A refreshing break in the winter running routine

I know I’m not the only runner who is finding this winter a little more challenging than usual for training. Convincing myself to wake up at 5 a.m. for a tough workout is one thing, but when it’s twenty below zero it takes a whole new level of dedication. I can force myself, but I know when it’s starting to wear me down more than build me up, so this past weekend I didn’t run. I did something completely different. I went with my husband, sister, brother-in-law and another couple of friends to our summer cottage which is on a lake a few hours north of Toronto. We had always wondered what it would be like in the winter, so after some planning and child-care arrangements were made, we headed up to the lake to ski and snowshoe across to the island. I had fun, I didn’t stress about running or not running the whole time, and I came back rejuvenated and ready to get back into my running routine.

I also learned a few things which I think will help me put things in perspective and get through the rest of the winter running happily:

1. You can always add more layers. I’m sure I set a record with seven (!) layers on top, but if I managed to stay warm and happy in a frozen cottage on a frozen lake where is was -26 C, I really should not complain about being cold when running if the temperature is anywhere near that. If I’m cold, I’m not wearing enough layers.

Feeling toasty

Feeling toasty


2. Going for a run in the cold is no problem when you know you have a warm house to warm-up in afterwards. That wasn’t quite the case up north, so I now have a renewed perception of what I can endure while still having fun.
Wearing less than when outside, but still toques, gloves and jackets

Wearing less than when outside, but still toques, gloves and jackets


3. Don’t sweat if you don’t have water. We thought we’d have water all around us and all we’d have to do is melt snow, but you’d be surprised how little water a giant pot of snow makes. We were all slightly dehydrated by the end but luckily we were able to keep our sweating to a minimum.
Washing dishes while melting snow on the stove

Washing dishes while melting snow on the stove


4. When it’s cold, you need to eat (and drink) well. I’m not really sure if there is scientific backing to this, but I do find that I get more hungry when I’m cold. Now is not the time to eat salads-as-meals or try a cleanse. It’s all about hearty, delicious food. My brother-in-law devised the menu and cooked three amazing Scandinavian themed meals, and our friend decided that bringing an extra beer or two was worth the weight on his sled. We were all grateful to both of them and enjoyed great food and drink!
Precious cargo of food and drink

Precious cargo of food and drink


5. I’m glad I’m not a cross-country ski racer. We runners endure a few rough weeks (okay months) of winter. Many of us have access to a treadmill or indoor track to break up the cold training while others treat it as their less intense down-season and do a little less. Cross-country skiers train hard in this weather ALL THE TIME. This is their season! They must be some really hardy people.
Fun adventure, but glad these aren't my year-round training grounds

Fun adventure, but glad these aren’t my year-round training grounds


6. I’m really glad I’m not a cross-country ski racer. By about 20 minutes in, as soon as my fingers started to thaw out thanks to my upper body effort, my elbow started to develop an over-use injury. I’m telling you – cross-country skiers are hardy!
Either warming my hands or resting my elbow

Either warming my hands or resting my elbow


7. Give yourself a mental and physical break when you need it. I had just lost my excitement for running and rather than continue to grind through it, I did something else to take my mind off it. When I came back after three days off I had renewed enthusiasm and had a great run in the cold. Which somehow after last weekend, didn’t feel so cold.
The cold trek home

The cold trek home

Excuses

When I was a competitive runner in high-school, there was a lot I enjoyed about running. I liked the social aspect of my training group, I liked the competition, I liked being fit. But I didn’t always like training. There were days when I would actually make the journey by public transit through the city to arrive at the track after school, and just offer an excuse to my coach as to why I couldn’t train that day. I wasn’t the only one. Invariably there was someone who had a good excuse lined up, and they got to sit and watch while the rest of us ran in circles. Most of the excuses we offered give me a new respect for my coach, looking back, for having patiently put up with teenagers for so long. Here were some of our excuses:
“I can’t run today – I brought two left shoes”. Coach’s response: “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.
“I can’t run today – I’m too tired from swim practice this morning and we did the Terry Fox Run at lunch”. Coach’s response: “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.
“I can’t run today – I have sour burps”. This wasn’t me, but I remember the excuse so well. How did she get out of practice for Sour Burps?!? Coach’s response (after a barely audible sigh): “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”. I don’t know where he found the patience.
“I can’t run today – I forgot my sports bra”. We used this one a lot because it was our trump card. We knew he couldn’t say “but you’re all flat-chested runners – you don’t even need a bra!” which was the truth. He just rolled his eyes and repeated his “Fine. Do your run tomorrow” line.

Now that I am an adult with serious time-constraints who still loves to run, I am an excuse crusher. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get out and run. Not enough time? Wake up earlier. Too cold? Wear more clothes or find a treadmill. Feeling sick, bloated, tired? Go for a short one. You get the idea.

However, this past summer I had an experience which put my excuse-crushing to the test. I was at work in an office and had about one hour for lunch. That was the only time in the day I had to run, so that was my plan. However, in looking through my bag at work I realized I had forgotten my running bra. The issue here was that I didn’t have the fall-back of wearing my regular bra because I happened to be wearing only a supportive tank-top under my shirt that day. Luckily my office was above a mall, and I was sure I could just nip down and find something – anything that would work. The only store I could find which could help me out was a lingerie store. No problem – I just needed anything, and my precious running time was being eaten away. I dashed in and grabbed a bra from the bargain bin (I wasn’t prepared to pay more than $10 for a 45 minute run) brought it back up, ripped off the tags and got changed.

