Fresh air therapy makes even more sense in the busy run-up to Christmas

Running can prove the perfect antidote and celebration in the stressful month of December

How will you celebrate running this festive season?

It may still be mid-November but many of our heads are already in December planning mode. We are heading into what many consider the most wonderful time of the year, but what actually ends up being the most stressful month. Our festive to-do lists get longer and year-end work deadlines mount as the weeks pass.

Ironically, it is often the season when our running, our fresh air therapy, takes a back seat as we struggle to make time for ourselves.

Don't go cold turkey
Just be careful – If running is your way of gaining headspace, finding calm, building energy and letting off steam, try not to let it slip too far down the priority list over the next few weeks. You don't have to take on any big running challenges or race goals at this time. Just ensuring you escape outdoors for those wonderful pockets of fresh air, freedom and me-time a few times each week will help you face your seasonal to-do list with a little more calm. I would love you to finish this year with running as your antidote to the stresses of the season. But to make sure that happens, it makes sense to first remember what running offers you.

Choose to celebrate
It may seem very early in the season to be thinking of looking back over your running year but this third week in November is when I start to encourage the members of my running group to review their running year. This lull before the busy season gives us a little time to appreciate how much we have gained from running in just one year. Most importantly when you see all running has offered you on paper, it becomes easier to approach the next month with a mindset of celebration and gratitude. This can only encourage you to include running as part of your fun festive activities.


Take a look back
If you have races, personal bests and medals in your back pocket it may be easier to note the big achievements of the year. But your memories may also be of the tough training days that made your race day possible. Even if you never stood at any race day start line, give yourself a pat on the back for all those days you got out the door when you didn't feel like going. Those days are all part of your running success too. Your highlights might have nothing to do with racing but instead be a new running buddy, recovering from an injury or discovering a new running route.

More than medals
Reminiscing helps us remember the good and bad days, those special runs, the awesome views and those people who we have met through running. If you have been following my lead you should have a lovely running journal with notes and memories to look over. If not, take a glance though your running watch history, scroll photos on your phone or even revisit your Whatsapp conversations with your running buddies. There are plenty memories in there but we often are so busy we just move on to the next thing without ever looking back and realising all we have done.

A change of mindset
We are often slow to celebrate our successes – we often move on to the next thing and quickly forget about our achievements. However we frame success, it is worth giving ourselves a little more credit for our dedication to running. Choosing to celebrate what running has given us this year will help us run with gratitude over the next few busy weeks. We can treat each run as a bonus rather than something we have to do. We now just need to set ourselves up to have time available to make these new December memories. And that is where a plan comes in.

Make a plan
Planning how you actually want to finish your running year will certainly make it more likely that you get out the door on those runs you would love to picture yourself doing this December. How will you choose to celebrate your running year? Normally my running group would be heading to France for a celebration this weekend, but we all have to adapt in a Covid world. So instead we will plan fun events and meet-ups throughout the next few weeks to keep us all moving, smiling and appreciating running as we close out the year.

Dates for your diary
There are many ways of making running fun and social this season. We plan to meet for dawn runs followed by a cuppa, festive city tours finishing at a Christmas market and meet-ups at seasonal 5k events and parkruns. How you choose to celebrate is up to you, but don't wait for someone else to organise the days out. Make these days happen by being the person to take the first step in planning. You don't need a big group either. Run solo or indeed encourage a festive run with a friend rather than a traditional evening indoors.

Other ways to celebrate
There are more ways to celebrate running than by just running. Write a thank you note to a running buddy who has helped you this year. Make yourself a calendar for next year with the photos from each month of your running year. Giveback to the running community by volunteering at your local parkrun or support a local charity event. Get in touch with an old running buddy who has let their habit slip and encourage them to meet to meet for an easy run. Organise an outdoor festive meet-up for your friends and family over the holidays where they can walk or run at their pace. Celebrate the outdoors. You have a window now to get dates planned before all the diaries fill up.

Finish in style
There is still time this year to create a few extra memories that can go on your list of 2021 highlights. Head into these next few weeks with gratitude for what has passed in this running year as well as the excitement and anticipation of a few fresh air festive escapes to come. All this will go a long way to balancing the madness of the month that lies ahead.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Mary's book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.