Winter Conditioning

Skiing Up a Sweat

February 29, 2020

Leap day, and like the last two iterations of this bonus day, I’m on vacation. Los Angeles in 2012. Hawaii in 2016. Canmore in 2020.

Every year we try to get out to the mountains at least once. It’s a four hour drive and a weekend of pricy hotels, expensive lift tickets, and eating out way too much. But the Rockies are in our backyard and it’s not only a refreshing getaway in the middle of a humdrum prairie winter, but it’s an active life vacation that feels like a fitness getaway as much as an alpine retreat.

As far as keeping in shape over the winter, I usually leave thinking that if I spent every weekend on skis I would be broke and in awesome shape. It’s exhausting.


By the end of the day as we coasted to the bottom of the ski-out and pulled our boots off, I confessed to my family that I don’t think I could have handled another run. I don’t think I could have handled another five minutes of another run. My legs, my knees, my calves, all of them were burning, aching, asking me for a pay raise.

Downhill skiing is really a kind of strength-training exercise. Even at our moderate pace, causally hitting the blue runs for most of the day, the constant engagement of the whole body to balance, turn, crouch, bend, lean, brace, and adjust was a full-body workout. Occasionally you find yourself poling up a slow incline, wobbling over to a chairlift, or doing something resembling cardio, but for the most part I felt like I’d been through a round on the free-weights by the time I climbed into my truck at the end of the day.


A day later we hauled our nordic skis up to the nearby (to our hotel) nordic centre. Over thirty years ago it was built to host the 1988 Olympic Nordic trials, but now it’s a provincial park where a few bucks can buy you a day pass on the hundred klicks of groomed trails. We usually follow up our downhill day with a few hours of cross-country because (a) it’s cheap and easy to bring them along and (b) it’s a great shakeout after a day on the slopes.

Where downhill is heavy on the strength, cross-country is all in cardio. An educated guess would tell me that the common elliptical machine is based on the same kind of striding motion that one gets into on cut trails on cross-country equipment. I overdressed, and by the end of eight tough klicks through some mountain trails I was feeling as burned as if I’d run a ten or fifteen klick easy run. And we weren’t even pushing hard.

Actually, if I had to compare, I’d say cross-country is closer to mountain biking: coasts equating to glides, the need to coordinate with the equipment to have a good experience, and the speed of it all.

Winter Conditioning

It’s not the cheapest workout — equipment, passes, travel — but squeezing in some mountain sports over your winter of healthy training-not-training is definitely a recommended bit of balance in a chill season.

Cold. Snow. Weather. Repeat.

January 24, 2020

People keep asking me if I’m signing up for this year’s Hypothermic Half. This is the local half marathon series in February each year, the same where one gambles with one’s very safety and sanity by registering to run on a day that will either be (a) #coldAF or (b) literally the worst road conditions —ice, pebbled ice, oatmeal chop snow, fresh wet snow, or ankle-deep tire ruts— for a medal, a breakfast, and bragging rights for being a hard-edge CanadianMF who doesn’t let the snow and cold stop them from kicking nature’s ass.

I’m not signing up. Nature wins. I’m skipping a few years. I’ve run that, and the result has always been a great story, a good breakfast, but a miserable stretch of training, cuz, oh right, you need to winter-train for that race.

It’s been the worst this past two weeks. Worst. The winter training analogy to rolling a two, getting pwned in the tutorial level, or drawing the card with the instructions printed on it when playing high stakes poker. Why even bother weather. Worst.

It was cold. Bitter, miserable, frost-biting, asscheek-numbing, chew-the-skin-off-your-face cold.

Then the cold broke, but it snowed. Heavy, ankle-deep, cover-the-slick-ice-below snow. Six klicks through that the other night left me humbled and picking pebbled ice-wads from between my toes.

As a countermeasure, we’ve been mostly running inside. On a track. Warm. Dry. Flat. Round. And around. And around. Did I mention around, flat and boring? Another lap you say?

Weather, amIright? Do I read a bit bitter?

The solution has been cross-training. I gave myself a little rule this month. And next month. And frankly, until I feel like I want to start training-proper, so likely until late-March-ish. It’s the guilt-free run plan: I run when I run, how I run, if I run, and I don’t feel guilty… so long as I’m doing some cross-training.

We’ve been spinning. I have that Peloton app and the rec center does a gruelling session.

We’ve clocked about an hour on a rower.

The pool bekons me and I’ve been swimming laps.

The weight machines have counted a few rounds of reps. Grunt. Lift. Repeat.

And, a few round, and around, and around laps on the track.

It’s the great 2020-cross-training winter-rules guilt-free running-not-running plan.

I mean, there’s that whole spring and summer of races to think about, y’know later… but I’ll let the snow melt a bit before I get myself in a knot over that. And I’ll be sleeping in while the rest of you are out kicking nature’s ass in the Hypothermic Half this winter. And by the way I’m just fine with that.