Tuesday, February 25, 2014


In the winter of our discontent, also known as 2014, my part of the U.S. has had cold weather, Really cold weather. And repeated ice storms. My kids had time off school, at least a delay, several times a week throughout all of January. But it wasn't until early February that we got a real snow storm. Finally a dumping that we could do something with. Snowman by the street, snow angles in the backyard, snow forts on either side of the driveway.

The morning after our 'storm of the winter' I went for a run. In fact the snow was still coming down, but barely. Just a light flurry with almost no additional accumulation. The end of the storm. My town borders a national park, and a trailhead into that park starts from my back yard. This isn't coincidence or luck. This is days of hard work. Blazing a trail, digging up poison ivy and thorn bushes, bridging streams. But the result is a wooded path that links up with ten miles of existing horse-trails that surround most of the park.

This winter, I've taken a break from running. After a tough trail race in mid-November, I took a week off. I went for a Thanksgiving Day run (because I always do), but then nothing until New Year’s Day. I guess I needed a break. Then the weather got cold. So cold that I just couldn't bring myself to go out and exercise. I'm definitely not a weather-wimp. I ride my bike to work every day, in all conditions, even in sub-zero temps. But the prospect of pounding out miles on rock-hard, icy ground never sounded appealing. And because I work at a community center with a huge gym, I have warmer options.

I won't run on a treadmill. It assaults my sensibilities of what running is all about. Which is communing with nature, enjoying the terrain. Strangely enough, I have no problem riding a spin bike, and even instructing spin classes. Most of the serious fitness folks around town are perfectly content knocking out long runs on a treadmill, but many see spinning as an abomination. But for me, this winter has been all about spinning, weight lifting, and H.I.I.T. circuits.

With our snowstorm came warmer temperatures. Barely below freezing. After commuting daily in single digit and low-teen temperatures, this felt like a heat wave. I woke up in the morning with one goal. A long, deep-snow run. The woods were pristine. Twelve inches of unmarred snow. Every now and then, I would join up with deer trails, but for the most part, the only foot prints were mine. And when I was done, I was shocked at how great a workout it had been. An hour of my slow loping gate, high knees the whole way. Each foot fall, an unpredictable angle. This was more about core than legs. My whole body was exhausted. Even my shoulders, chest and back were used up.

The next day, I had a standing monthly meeting that includes some of our most frequent gym patrons. They were complaining about missing a workout day. These are people who will spend upwards to two hours per day in the gym. Pounding on a treadmill, sweating through hour-long spin classes, riding an elliptical for forty minutes at a shot. I suggested that shoveling snow was probably just as good a workout as what they would have gotten at the gym, and each uniformly reported that they clean their driveway with a snow-blower.

This disgusts me. Ignoring the environmental impact and the unnecessary noise pollution, what the hell is the point of being fit if you aren't going to use it. These aren't people with long country lanes as driveways. They have short two-car drives on their quarter-acre lots. Snow-shoveling, a total body workout. Quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, shoulders, arms. Deep breathing – fresh, cleanly scrubbed air. Conversations like this one helps realign my thinking. Helps me remember that the best gym has no walls. 
A week later, I repeated my run. Since our storm, we have had several warm days and even a couple of rainy ones. The temperatures dip below freezing each night, but then back into the forties during the day. We even had a few days in the fifties. When I headed out for my run, I expected a sloppy, muddy mess. It was warm, high in the forties. Running in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, gloves and a hat. There was no mud. The snow had survived the week. Under the crusty surface was a bed of soft, wet snow. Three to four inches of drop for each footfall. Because the snow was not as deep as the previous week, I could go farther, longer on this run. The crustiness made for a more unpredictable foot-strike, which created a heightened core workout, but my legs had much more stamina than on my last run. Things were not as pristine as my last time out. A few other people had been out on the trail. Someone with skis, a dog walker. But no other runners. I just don't understand this.

Nature offers so few opportunities to shake it up. My snow runs are my most memorable workouts of the winter. They were hard, slow, deliberate workouts. All alone, no one to witness what I was doing. In my house, we joke that if no one you know sees you when you go out for a run or a bike-ride, it doesn't count. Well these runs don’t count at all. I didn't see a single person on either day. But what these runs did was re-energized my desire to get outside and experience the world. I've had my pampered winter, and now I'm ready to toughen up and start crushing some unpaved miles. Re-explore the trails as they begin to green-up with Spring. All winter I've been worried about whether I was going to have the motivation to start running again, but now I can't wait for my next opportunity to get outside. And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I hope it snows again this year.

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