Cold. Snow. Weather. Repeat.

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.

Why We Run: Footprints

If I were to let the snow get under my skin, metaphorically speaking, I would quickly grow fat, lazy, and boring in this winter city where the frost holds dominion for nearly half of the year.

Cold — brutal, toe-freezing, shivering cold — is my reality for at least two months each year. Those two months are fringed and spastically punctuated with just a lingering, discomforting cold, but for two months furnaces blast a hovel of safe warmth through the wood and insulation of my small prairie home just to maintain a glimmer of protection against the deadly outside.

I do have a personal rule about just how much cold I will realistically tolerate. It is a gut instinct really, though calculated based on time of day, length of run, strength of wind, trail conditions, precipitation (usually frozen), just how far into the season we are and how much my tolerance has been leveled, my overall mood, and if there is anything good on Netflix.

That means if something falls outside the comfort of these rules, I hide in my house. If it doesn’t? I make footprints in the snow.

It has been many years since any deep or abiding fascination with true path-finding through my city clung to my conscious purpose in running these trails. My early running career was one of seeking new routes, entering unfamiliar trail-heads, and breaking with the known with a careful expectation of adventure. Curiosity drove me to reveal many paths.

The unfamiliar quickly mingled with the everyday. After a couple years, finding new paths became a rarity mixed among the plodding necessity of race-training.

Fresh snow changes that.

Trails, routes, paths are all trampled with a quantitative measure of feets. The more prints, the more common the path. The more prints, the more people have already found a particular route through the wilds of the city.

Untrod branches in the path beckon. No prints tempt of the allure of something less common. Perhaps we are not the first to go this way. It is unlikely, in fact… but there are few enough that to break through a fresh snowfall on a trail feels closer to exploring than just plodding along in the cold for mere mileage.

Why We Run: Resolving

Forty-eight hours into a brand new year and I can already feel the motivation slipping.

I set a thousand and one goals as the hours ticked down on last year: eat better, run often, write boldly, worry less, post clean, capture moments, and dig deeper. Resolutions writ bravely upon a fresh new calendar, and all of them seeming abruptly ambitious now that the hours press into days and soon into weeks.

The very first thing I did on the morning of January first, however, was the same thing I’ve done every January first for a decade: I’ve run a five klick race.

I woke up, drank coffee, pulled on my shoes, and driven to the annual Resolution Run. We traipse into the cold of the new year, be it minus forty or a balmy barely-sub-zero as this year. We linger at the start. The anthem is sung. The other new years clock counts down to the 11 am and we run the first run of the year.

Five klicks through icy, oatmeal, mashed-potato’d streets and cold. A new year and a new resolve, and over a pancake breakfast on the floor of a small recreation centre gymnasium we ponder our distance totals from last year and our grand ambitions for this new one.

After a depressing December of too much food and dwindling motivation, we dash into just another day with a kind of renewed appraisal of this sport, and resolving to set grand goals in the blur of it all.

How to Goal Set (using your head)

  1. Set simple, manageable goals. Y’know… things that you can actually accomplish. Sure, there’s glory in shooting for the moon, but very few people actually get there.
  2. Make yourself accountable to someone (besides yourself).
  3. Write stuff down. Measure. Track. Record. Make a spreadsheet or keep a journal. Take photos of your ass in the mirror. Something. Your brain is fickle and will convince you of failure unless you can present it with hard evidence of success and change.
  4. Don’t wait for a special day to start. Go live today.
  5. Remember that incremental change (and success) is worth celebrating.