26 February 2014

the yeti effect

yes, neighbours often shout out their comments as i run past their driveways in the pre-dawn winter mornings, week after week.  regardless of polar vortex temperatures, 30cm+ accumulations of snow, freezing rain or black ice, i accept their incredulity as something of a commendation of honour.

but there are days when that's counterweighted by 

awkward flailing movements to retain balance

frostbitten extremities

unattainable traction for interval paces

games of chicken with the sandtrucks and snowplows

downed power lines

and the other hazards of navigating tundra-like conditions.

all of which begs the question:  do the benefits outweigh the risks?

(of course, my answer is yes!)

recognizing that there are all sorts of runners with all different needs, preferences, goals and optimal training patterns, i'm reluctant to provide a definitive answer on this - however, i'm more than happy to present a case in favour of persistent winter running and let you render a judgment for yourself.

here then are my perceived pluses for getting out there in all seasons:
  1. putting the beatin' on holiday eatin' - let's face it, we all indulge on special occasions.  plus most of us shift into 'hibernation' gear and pack on a few extra pounds for warmth and 'comfort'.  but when we begin to realize that we have to start opening the belt an extra notch or two, well that's why new gym memberships spike in the month of january.  keeping consistent with running through the colder (-est) months keep burning the calories and makes beachbody shape not such a pipe dream.
  2. varying surfaces - this is a benefit because it provides variety in terms of impact forces while running.  some days will be clear roads; other days are packed snow, which is more like trail running; at times you will hit soft/slushy snow which can be like resistance workouts in the sand (and it helps sometimes to imagine prancing along a sunny beach).  in this way you can use the winter conditions to provide some joint relief and make easy runs not just about pace but terrain type.
  3. development of stabilizer muscles - similar to trail running but with the added effect of sometimes inconsistent traction (read:  icy patches), winter miles do put your arches, ankles, hips, core and other stabilizing muscles/tendons/ligaments through their paces.  snowy conditions activate muscle co-contraction which means that your muscles tend to work in a group to keep your form intact (but you still have to focus on doing just that) and keeping you upright.
  4. sneaky speed development - this one may be all in my head (or my hopes), but several consecutive winter training seasons have given me reason to believe that while you may not always hit the training paces that you aim for in any given workout, putting in the required effort still pays dividends.  especially when you get to spring races and are able to (a) run on clear roads and (b) shed restrictive layers and extra clothing weight - you'll feel exponentially unencumbered, like someone shot you out of a cannon.
  5. mental fortitude - a fancy way of saying that when it comes to race day you'll know that you've put in some very hard work through trying conditions ... so when it comes to hitting that wall or feeling like the course is getting the better of you, you can draw on the knowledge that you've conquered the elements to breakthrough to the next level of effort.
  6. beating the winter blahs/blues - unless you're consistently a pre-dawn runner like me, winter running brings the bonus of added vitamin d from natural sunlight.  being cooped up in the winter has a naturally depressing effect on just about everyone, and a more serious biochemical effect on some.  while skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities can also take advantage of fresh air and sunshine, the endorphin benefits of running can give you a real edge when it comes to boosting your mood.
hopefully that will give you enough reason to consider the merits of winter running (aka yeti mode - the undaunted outdoors version of 'beast mode').  
and if so, i'll probably see you out there.  make tracks!


  1. I think I could have written the exact same post Patrck...you nailed it. I agree with the sneaky speed. My mantra is winter work = spring success and it is for all the reasons you laid out.
    Gotta wear the crazy badge of honour as a winter runner!

    1. and had you written this first mike it probably would have had more credence! i would have been like "dang! he's got it bang on!"

      there's definitely something to be said for toughing it out through these Canadian winters (with the occasional jaunt south to recall what it's like to wear shorts ... right?).

    2. I remember a while back when I was considering running and I asked you "what do you do if you wake up to 12" of snow?" and without a hesitation you answered - "you run!" I think running out side in the winter ranks up there with hockey, Tim's and bacon - everything it means to be a Canadian. You nailed this post!

    3. thanks sweet lew! although i have to say that i probably was seen as distinctly 'un-Canadian' last weekend when i was out running instead of holed up at home watching the gold medal hockey game!

  2. Well - I have been doing a lot of treadmill running here in Chicago, but I agree with your points. I have been trying to do at least one long run outside in polar vortex/record breaking snow here in Chicago. I feel like a bad ass. And am SO much happier. That's my story and I am sticking with it!

    1. awesome stuff erica - and thanks so much for taking the time to comment! i love chicago - such a beautiful city. and i know that you get your fair share of brutally cold days, so big ups to you!