As I look outside my window and see the tufts of white snowflakes falling from the sky, all I can think is “oh, crap”.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the snow. Seriously. When winter comes around my dreams are immediately filled with visions of me climbing peaks on snowshoes, snowboarding through hidden powder troves, cruising groomers on my skis, and drinking hot chocolate (with Bailey’s) by the fire. This year, however, is different. This year I am doing winter training to prepare for the Coastal Challenge, which not only is in the jungle, but is less than two months away.
Training for a six-day stage race is challenging enough, but throw in a foot of snow and freezing temperatures and all of a sudden I enter hibernation mode and my weekend long runs seem almost impossible. For the first time in my life, falling snow doesn’t make me think of all the powder I will enjoy on the mountain, rather, it is another obstacle thrown into my training plan, one that brings some serious challenges. As beautiful as the snow can be, on the trail, it can be a death trap. Deep snow captures ankles and hides sleek icy sections, these dangers lay in wait for an unsuspecting runner that is silly enough to test the elements.
Living with Raynaud’s, the cold temperatures affect me more than most, and running in cold weather for prolonged periods results in freezing fingers and tingling toes. Gearing up properly can be a serious challenge and the age old question, “what do I wear?” becomes incredibly important. Dress too warmly, and the extra sweat accumulated over the run will result in wet clothes, dress too lightly, and the biting cold will ensure that the only place I’ll be running to will be back home for an extra layer. As tough as this can be, I have found a few handy tips to help get me through the weekend long run:
- GLOVES! I always bring two liners and one waterproof cover.
- One pack of hand warmers – just in case!
- Layers, layers, layers! I usually go with a merino base on very cold days, a light technical zip, and a wind breaker. If temperatures are extremely cold, I really love my synthetic down jacket – it keeps the heat in and the cold out.
- Don’t forget your noggin! I always bring a warm toque and two buffs for extra protection.
- Warm, wool socks. I find that my legs get quite chilly, so I often opt for knee-highs.
- Spikes and/or crampons
Running in the winter can be a real challenge, but it also has some benefits. For me, the Coastal Challenge will take me across varied terrain, including beaches. Learning to run through deep snow helps emulate the sensation of running through sand, albeit without the annoying grains getting stuck in your shoes. As well, although the cold can have some negative side effects, running in the cold, according to some studies, can actually have a positive influence on your immune system.
So, as I sit here watching the snow fall preparing myself for another cold weather run, balancing the benefits and the drawbacks, I lace up my shoes and prepare to head out for another three hour foray into the forest. Hey, if I make it back in time, there might just be a post-run hot chocolate waiting for me!
Last night, with the help of a friend, I confronted my fear of the dark and went for my first night run – in the snow no less!
I know, I know, this girl is afraid of the dark?! Well, I’m not so much afraid of the dark as I am afraid of what’s lurking unseen and twisting an ankle, sooo is that really so hard to believe? Anyway, we set out for my first night run, and I was amazed. With just our headlamps filling the darkness, the trails I have known my entire life were almost unrecognisable beneath the blankets of snow and as we manoeuvred through what had become a snowy maze (the trees were bent over the trail weighed down by the elements) the peace that I felt with only our voices filling the woods was inspiring. That is, until we heard a huge crack of a branch just up from us.
Shouting into the darkness and shining our lights off into the woods in search of glaring eyes, I will not lie, I could feel my heart nearly beating out of my chest. After a few minutes of convincing ourselves that it must have been a branch breaking, we carried on into the darkness. With nothing but a faint trail from a day hiker to follow, we swiftly made our way out of the forest and back into the twilight of the powerline trail.
Once returning home, I thought about this experience, and I realized that this is what trail running is all about. It is about facing our fears, heading out into the unknown, and embracing the camaraderie of fellow adventure seekers. Was last night a challenge? Yes. Did I think at one point that a Sasquatch was coming for us? Yes. Were there hidden dangers beneath the white blankets covering the trail? Yes. But with all that being said, it was one of my best runs in a long time and even though it’s unlikely I will tread into the darkness alone, I faced a fear and the pizza I had waiting at home tasted all the better.