing up your diet for a week. And, more importantly, you are still keeping track even if it's keeping track of how terrible you are at keeping track. That'll soon become second nature and when you're back on your own home turf where you have much more control over the contents of your refrigerator (basically chicken breasts and salad) you'll be ready to rock. Think of it like taking the doughnut off the bat before leaving the on-deck circle.

Fake it 'til you make it. That's really the tip to surviving the holidays.

Photo credit: Getty