Winter running in Canada – one stride forward, three steps back

There is nothing like a good run when the weather is just perfect, your body is comfortable and your breathing is easy. But how about when it is sub-zero and snowy? I guess when I decided to move to Calgary in Canada this February, I forgot about the small detail of cold, actually gruellingly cold winter temperatures with lots (tons) of snow. Calgary is a city located in an area of foothills and prairie at 1000m above sea level (yay, altitude!) and a short 45 minutes’ drive from the Canadian Rockies (win-win basically). However, all I ever envisioned when planning on moving there was running (in shorts and tank top to work a tan, obviously) along beautiful trails crisscrossing through the Rockies with breath-taking vistas onto turquoise glacial lakes and snow-covered mountain peaks (and maybe  watching bears from far afield). I did NOT expect to not even make it from the car into the house without slipping, falling, and climbing over snow mounts. But I did not come to Canada to hang up my running shoes and cocoon inside just because it’s freaking cold and snowy outside. Time to embrace the elements, whatever they throw at me.

34I guess winter running, especially when the mercury drops well below zero, divides runners into two camps, those that say “you can’t run in these conditions” which is a rather sensible decision and definitely true for some days and those that run albeit atrocious conditions outside (which can sometimes be rather stupid); I guess, I belong to the latter. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? Running in winter and cold conditions definitely requires being more prepared, but it can also be a lot of fun (depending on how you define fun ;-). So, I arrived in Calgary in what appeared to me as the Ice Age, -15 to -20 degrees DURING the day (it feels like any moisture in your nose instantly freezes), with snow piled up along the roads covering street signs and alike. But that’s what warm winter gear is for, ain’t it?

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So, off I went for my first run in Canada while more snowflakes were falling from the sky. All wrapped up in a thermal, long sleeve, gilet, windstopper jacket, tights, waterproof race pants, balaclava, hat, two pairs (yes, TWO pairs) of gloves, technical socks, and trail shoes (12 pieces of kit!)– and guess what, I was waaaayyyy too hot!!! Lols! On my second attempt, I decided to hit some local trails in Nose Hill Park, this time starting off uncomfortably cool in fewer clothes: a thermal, long sleeve, gilet, tights, balaclava, hat, one pair of gloves, technical socks, and trail shoes (9 pieces of kit!). Not having factored in gusty winds up on Nose Hill (it felt like -30 degree26s) meant that I never left the uncomfortably cold stage but instead literally froze off my ass, while getting stuck in knee-deep snow. It was perfect resistance training but after 30 mins I called it quits.…also, because I did not have any traction devices (i.e. crampons) for my shoes yet and slipped on icy patches. Given my pathetic running attempt, I thought I should at least take some pictures of this winter running malarkey, but when I finally managed to pull out my phone with my painfully frozen fingers, my phone had thrown in the towel before me J At these temperatures, it survives 8-15 minutes max before it dies…Thus, I could not even capture evidence of coyote sightings. Well, you live and you learn!

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Despite getting myself frozen to a solid piece of meat that day, I am addicted to winter running! I love the fresh air, making the first footprints in fresh snow, and that crunch under my shoes. It’s fun to be one of those ‘crazy people’ drivers see running and shake their heads at in winter. Even some of the Canadian runners I have met so far opt for the treadmill when temperatures plummet below -10 degrees. To be honest, the treadmill is probably the only place you can actually do any speed work as the roads are just too slippery with all the ice and snow. And when it’s that cold, yo39ur body never really properly warms up (at least mine doesn’t), thus increasing the risk of injury if you do hard sessions outside. But it does give you quite a ‘hard-core’ kind of feeling 😉 However, I can’t tell you how good a hot shower feels after a run in -20 temperatures; a sweaty sports bra and long sleeve when it is freezing means torture, although you first of all need to get your body warm enough to actually sweat (which can be a challenge in itself at these temperatures). But in my opinion, it’s all about being adaptable. With some minor (or major) adjustments to routes, training and clothing, you can have a heck of a lot of fun running in winter, even in sub-zero temperatures in Canada.

In my second week in Calgary, the weather actually got itself together; warming up to around zero degrees, thanks to chinook winds (a foehn wind that brin6gs warm temperatures and a relief from winter’s stranglehold). Stunningly blue skies and lots of sun allowed for an increase in mileage, and who would have thought that -2 degrees is t-shirt weather 😉 It’s just magical running in winter wonderland in Canada when the sun is out and everyone comes out of their houses to soak up on some Vitamin D, go skiing, snowshoeing or hiking without the danger of frost bites.

There are gazilli42on of trails waiting to be explored and I can’t wait for some more friendly weather to hit the Rockies. But guess what, while I am writing another 3-6 inches of snow have fallen, and it is expected to snow through the following 2 days…Bring on the resistance training and maybe some cross-training on skis until the worst has settled.

 

 

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