The Fit Life: What to Do when Life throws you a Curve Ball

When I was young, music was everything to me. I played piano at church from the time that I was 9 years old. I sang – poorly – at age 6, and better by the time I was 16, performing before audiences of up to 4,000 by the time I was 18. I was in a national hand bell choir and played grand piano for an opera society. Music was my heart and soul: it got me through puberty and my first heartbreak and tough moves to new places; it gave me my first job and extra income at weekend gigs well into my 30s.

Then I entered law school and every spare minute was wrapped up in studying when I wasn’t spending time with my husband and three toddlers. It became more difficult to find time to enjoy music without waking up a little one from a nap or when I wasn’t trying to catch a quick nap myself! Those were exhausting years. I gave up weekend performances. I also started running, mostly for a little “me” time and some stress release.

Running is a sport of addiction, and it dug its greedy talons into me, eventually filling up every spare moment. I bought a jogging stroller and crammed the girls into it. I signed up for short races, bringing home a participation medal for me and a shirt for Todd. By the time I started Edmonton Trail Runners, I was well into ultra addiction. My music passion faded into the background.

For my 40th birthday, Todd bought me a bicycle and I began bike commuting, loving it almost as much as running! Then, I looked for cross-training activities and discovered other things I liked: lifting weights, nordic skiing, yoga…

Five years later, I was run-injured and trying to figure out what to do now. I started hiking the trails I used to run, usually with my daughters along for company. Soon, I reconnected with my passion for backpacking, something my parents had done with me since I was barely able to walk. I returned to my childhood days of canoe trips and mountain hikes, eventually taking my 15-year-old daughter on the West Coast Trail.

This fall, I was cycling in Amsterdam and hiking the Alps while cheering for Todd, by now an accomplished ultra runner who had only taken up the sport six years earlier. He was doing my bucket list race that I couldn’t do: 8 days, 280 kilometres, four countries, in the Alps. While he ran each day, I chased him around, hiking to mountain top aid stations, learning German, trying out all the local foods, and letting Europe steal my heart.

Soon, we were back in Canada and facing a new, harsh reality: no vehicle. A faulty recalled part in our new van had set the engine ablaze, starting on fire while we were in it. Our family narrowly escaped. We are currently still without a vehicle and also paying a large loan for a big hunk of melted steel. But, our time in Europe left an impression, inspiring us to re-shape our reality. The girls already had bus passes for school. So, we winterized everyone’s bikes and challenged our family to our own “Amsterdam Adventure”. One of our daughters even opts to bike some days to school instead of taking the bus. It’s winter in Edmonton . She is undeterred. I wonder with admiration how this adventure is shaping our girls’ perspectives, allowing them to see setbacks as opportunities. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to have our van back, or at least the money we paid for the van. But, we’ve taken a harsh event and controlled what we could: how we react to it.

Now, I get to bike every day and everywhere, and I’m also running again, so I get to do that too. And I go on lots of walks in the trails with my senior dog who can’t run as much as she used to. I get to enjoy beautiful trails with her while she’s still around. Occasionally, I remember my long-time friend, the piano I’ve owned since I was 10. I sit down and play some tunes and sing my lungs out until the girls beg for mercy. Then, I get up and return to other passions that consume my life now: my family, a job that I love, my trail running community, biking, camping, hiking…

I add the dots because they represent all the things I haven’t yet fallen in love with. I’ve learned that our passions aren’t static. What consumes our time and interests changes if we let it. Imagine if the things we started out doing were the only things we ever did. Life is full of twists and turns. All the good things and all the bad things are the real adventures. Had I focused only on music as the one thing I could love that much, or wallowed in pity when life sidelined my passions, or let unfair circumstances consume me, I’d have never discovered the incredible experiences that have enriched my life beyond measure.

So, when life throws you a curve ball, follow where it leads. Explore opportunities. Embrace new things. You only have one life: might as well fill it up.

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The Fit Life: How to bike in cold weather.

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It’s no surprise to those who know me that my favourite outdoor activity is trail running. But a close second, and one that keeps me running, is trail biking. It’s low impact and a lot of fun, with all the views from a slightly higher perspective. But, bike riding in cooler weather? Isn’t that hard? Not as hard as you’d think. Read on for easy tips on how to bike in cooler seasons without breaking the bank.

