The winds, wins and whines of winter

Undoubtedly the happiest I’ve ever looked during a snowy run, probably because I was on holidays.

If the sudden drop in temperature, stranded transit vehicles and exhausted snow shovelers haven’t alerted you, winter isn’t coming, it’s here. With it comes the oft-repeated statement, “There’s no bad weather- only bad gear!” It’s a phrase that sends a slight chill down my spine, like that few steps into a headwind.

Why do I dislike this phrase? On the surface, I feel it dismisses valid concerns, brushing them off with, “Well, actually, you’re just not doing it right.” And it’s just inaccurate: sometimes, there really are weather conditions- both sub-arctic and scorching- that won’t be countered with hand warmers or light-coloured clothes. 

Getting geared up

That said, I know what people mean when they say it. I’ve said it myself and my intentions weren’t nefarious: I was attempting to motivate runners struggling to get out the door, particularly in the winter. It’s not about risking safety, but asking yourself, ‘Is lacking a specific piece of gear the thing that is keeping me from running? If I had it, would I head outside?’ 

For many people, identifying this gap means getting warm mitts, a reflective jacket or traction aids. In my case, a jaunt home on a particularly chilly night made me all too aware that my butt was frozen, leaving me wondering how I’d withstand the winter.

Ever been out on a cold night in a short jacket with a strong wind at your back? Seriously, it had me searching for the nearest reflective surface to make sure I hadn’t accidentally left the house wearing chaps. Nope, I was in fleece-lined running pants that weren’t doing the job in -25°C. Normally I’d retreat indoors in these situations, but the gyms were closed. 

That evening, after an hour of searching online for women’s thermal running underwear, I  ordered some entertainingly-named bun toasters. I’m eagerly anticipating their arrival: is it going to be like that sensation when you go from an old car to one with seat warmers? As someone who grew up driving old cars with cigarette lighters and manual window cranks, I hope so.

Recently, though, on a slushy December run, it occurred to me that, despite the “right gear”, I wasn’t enjoying it any more. I realized, as I ran, that the majority of ‘How to run in challenging weather conditions’ lists revolve around staying physically safe: Prevent frostbite. Prevent hyponatremia. Don’t get a sunburn. Don’t slip on the ice. Where are the mental tips, for the people who just hate being cold? My issue with winter running has rarely been a lack of gear- I just prefer the summer. I like the heat on my skin. I like being able to run in daylight after 5pm. I like being able to stop, go grab a drink, and then walk home- without worrying about how cold it’s going to be when I step out of that coffee shop. Wind paneling on my tights doesn’t stop me from side-eying the temperature when it’s well below zero.

Putting the why in whine

Running through the Beaches in the winter is a treat for the eyes

Maybe some of those winter running lists should address the mental side, looking at the why versus the how:

Running in the winter keeps you from feeling like you’re at the mercy of the cold for six months. It empowers you: “Take that, Mother Nature! You can’t make me stay inside!”

Running in the winter makes you see parts of Toronto differently. Think of sunshine glittering off ice-encrusted rocks and branches as you run along the Waterfront Trail in the Beaches. Snowy trails in High Park. Annual destination runs to Kringlewood. 

Running in the winter makes for great bonding experiences with other runners, especially when the conditions are distinctly nasty. I’ll never forget running through freezing mist (not quite rain) with a marathon training group. We finished the run resembling the Tin Man, peeling thin sheets of ice from our clothes.

Sub-zero to hero(ish)

I’m never going to prefer winter running, because I doubt I’ll ever prefer winter over warmer months. That’s okay. I’m at a ripe old age (okay, 36) when I don’t pretend to love running in all situations, no matter what. I don’t need to look for a lesson in a miserable run: it can be just that, a run I’d rather forget. There are times when getting out the door- when every instinct is telling me to stay inside- is the win. Getting outfitted is just the start, and the “right gear” is more than just fleece, spikes and layers: it’s the stuff that builds a bridge to everything else winter running has to offer.