My Love/Hate Relationship With Winter Running

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Well this looks motivating. 

I’m so ready for winter to be over.

I actually fell in love with running in the winter.

I started running in July of 2013. By started, I mean that I ran consistently for about 6 weeks, worked myself up to 3 kilometres or so and then got injured. I think that tells you everything you need to know about my fitness levels at the time, but that’s not the point. The point is that, by the time I started running regularly again, it was freezing cold outside. I didn’t have any winter running gear. I used to layer leggings under a pair of track pants and top it off with a very poorly ventilated windbreaker. This was back in the day when I owned exactly one sports bra. I promised myself that if I ran through the winter I could go out and buy some real running clothes for the summer. That was my primary motivation.

There was also a part of me who thought that “real” runners had to run through the winter and if I stuck it out I’d be passing some kind of runner’s commitment test. At the time, I had no plans of ever racing and I’m not even sure I knew how long a marathon was, but I’d head out two or three days a week and get it done. It wasn’t so bad in the late fall and I remember coming home elated after a 6km run (my longest run ever!) and signing up for the Yonge Street 10k.

The Yonge Street 10k isn’t around anymore but all you need to know is that it’s in early April. So I’d head out in my track pants and horribly uncomfortable windbreaker/old fleece combo and train. It was slow going but I managed to drag my mileage over 10km by the time the race came around. I have a lot of memories from Winter 2014. Mainly, it was frigidly cold and every time I came in to defrost I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I’d gone out and faced off against the elements and gotten shit done. I had a goal and I was going to power through. And February is the best month for sunsets over country roads. My phone has been littered with sunset photos since this first training cycle.

Now, I do this every year. Signing up for early Spring races forces me out the door in the most ridiculous conditions. I ran my first ever half marathon at the Chilly Half Marathon on March 1, 2015. I ran Around the Bay in 2016 and 2017. I’ve had some pretty adventurous long runs. It’s been -30C and I’ve been out there with three pairs of pants on. I’ll be attempting my first ultra at the end of April. This has become a tradition. It isn’t winter if I’m not running across the countryside dressed like a ninja.

My biggest nemesis is probably unshoveled sidewalks and unploughed roads. I live in a small town where no one seems to care if the sidewalks are maintained in the winter. Ploughs don’t hit the roads until late in the day or, in the case of country roads, days later. I train alone and sometimes the thought of slogging through ankle deep snow for hours is a lot to stomach. There’s also a bit of a safety issue. I fell flat on my ass just last week and I’ll admit it completely freaked me out. Injuries are my worst fear right now.

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What’s a plough? Never heard of it. 

That said, I have made some pretty crucial adjustments to my wardrobe. I now have real winter running tights of varied weight and layering options. I have fancy Merino wool base tops. I own five running jackets (two were gifts, and one was Chilly Half race swag). I still only have one hat and one pair of gloves.

And Winter running still sucks. No amount of fancy gear will change the fact that some days it is damn hard to get out the door. I joined a gym a few months back and sometimes I do run on the treadmill. After 4 winters of nothing but outdoor running, it feels like a luxury and I don’t really want to get too used to it. Winter running has taught me to tough it out even when you’re miserable and that you don’t always need to like running to love it.

This isn’t to say that the runner’s commitment test my former self believed in is a real thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being on the treadmill November-March. Do what you need to do to chase down your goals. If nothing else, it will make you look less crazy. Which, I’ll admit, in a small town, could be a very valuable thing.

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