My family and I are now fortunate enough to live in Colorado. The winters here are like spring in Wisconsin and being outdoors has never been more enjoyable. I’m not a natural runner, and I’m certain that I could not race at ultrarunning all year round. Physically something would give, and mentally I need more than running to keep me feeling alive. So each fall I beg my wife’s forgiveness for many weeks (months?) about the new pair of skis, boots, bindings, skins, and miscellaneous other gear that shows up unannounced. And then I confess that this new gear is for the winter ski races I have signed up for. It can’t be easy being married to me, and Pam is as understanding about my sports obsessions as I could ever ask for. And she deserves to be recognized as someone who can easily stay with me on almost any terrain when we hit the ski resorts. One might say there is a high bar for our daughter.
|Nothing like the Vail Back Bowls on a powder day!|
So how do I try to stay fit during the winter when we live in a snowy environment?
I was never allowed to ski growing up in Wisconsin. It was too expensive, and it risked injury to playing hockey. I think I was 26 when I first learned to ski with two of my best friends from Minnesota, Matt Johnson and Josh Woodrum. We were all working crazy hours consulting in upstate New York and we had a company sponsored ski weekend at Whiteface. They taught me how to ski in the morning and in the afternoon I skied the black diamonds top to bottom. I was hooked. Now I ski aggressively, but very under control in resorts after hitting a tree in 2011 that should have killed me (9 broken ribs with two of them broken severely in two places, collapsed lung, fractured vertebrae, fractured collarbone). Let that be a lesson for those that think it won’t happen to them. That was me, and it happened.
I now enjoy a wide variety of skiing each year from skate skiing, to classic, to downhill, to telemark, to backcountry touring. Kevin Sawchuk, a best friend from my California days, should be given credit to my ultrarunning, backpacking, and ski touring introductions. I know of no one with more passion for teaching those willing to learn and who are physically fit to do so at an advanced level.
Yep, there can actually be a time where the gym is appealing. I look forward to the once-in-a-while winter workouts on the stairmaster and stairclimber. I’ve found a periodic passion for the preset workouts at a high level of intensity that leaves me soaking in sweat after 60 minutes. Year round I head to the gym once per week for weight training, but in the winter I tend to focus a few more exercises on my legs. Seated presses and lunges with weight are miserable, but pay dividends year round.
The Home Gym
We are fortunate enough to have a quality spin bike and treadmill in our home. On average during the winter I use one or the other once a week. It really does take a lot to keep me inside for my workouts but sometimes watching NHL highlights while on the bike is a great way to start the day. As spring approaches and I want to start adding in an intense running workout I use the treadmill as a way to keep my pace and intensity higher than I know I could by running outside in variable conditions.
Some of my most memorable road bike rides have been in Colorado a few days after a moderate snowfall. On these days the temperature approaches 60 degrees, you can smell the snow melt and coolness of the air coming off the snow plowed on the sides of the roads. Everything but the road is covered in pristine white snow and they are filming The Sound Of Music as you crest the mountain top. It is rare, but when the weather cooperates there is nothing better. Watch for ice on roads!
|I need a phat bike!|
I have to run outside year round. This means a variety of conditions must be tolerated in Colorado, and often an embarrassing pace. But, it isn’t about pace when the trails are packed down from snowshoes and fat bikes (note to my wife: it is on my list). The hardpack snow covers up many of the rocks and actually evens out the more technical trails. While my pace is slower, it is an enjoyable change. A few times each winter I feel that I “must” run outside and pick what should be a 1.5 hour run that ends up taking twice that long due to post holing through deep drifts for miles. Still better than the treadmill. Year round Joe Ziegenfuss is my steady running partner and there are many 6am weekday runs that without good company I wouldn’t be doing. Find a few friends that have similar schedules and fitness level to yours and commit to a regular winter running schedule.
|Back yard trails just last weekend|
All of the above provide a quiver of options during the winter. I rarely set my weekly training activity plan in advance. So much of the enjoyment of the winter months is the flexibility to select the right activity based on the conditions. If it is snowing hard I will spin bike, treadmill, or stairclimb. If the snow has settled and the trails have had a few days to get packed down I’ll head outside. If it is going to be sunny and low wind on the weekends then touring to a hut on skis is ideal. If I feel good, I go hard. If I think I feel good and 20 minutes in I’m not feeling it, then I back off and still finish the workout, but at an easier intensity. Don’t force anything, these are the best months.