In praise of winter running – and treadmills

Today it is -22C with a light wind chill at midday, which of course is only -7.6F.  With due deference to my (younger) friends who ran the Hypothermic Half Marathon yesterday in Moncton, with similar temperatures, higher winds, and the tail end of a respectable snowstorm, I do not exactly embrace winter running.

Call me chicken, but the conditions of sidewalks and trails are an issue for me.  Sometimes they’re perfect: snow packed but not slippery, or even that rare occurrence when they’re bare.  But often they’re icy or, even worse, icy with a thin coating of snow over top so you can’t tell where the icy patches are.  Or they’re slushy, so your running shoes – hence feet – get cold and wet even before your feet have a chance to feel the arctic air.  Maybe even worse is when the slush is frozen rock hard, so the sidewalk plows have no chance of clearing it off.  Negotiating rock-hard bumps of frozen slush is not what running is meant to be about.  And when it all warms up a bit, and the temperature is an ideal 3C, the slush or ice turns to – you  got it – water; one then negotiates around or through icy puddles that are sure to be there for days, hemmed in by the snow mounds on either side of the sidewalk.  That is until it freezes again.

I realize that I am demeaning a noble northern activity in describing some truths about winter running.  I also realize that some of my running friends would say that if I would get up early and run with them on Saturday or Sunday morning, I could run with their group on the roads, where it is likely to be ice-free.  I would then point out that: (1) it is very early, and (2) it is very cold that time of day.  For those of you not (yet) immersed in the running culture, one of the first lessons you learn at running clinics is how to dry out your sneakers after a run in  cold water and slush: pack them with crumpled newspaper, which will absorb the water; remove and repeat until dry.  Sorry folks, but Jerry Seinfeld would have a field day with that one!

Fortunately, man (or possibly woman) has invented the treadmill.  You can have one in your home, which is especially good when even clearing the snow from the driveway is an impediment.  You can have your choice of several at a gym, along with companionship, TV, other opportunities to exercise, all the while being warm and dry.  This is another form of winter running.

I’m not saying treadmills are a panacea.  Far from it.  When you’re on a treadmill, you don’t get that wonderful feeling of freedom, you don’t have any air movement helping to cool you down, you don’t have scenery passing by.  Pretty much what you get on a treadmill is the certainty that you are getting some cardio and that your legs are moving, plus good control over your pace and incline. It’s a far cry from the experience that you get when you run outdoors.

My approach to winter running is based first on the condition of the trails or sidewalks and then the weather.  When there’s a running route that passes muster and it is not too windy, I call that a precious opportunity not to be missed.  Otherwise, I hit the treadmill and wait.  Last week we had a whole week of bare trails and passable weather, resulting in three lovely outdoor runs.  Then it snowed and turned frigid – beautiful, but not for running, not for me.  One day at a time.

My cousin Alan, who lived in Florida and wondered why anyone put up with winter, would have said that it’s crazy to do anything outside in such cold weather.  But if we lived in Florida, we’d have great winter running and then have to use treadmills in the summer.  Who could run in that heat?!

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2 Responses to In praise of winter running – and treadmills

  1. Kristina Taylor says:

    I love my treadmill! I find that I actually end up running more in the winter because I’m too busy with other things in the summer — gardening, soccer, yard work, etc. My treadmill eliminates any excuses I might try to make in the winter.

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