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

My poor neglected core!

I know I’m supposed to do core work in order to prevent injury, maintain good running form and to help me to run longer and faster.  Sometimes more importantly to me (especially in the summer) I know I need to do it to look good.  A little can go a long way when it comes to ab strength and definition.  As my friends Andrea and Kate demonstrate in the video below, core work can be a very simple, yet powerful addition to a training program.


So why oh why can I not seem to consistently get it done??  I am so well disciplined in so many other areas (ok, maybe just one area –  getting my runs in, but I’m REALLY disciplined about that).  It should be so simple to add 5 minutes at the end of at least two or three runs a week to help out my poor core.  That’s two or three out of six runs I can choose from!  But somehow even though I completely buy into the concept and ease of doing it, core work remains to me like flossing – (another big confession) – I’ll do it when the mood strikes, and enough to kind of get by, but not nearly to the extent that I could or should.

Since I can offer no explanation as to why I don’t consistently do my core exercises, I will break-down my potential barriers and come up with solutions to overcome them.

Barrier:  Not enough time planned in after runs.  I run within very specific windows and tend to use the entire window to run and only run.

Solution:  Fight the urge to think that 5 extra minutes will kill me – or take it from somewhere else like blow-drying my hair.

Barrier:  Not invested enough in the outcome.  I believe in the benefits of core work, but it doesn’t seem to bring me any visibly closer to my goals.

Solution:  Convince myself that all my niggly injuries will disappear and that I have a big looming injury which I can prevent if I’m consistent with my exercises.

Barrier:  I have to think about doing it and make a conscious decision to do it every time.

Solution:  Create a pattern which will become as natural and automatic as running itself.  For example, 5 minutes at the end of Tuesday and Thursday easy runs.  No question.

Barrier:  Sheer laziness.

Solution:  Make rules for myself, such as I’m not allowed an evening beer unless I’ve done core work that day.

Okay, this is good!  I think I can do this.  Abs of steel, here I come …

Cross Training

A few words about cross-training.  I like it because:

  1. It helps prevent injury by maintaining a balance in your muscular strength
  2. It adds to your overall “functional fitness” and by this I mean, your ability to perform in other activities in life at a higher level, rather than just being really good at running in a straight line
  3. It burns more calories, which, let’s be honest, is never a negative

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that a lot of my everyday activities involve “cross training” (at least I put them in that category).  Sometimes I think “this has GOT to benefit my running somewhere down the line” and other times I think “thank god I’m a runner or I’d never be able to do this!”  Yesterday was a big cross training day for me.

It started with a regular run.  Then I had the kids in the house all afternoon and no car.  The skating rink right beside our house was booked for the day.  No problem.  There’s one a short mile away – UPHILL.  This is what we looked like heading out:

Then we added the chair which my youngest needs to a) skate and b) be pushed on by me when she gets tired of skating after the first 15 minutes.

This is the view from the top of the hill, and honestly, this photo does not do justice to the grade.  It is a long, STEEP hill and I forced the kids to cheer me on from about halfway to the top  (I completely forgot bike helmets until looking at this photo – the skating helmets, knee pads, gloves, 3 pairs of skates, hockey stick and chair made me incorrectly assume we had enough gear).

I probably shouldn’t count as cross-training (but I will) putting on 3 pairs of skates, helmets and shin-guards.  I use the sweat-barometer test, and I was drenched by the time we hit the ice.  Then it was time to actually skate (the main activity).  For the most part they were fine skating on their own, although I was called on for more than the occasional game of tag, and to push the chair “Really Fast”.  Thank goodness Thing 1 took pity on me and helped out by pushing Thing 2 for a while.

After about 45 minutes it was time to head to our local cafe for hot chocolate.  Luckily I’d done this to them, so I could count on some quiet time later at home:

And what did I do with my “Quiet Time” at home?  Cross trained of course!  The one form of “real” cross training I’ve gotten into is Kettlebell.  My husband and I have a set and a routine which takes 35 minutes.  It is INTENSE and really feels like it’s doing a lot based on the endorphin buzz and muscle shakes it produces and the body soreness the next day.  Here’s a picture of our instruments of torture:

They may look pretty, but they’re killer.  We’ll see if they help my running – I’m trying to get them in once-twice a week.

As for how my run went this morning after yesterday’s workouts: let’s just say I’m glad I was finishing off my easy week and didn’t time my 7 mile route.

Now to gear up for a series of 3 build weeks in the freezing temps!  I’m going to try to build to 70 in one of them.  Stay tuned…