Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Hi Everyone! Welcome to the newly launched Grit Coaching Blog. How appropriate that the first post is about winter! I don't know about you, but in our corner of the world winter hit HARD this week, and we are all scrambling to remember how to function in near-Siberian temperatures.
I'm often asked what my temperature cut-off is for outdoor running. Anything below -20C (-5F) has me seriously considering whether the "dreadmill" or another cross-training machine is a better option. Growing up, I would bicker with my mom to be allowed to run outside in any temperature because I stubbornly believed I could tough out the cold, but she may have had a point. Sometimes you're better off hitting a key session indoors, as there is no doubt that the quality of a workout is sacrificed when you're dressed like Randy from A Christmas Story. If you chose to do intense workouts outside, I highly recommend shifting the program to being based on effort rather than hitting specific times, as it's difficult to account for the added elements of footing, extra clothes, and demanding your body to operate in temperatures that are not physiologically optimal. For easier recovery workouts, I find that running in sub - minus 20C temperatures is just downright unpleasant. And folks, don't forget to consider the windchill (a mistake one only makes once!).
There are other benefits to logging sessions on machines in the gym. Running on ice and snow can be reckless for those who struggle with lower leg injuries. Just last year, I was out for a month with tendonitis in my foot after a single long run on badly packed snow. The smooth treadmill belt and low impact of the elliptical keep the body safe and happy. As well, logging boring miles on the treadmill is a good opportunity for mental skills training - teaching yourself to focus and cope without constant stimulation. I also find that I'm more likely to do the "extras" like stretching and core when I'm warm and cozy.
Exercising outside in cold temperatures is not inherently dangerous, so long as you dress properly. While you aren't likely to literally freeze your lungs or "catch a cold", frostbite is a serious concern. Toes, fingers, ears, and your face are all especially prone since these areas are more difficult to cover. DO NOT forget the tiny area around your ankles between your shoes and tights - I've seen several teammates get frostbite here, keeping them out of training for days to weeks. The preventable and painful nature of this injury makes me shudder!
As many reasons as there are to confine yourself to the gym for the winter months, exercising outside certainly isn't always a chore! In Calgary, the coldest days are also the brightest and most beautiful, and it is rejuvenating to spend a bit of time soaking up some natural sun. Skating, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing are great cross-training modalities and are a blast in their novelty. As well, many people find cooler temperatures refreshing and almost enjoyable (if they aren't suffering!). It's also pretty fun to watch yourself and your friends turn into abdominal snowpeople as eyelashes and beards freeze. Don't forget to plan time to thaw after returning from your run feeling like a popsicle - warm shower will never have felt better!
Common sense should prevail in winter pursuits, but I challenge you to go outside and have a bit of fun. Stay warm my friends!