Bike Clothes

I bike year-round and in every weather condition, from hot summer days while being chased by mosquitoes to frigid winter temps as cold as -25 degrees celsius. Biking, like trail running, is about layers. For an example of what that looks like, today was 2 degrees celsius when I headed out. This is what I wore:

I didn’t buy all of these items at once, and when I started biking, I mostly made do with what I had. Keep in mind that cold weather biking is going to do some damage to your clothes. It’s better to choose functional gear over expensive labels. What you do, not what you wear, makes you legit.

Bike Gear: My Three Favourites!

Where I had to spend some up-front money was on bike gear that would get me comfortably through fall and winter conditions. Gear can get addictive and there’s no end to tweaking a bike. I’m recommending three to get started. Build from there, and personalize for your own preferences:

  1. Bar mitts. These are my comfort item that get me out the door in even the harshest conditions. Mine cost $40 at MEC and work in every condition. Easy to install – literally velcro straps wrapped around the handlebars – they allow more mobility to change gears or use the brakes while only needing gloves or light mitts.
  2. Studded tires. There’s nothing that feels more bad-ass than cycling confidently over iced-up trails. Studded tires make that possible. They’re not cheap, so break open your change jar, because they will save your hide in almost any condition below freezing. If you can’t afford two tires, start with one back studded tire. Just remember that the rules of slippery roads while driving also apply to slippery surfaces while biking: go slower, don’t take sharp turns, and pump the brakes. I’ve never fallen while using studded tires. I’ve taken numerous falls without them.
  3. Steel bike lock. My bike lock cost as much as my tires, well worth the price after the cable lock on my brand new bike was cut seven years ago. I’ve had this steel folding beast lock since then and not a single theft while using it. The reality is that bike theft is an organized criminal activity in any major city, and any bike with only a cable lock is vulnerable. Make it hard for thieves to take your bike. U-locks should be minimum code. To further protect your bike, register it with Edmonton’s Bike Index, partnered with Edmonton Police Services to recover and return stolen bikes.

There are lots of other gear essentials that will make biking safe and accessible. To find affordable products, and even learn how to change a tire or fix a chain, check out Bike Edmonton, a volunteer-driven organization committed to bringing cycling to the masses.

What Kind of Bike do I need?

For the best success at cool weather biking, a mountain bike is preferable, even if you’re road biking and especially if you live anywhere north of the 49th parallel. The wide, knobby tires are ideal for navigating changing road and trail conditions. Yes, some cyclists will use road bikes in the winter. More power to them and all my respect. They probably also get to wherever they are going with a few more gray hairs if their technical bike skills don’t match their enthusiasm.

If you are sticking to road, wide trails, paved paths, or even easy single-track, you don’t need to spend more than $100 on a used mountain bike to enjoy cool weather riding. The reality is that the weather and terrain are going to beat up your bike. Do you really want to drop a couple grand on a bike that you’re scared to get grungy? Budget for function not fashion.

When To Start

The best time to start cool weather cycling is yesterday. The second best time is now. The worst time is at the first sign of snow. Get familiar with how to layer now before the white stuff falls. Then you can focus on navigating snowy trails. Change happens mostly in steps, rarely all at once.

Here’s what I’ve learned about cycling in every season, whether it was perfect conditions or a harrowing experience: I’ve never once regretted it. Mostly, I’ve impressed myself. How cool is that? Impress yourself. Then post that sh*t everywhere.

Do you cycle in cool weather? Share your tips for getting the most out of every season.

For more tips on winter cycling, check out this article by CBC producer Isabelle Gallant.

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Are you safe on the trails?

emily murphy trail.jpgA month ago, panic spread through our city’s run community.  A predator was hiding out in the river valley trails.  14 incidents of sexual assault were reported in two weeks.  Runners posted on social media sites, warning females to be careful.  A “Take Back the Trails” rally was held.  People were worried.  While widespread cross-sharing and well-intentioned rallies temporarily raised our vigilance,  they didn’t offer long-term solutions.  So, the question remains:  how do we stay safe on the trails?

There are two schools of thought on trail safety:

(1) It’s fine, stop fear mongering; and

(2) It’s not fine, be careful out there!

I have come across both in equal measure: the first mindset from the naive and uninformed; the second mindset from law enforcement who manage threats to the public every day or, sadly, from those who thought it would never happen to them.

