Maintaining Running Fitness on Vacation

Vacation activities, like this 3 hour bike ride, can provide cross-training benefits to runners.
Bike Riding on Vacation in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

A vacation allows one to escape routines of daily life. Yet, runners may be looking to maintain their running routine while on vacation in preparation for a key upcoming race. Below are some strategies that I’ve found helpful for maintaining running fitness while on vacation:

Plan in Advance 
First of all, runners need to consider the type of vacation taking place and how running can fit into it. One common type is a touring vacation, where one is out the door early for a day of events and may even finish up the day in a different location. Another type involves remaining fairly close to a single location throughout the day, such as staying at a lakeside cabin. For fitting running into these types of vacations, I’ve found that getting a morning run in before the tour begins works best. And a single location seems easier to fit in both longer and more frequent runs into a schedule.

Vacation runs tend to get pared back to essentials. Lately, I've reduced the duration of runs by 15 minutes to add strength and mobility work (more to follow). Also, adding strides to the end of most runs and including a 20 minute tempo effort sometime during the week seem to be essential for maintaining run fitness. I have to agree with journalist, Alex Hutchinson, when he says, “Over the years, as my own training has waxed and waned depending on the circumstances, the one non-negotiable element has remained a weekly tempo run... It’s a shock to the system when my training has been patchy, but if that’s the minimum effective dose that ensures I never get truly out of shape, then I’m happy to swallow it.”

Something else to keep in mind when scheduling runs is that some vacation activities tax the body as much as running. For instance, if walking around a theme park for eight hours plus, you may want to skip or do a very short run with strides on this day.

It’s also important to be satisfied with the running accomplished during vacation. If your vacation consisted of touring each day, perhaps being satisfied with maintaining rather than building your run fitness is the best result. And training can resume with fresh enthusiasm when home.

Strength & Mobility Work
If you're like me, you may find it difficult to schedule strength and mobility work during vacation. Lately, as mentioned above, I’ve had better success shortening my run by 15 minutes to add in this work. For strength training, I’m doing three sets of lunges, push-ups, squats, and glute bridges. And for mobility work on a different day, 3 sets of mountain climbers, arm circles, toe touches, and Supermans provide a quick mobility routine.

For runners, vacations are a great opportunity for splurging a bit to sample local cuisine. On my trip to the Canadian Maritimes, most accommodations offered a substantial breakfast. In the middle of the day, I usually had a snack. Then for dinner, I was on the lookout for seafood. Below shows some of these dishes.

Mussels are served as an appetizer
in most maritime restaurants
Halibut Served in Halifax
Local scallops served in Lunenberg
Lobster available in most maritime restaurants

Returning to Running After Vacation
For some vacations it’s necessary to take a total break from running. As discussed in an earlier post - Adding a Planned Break to your Running Schedule - running coaches have guidelines for how quickly a runner should return to full training and racing:

Length of Break

Adjustment to Training

1 week or less

0% adjustment to volume or intensity

8 days - 4 weeks

2 weeks @ 50% pre-existing load

2 weeks @ 75% pre-existing load + strides

What these coaching guidelines suggest is that, if you take more than a week off running while on vacation, you’ll need to build up your volume and intensity gradually over the next 4 weeks.

However, if you were able to do some running with strides and tempo work I recommend looking into these factors to gauge your running fitness after a vacation: 1) number and distance of weekly training runs, 2) pace and distance of interval and tempo runs, and 3) pace and distance of long runs. If your runs are similar to before vacation training, I recommend returning to running with your full training program. If you notice a difference in any of these areas, I recommend using the chart above for making adjustments to your training.

Watch you don’t overdo it. On one occasion, I scheduled a tune-up race one week after vacation. This tune-up race was four weeks out from my goal marathon race. As the newspaper article below shows, after a great start in the tune-up race (I'm on the left), I became increasingly fatigued - to the point where I needed to reduce my weekly training to recover from this "tune-up". Needless to say, my fall marathon didn’t go as hoped due to significantly reduced training.

Thanks for reading!

The importance of maintaining running fitness by adding strides and a weekly 20 minute tempo run was mentioned in this article. For further details, readers may be interested in these posts:

Strength and mobility work I do on vacation uses functional movements, like lunges and squats. For further details, readers may want to check out:

Vacation activities, like walking around a theme park for eight hours plus, will likely be taxing on runners and could be considered a form of cross-training. For more on cross-training readers may be interested in:

How the runner returns to their training program after a vacation is just as important as maintaining running fitness while on vacation. Readers may be interested in this article on: 



Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel.