A pro triathlete’s guide to Christmas training

Pro triathlete Tom Bishop shares his best advice on training over the Christmas period.

Triathlete Tom Bishop drinking coffee

The festive season can come around fast, or interminably slow if you get a countdown from your other half from October! We had our tree up on the final weekend of November, which meant that I finally had to concede any level of control in the household.


I managed to hold out an extra week for the mince pies, though, and the advent calendar is still going strong. Albeit the premature start to festivities, I’m warming to the holiday cheer and I think it’s a great time of year for some fun, relaxed training, alongside a few challenges.

The easiest way to approach training around Christmas time is to keep relaxed. We have a saying in our group in Leeds whenever talk of racing, training intensity or just overdoing it arises. We just say “it’s only December”, and it’s the same for October and November, too.

But the point is valid through to the new year and even January, to an extent. Your coach, if you have one, will understand the complications of the holidays and you should never be stressed about fitting in training sessions if it doesn’t quite fit with family or social plans.

How to plan training over Christmas

Running in snow

Speak with your coach if your week needs to be adjusted. I like to take away the barriers of the Gregorian week by which you would normally structure your training and instead take your entire holiday as it comes and figure out what sessions you need to fit throughout this period.

Here’s an example of what I intend to do this Christmas (though, it’ll be fully flexible).

My festive period runs from 23 December to 3 January. That’s 12 days where training is ‘interrupted’, so I’ll just treat this as a block. I’ve not discussed the finer details with my coach yet, but I’ll aim to fit in around 4-5 long rides, 6-8 swims, and 10 runs.

Another way to look at it is to target a certain volume over the period, similar to Strava’s Festive 500 (a challenge to cover 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve). Go for whatever you (or your coach) think is a realistic target. Make sure you plan days off or get something short done in the morning so you can fully enjoy the celebrations.

The festive period for me is never about training to smash out a few big weeks; it’s about relaxing and recovering. I usually try to train a little bit harder before Christmas just so I can sit back and relax a bit more.

Try something new

Cyclist pushing bike in cyclocross race

Christmas also offers up a fantastic opportunity to challenge yourself. Hopefully by now you’re back into a bit of easy training and finding a bit of fitness again. Maybe you’ve done a few winter races like cross country, cyclocross and duathlon (I wish I was able to race a few cross counties, but unfortunately my injury has prevented that this year).

Whatever your current state of fitness, there’s always a few opportunities to try something that you wouldn’t usually. You might have a bit more time to ride a bit longer than usual or even join in with a group ride that your schedule doesn’t normally allow.

I’m going to make the most of being at home and finding some new routes in the Peak District, as well as doing some easy training with my brother (former pro triathlete David Bishop) like the old times. I have a few friends local to the area, too, and it will be a nice mix-up of routine to meet up for a relaxed training ride and a cafe or pub stop en route.

There are also plenty of festive races to enter, either for fun or a test of current fitness. Parkruns sometimes adjust their schedule to suit Christmas morning, so check with your local event. Look for runs on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as well, as there are normally a few around. I’m convinced they were originally organised to shake out the hangover and over-indulgence.

Accept a little overindulgence

Triathlete Tom Bishop having a beer

On that topic, it’s fine to overindulge or have a few extra sherries if you want to. Sticking to a strict diet will cause more stress than abstaining, so allow yourself a few extra chocolates seconds, or even thirds!

Christmas doesn’t have to be unhealthy, though. There’s a lot of healthy meals you can make, especially with an abundance of leftovers, such as stews, curries, stir-fries and soups, to name a few examples. The internet is full of great ideas.

To sign off, 2021 has been another challenging year, but we all were able to enjoy the sport we love, as a racer, a coach or even a spectator. Let’s hope in 2022 we see another move towards normality and a healthier world.

Finally, if you want to know if you should train on Christmas Day read this story about Seb Coe in the winter of 1979. He recalls getting an early run done so to enjoy his Christmas dinner, only to be later agitated by the doubt of what his rivals might be doing and so went for a second run.


In a conversation with Steve Ovett, years later, they laugh about the Olympic Champion’s doubts, but his rival may have got the better of him, asking, “Did you only go out twice that day?!”