“I was lucky”:  Jennifer* from Edmonton

I was going for a run in the trails just like always.  It was fall.  I was alone.  No one was expecting me home, no one knew I left. I didn’t think anything of it, I had been doing endurance training for years- mainly alone. I didn’t have my phone, I never ran with it, but I had my trusty iPod shuffle cranking out old favourites.  

The difference between “every other run” and this one is that when I came to a bend in the trail, I was grabbed around the waist and pulled to the ground. I don’t remember if I made any noise at all, but I reacted with my body. There was a close scuffle and I could feel he was a lot stronger than me.  He grabbed my hair and pulled my head back, I kept kicking, writhing and punching until I surged out of his grasp.  It was a bit of a goat trail, and I felt like a pinball being set loose and shot out of there. I could hear them moving behind me but I didn’t look back, feeling certain by the smell of alcohol and cigarettes on them, that I would outrun them. I was right. I was lucky.

* This is a true account of real events.  Jennifer’s name was changed to protect her identity.

What happened to Jennifer is not an isolated incident.  Even though she was “lucky”, she still carries the psychological effects of that attack with her.  And let’s be clear:  Talking about trail safety is not about casting judgment, except on the one committing the crime.  The victim is not at fault.  Ever.

The goal of this blog is intended to make it harder for predators to harm us, and to increase every person’s ability to enjoy the trails safely.  We can’t get rid of crime, but we can make it more difficult for criminals to succeed.

Learning from the Experts

37488788_2167941610141773_1643949335848681472_n.jpgEdmonton Trail Runners was founded in 2014, in part so that the founder – me – could run trails safely.  A few years afterward, at our community’s request, ETR received  trail safety training.  It was based on the Hard Target Principle. a concept developed by Sven Leidel, a former member of the German Military:

“A hard target is a person who, due to their actions and/or appropriate protective measures, is able to minimize existing risks and thus most likely represents an unattractive target.”

From this principled approach, ETR’s trail athletes were taught practical tips used by Edmonton Police Services in community self-defence courses.  While I cannot speak to any stats on prevention efficacy using this method, I can attest to my own successful use of  it, and will gladly share the salient points to the best of my recollection:

Six Safety Tips for Trail Users

  1. Be AWARE of your surroundings.  19990284_10101155455446025_3645045147960231334_nThis sounds like common sense, and yet I pass someone at least once a week who is alone on the trails with both earbuds in and the volume cranked so loudly that I startle them as I run or bike past, often after I’ve called out “passing on your left!” or repeatedly rang my bike bell.  That’s pretty vulnerable.
  2. LOOK like you’re aware of your surroundings. A predator generally wants the element of surprise.  While there’s no real way of protecting against an ambush, most of the time, we can manage risk simply by looking someone in the eyes, saying hello, even turning back to someone behind us and waving.  What we’re communicating is – I see you.  I know you’re there.  I’m not afraid to use my voice.  I could identify you if I had to.  We’ve made ourselves less appealing to someone looking for an easy mark.
  3. Run with others.  I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I started Edmonton Trail Runners – besides having a contagious love for trails – was to be safe.  ETR regularly gets newcomers who join because they don’t feel safe running alone.  Interestingly, while the serial attacks were occuring last month, we had two groups of ETR athletes using those same trails without incident.  This group has literally “taken back the trails” by running together: every person, every age, every pace.  #safetyinnumbers
  4. Run with a dog.  Sheryl and SidneyMy lab-boxer has saved me from two attempted attacks on the trails, both harrowing and enough to earn her a special place in my furever heart.  While I’m not personally persuaded that a cute little Shih Tzu is much of a deterrent, dogs are unpredictable in any shape and size.  Unpredictability tips the scale in your favour.  But, keep in mind that not every dog has a protective drive.  Just like humans, some fight and some flee.  That’s why it’s important to follow more than one trail safety tip.
  5. Use Your Voice.  This is by far the most useful advice I’ve received on trail safety.  It’s common for us to feel embarrassed about making a scene or falsely accusing someone of wrongdoing.  But, your voice is your best non-combative weapon.  I’ve learned to ask – “Hey, do you need to pass?”, i.e., are you following me because I see you and I’m pretty comfortable yelling for help if I’m already yelling at you.  Anyone who is not intending to harm you will understand.  And if they don’t, who cares?  #safetyfirst
  6. Pay Attention to how you’re feeling.  Whether the hairs on the back of your neck raise for no reason, or you’re running towards someone who looks sketch, your best img_2816defense is always to leave a potentially unsafe situation.  Sure, you can carry a weapon, but would you have the fortitude to harm someone if confronted?  I’m not sure I would.  It’s like bear spray:  why wait  to defend yourself from a charging bear six feet away when you can see the bear from a safe distance and simply turn back? #trailsmarts