And then I realized. It was WAY too small and SUPER uncomfortable. But – no excuses! I slipped my t-shirt on over top and headed out. It was the most miserable five miles of my life. My new purchase was digging in at the back, the front and the sides. For the first mile it was just very uncomfortable, but I thought I could suffer through it. Then it became painful. And by mile three it was unbearable. Metal wires were digging into my ribs and straps were rubbing my skin raw. I readjusted it every two steps trying to find some relief but there was nothing I could do. I needed to get it off me but there was no way I could wear just a thin t-shirt! So I suffered through it and regretted it the entire way. Some people say any run is better than no run, and I used to agree, but now I think otherwise. That run was not worth the pain. Next time I’m in an excuse-worthy situation, I’ll try to channel my wise, ever-calm coach, take a deep breath and say “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.

my harmless looking torture device

my harmless looking torture device

From minimalist to excessive – I do the extremes

I’ve changed. I’m no longer a minimalist. I can very clearly recall a different time in my life when I would put on a bra top and shorts, sometimes tights and a shirt, go for a run, return, and hang them over a railing to be re-worn on the next run. Generally those were the times that I was either traveling or living on my own on a shoe-string budget and no laundry facilities close by. I back-packed for a year and I think I must have carried at least two different running outfits, but here is the only one I have documented of me wearing throughout that year (!) and I ran pretty much every day.

Finishing a race in Australia in my only documented outfit of the year - 1999

Finishing a race in Australia in my only documented outfit of the year – 1999

Today the running gear laundry situation in my house is a different story. It doesn’t help that the weather has been freezing cold and soaking wet, so I generally wear about four layers on top and bottom, all of which have to be washed afterwards. I think I set a dirty running laundry PB the other weekend; I had a long-run of about 17 miles on schedule, but just could not get myself up early enough to get it done before 8 a.m. (when my husband had to be out the door). So I split it into a 7 miler and a 10 miler with an hour and a half in between. Of course I didn’t stay in my wet running stuff for the ‘pause’, so within one morning of running I went through: 2 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of tights, two bra-tops, three long-sleeved shirts, two t-shirts and two pairs of socks. At any given time, the top of my washing machine has my latest running gear on top, waiting patiently for the next load to go through.

gear from my last two runs

sweaty gear from my last two runs

There is always a load in the washer, or dryer, or waiting to be folded and put away, or most often all three at once. We have four laundry baskets in rotation, but as you can see, sometimes that’s still not enough.

my dryer exploding clean clothes onto the floor

my dryer exploding clean clothes onto the floor

I agree this seems excessive, and the me from 1999 is rolling her eyes, but I really do not know how to get around it. Call it maturity, but I just spend too much time in my running gear to have it be smelly, wet or crusty. I will however slack in the compulsive laundering in two areas: running jackets and accessories.

Here is a combination of what I wear every day to receive some mix of sweat, snot and slush.

dirty running accessories ready to be re-worn

dirty running accessories ready to be re-worn


running jackets in varying states of cleanliness

running jackets in varying states of cleanliness

Maybe in ten years I’ll look back and wonder how I was able to go that long without washing those things. For now though, this is all the laundry I can handle!

Resolutions

‘Tis the season to take a look at ourselves and decide what we’d like to change or improve for the coming year. I have many many areas where I can improve, but I think it’s wise to choose resolutions which are realistic and measurable. Here are some things which I plan to do but are not resolutions: set business and running goals and work towards them based on yearly, monthly and weekly plans. These are not resolutions; these are goals, and I how I move forward in life. (for the record, my current running goal is to run the Around The Bay 30K in a personal best time of under 1:57:30).
To me, resolutions are about making a decision to change something. My resolution this year is to work on an area which I know has been part of my character for a long time. This is my absolute lack of culinary diversity.
I was reminded of this trait a while ago when a friend was recounting a time when I happened to be living in a tent in the Yukon (1996 to be exact), and she happened to be tree-planting a few hundred kilometers south of me, and came to visit me on one of her breaks. She somehow found my tent after a day or two of travel (this was before we all had cell phones or even email) and asked:”Do you have anything to eat?” I produced from my tent what had been sustaining me for weeks: puffed rice cereal and canned beans. Granted, that is not what I would find appetizing these days, but the premise is the same. I find the few ingredients which I know I like and think will work for me, and I don’t branch out.
I was reminded of this again recently when my mother was feeding dinner to my kids. She served them their dinner and they looked at their plate and said “what is that?” My mother stared at them and then gave me a funny look and said “potatoes.” Right, I guess I’ve forgotten to include potatoes in my rotation.

unrecognizable food item for my kids

unrecognizable food item to my kids


What I would like to do most is broaden my vegetable repertoire. Here is a list of the vegetables I regularly buy, prepare, eat and feed my family: carrots, broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, mushrooms, yellow pepper, onion, celery, snow-peas and sometimes frozen spinach. Nothing else – ever. The other day while grocery shopping my son wanted to buy a Chinese cabbage. Strange, I thought, but maybe it would break me out of my rut. So I bought it thinking if I had it I would eat it. But the poor sad cabbage sat in my fridge looking more and more wilted until my husband finally threw it in the green bin (lucky raccoons).
Chinese cabbage in fresher times

Chinese cabbage in fresher times


I’m sure there are other vegetables out there which I can create into some sort of dish which breaks me out of my rut. I have heard of a popular thing out there called kale. I’ve never tried it, as I don’t even know what it looks like, but it will factor into my resolution. Also: parsnips, bok choy, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce (I know, I know), tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, squash, rutabaga (I don’t know what this looks like either, but it sounds exotic). I’m sure I’m missing some vegetables, but that’s pretty much all I can think of and I think it’s a good start. I’ve already come a long way from puffed-rice and canned beans. Onward to 2014!