Idiot versus the elements

My winter training ground

My winter training ground

You’re not supposed to lie down to recover from the exertion of running hard. I’m not sure why, but that’s what I was taught by former coaches and phys-ed teachers. So it’s with a slight pang of guilt that I’m lying on the snow-packed road in my subdivision, panting hard and gazing up at a sky matted with brilliant stars.

I’m recovering from my most recent round of wind sprints, which remain every bit as agonizing as they were three months ago when I first started training.

Due to a bout of extreme busy-ness that recently infected my life, this is my first workout in 10 days. It’s also my first attempt at training under bona fide winter conditions. It’s about minus seven degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit).

Even here in Canada, where winters are cold, white and long, many hard-core distance runners maintain their habit year round, making sub-zero forays onto streets and trails in their form-fitting, technical garb. If that’s a look you’re picturing in your mind, get rid of it, because I’m not looking anything like that.

I’m dressed as if I’m out for a round of tobogganing: felt-lined boots, ski gloves, toque, ski jacket, shell pants. Beneath this outer coating are sweat pants and a sweatshirt preceded by a neck-to-ankle encasement of moisture-wicking underwear.

I’m 20 minutes into my workout so I’m warmed up. My face and neck feel fresh from the cool air but all my other parts are nice and comfortable. Overall, the cold isn’t a factor.

I do, however, feel ponderous and heavy under all the layers of clothing. My boots are particularly unwieldy, feeling as cumbersome as snowshoes, but they provide the traction I need for sprinting. It’s tough getting my legs moving with all the extra bulk attached to them but I feel that this increased resistance will lead to increased strength.

I loll about on the ground for a couple of minutes then I’m back on my feet and finishing up my sprints. Then I’m off to the garage for a quick blast of the thighs with the barbells. This has become the core of my workout routine: sprint then squat, sprint then squat, every day or two.

Back for more

About 48 hours later I’m in the house preparing for another workout. Outside it’s dark and snowing, the wind whistling wildly as the treetops whip around like Medusa’s hair. I decide to restrict my activities to indoors, but as I prepare to head to the garage for some footwork and weight training, I feel disappointment and guilt welling up inside me. While I want to avoid the discomfort of going outside, I feel that I should do my sprinting, as I view this as the most important component of my workout scheme.

So, despite my powerful desire to stay inside where it’s warm and dry, I find myself outside in the swirling elements, bundled up in one-piece lined coveralls and moving like an astronaut on a space walk.

It’s not overly cold, just a bit below freezing, but the wind is gusting furiously, fanning the falling snow into a frothy airborne frenzy.

After a bit of footwork to warm up my legs, I take off down the road for my first of six sprints. My eyes involuntarily blink like windshield wipers on the fastest setting but still I can’t keep up with the deluge of flakes pin-pricking me in the face.

For my second sprint set I try alternating my blinking – left, right, left, right – as quickly as I can, so I have one eye open and one eye closed at all times. This is a bit more effective, and a great workout for my eyelids, which I now realize I’ve been neglecting since I started this training kick. I also realize, a bit too late, that my wife has a pair of ski goggles that would have come in handy in this situation.

At any rate, despite its assault on my eyeballs, this blizzard workout is a success. My only niggle is that, by the time I’ve completed six rounds of running, I’m just roasting inside my full body suit. Off I go to the garage, where I peel off the coveralls, releasing a puff of pent-up steam. It’s squat time.

Round three

Two days later I’m back at it yet again, and back to wearing my shell pants and ski jacket. This time the mercury is wallowing in -18 territory (about zero Fahrenheit).

The air is plenty cold but my saving grace is that it’s very still, which makes a huge difference. Once my body is warmed up, I’m nice and toasty under my layers of protection. The only exposed skin is my face and it’s leathery enough to be bothered little by the benign bite of cold.

Surprisingly, this third winter workout is also a success, but I don’t think I’d want to venture out if it was any colder. I make a mental note to adopt -20 as the cutoff temperature for outdoor exercise.

So there you have it, three outdoor winter workouts in drastically different conditions, and all three a resounding success. I guess that puts to rest the doubt I had in my mind about the viability of continuing my training regime through the winter months. This is excellent, as I’ll be able to madly sprint my way toward beer-league glory all winter long.

On the downside, I have no excuse not to keep working out ... all winter long.