There are other important ways to manage trail safety, like leaving a route with someone or carrying your phone.  I call these safety management strategies because they won’t prevent an attack, but they will aid you in getting help should an attack or near-attack occur.  Let’s do what we can to make it hard for predators to attack us in the first place.  And remember:  The only person at fault in any crime is the criminal.

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Share your own experiences and trail tips in the comments section or send me an email at edmontontrailrunners@gmail.com.  I don’t claim to be a professional on this topic, just an experienced learner.  Telling our stories and giving sound advice creates safe communities. #notjustabouttherun 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fit Life: Injury-free Training!

30724988_10101334393118495_7308905006206287872_nI understand injuries. I also understand injury prevention and, like many of us, can tell you in hindsight that if I had followed my own advice, I would never have injured. When time constraints and tight deadlines hit us, if we are avid runners, we cut out everything else except the run. So, what do we do when running is not enough?

Six Injury Prevention Tools

Sleep.

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Trevor Meding, Canadian River Valley Revenge, 1st Place 100-Mile Finisher

The biggest bang for our buck is this one thing. Ask any fitness professional. And yet, how many of us have done the self-deprecating brag about not getting enough sleep? “I was sooo busy, I didn’t get to bed until 2am!” I’ve done it. Like we’re super heroes. More like super zeroes. Don’t play the deprivation game.

Moderation. Generally speaking, we think that more is better. If I do something a lot, then I will get better at it. Actually, smart is better. More is just more, and sometimes less. In fact, a good determiner of an athlete’s progress is not how much they can do, but in fact how quickly they can recover from what they do. That makes sense. If we can recover quickly, we can train more. If we exceed training load and need days or a week off, we are now training less and inconsistently. Instead of measuring your progress by load, measure it by rate of recovery.

Lifting Heavy. IMG_1326If you want to get faster, get stronger. From a running perspective, there are four basic exercises that never let you down: Squats, Lunges, Sit-ups, and Push-ups. Anyone can do these anywhere. For a more specialized (and interesting) program, hire a coach or join a boot camp.

Cardio Cross Training.todd swiWe can build our running fitness without running! It’s true. If we can do other cardio activities that are low impact, we can do high impact running without getting injured. Cycling, swimming, rowing… there are lots of great low impact cardio activities available. Find your fit and do it at least once a week in place of a run. NOT in addition to a run…instead of a run. That’s why cross training works. We don’t train more. We train smarter.

Tendon Care. Muscles take a couple weeks to get stronger; tendons take a couple months. And a broken bone can heal faster than a tendon tear! So, why do we ignore these hard-working elastics holding our muscles and bones together? I think because we just don’t know how important they really are. Buy a foam roller and a lacrosse ball, search YouTube for some great videos or ask a trainer, then put on an episode of Game of Thrones for an exciting evening of suffering both on screen and off.

What about ankles? muddy-shoes-by-scott For trail runners, this zone has been the victim of many sprains and tears. Doing a short and easy run once a week in minimalist footwear, or even a weekly yoga session, will keep your feet smiling even after tripping on a gnarly root.

Fitness Professionals. Paying for someone to fix our bodies is usually a good sign that we have humbly acknowledged our own limits. We’ve used all the tools in our kit and now we’re asking someone with more tools to use their kit. Smart. Fit living hurts so good. Find your support team for the best money you’ll spend on your health: Massage therapist, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Acupuncture… the list is long and awesome. Find your Person and see them as often as you cut your hair.

 


1128Six things that can help keep us injury free: The list isn’t that long! There are more things to add, and please add yours. I tried to keep my list to what I’d say are the essentials: If I had done these six things consistently, I would not have injured. If I’m doing them now, I’m not going to injure – unless I do a face plant into a metal door jamb.  Spend your time on the things you can control. Let go of what you can’t.

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The Fit Life: 4 race secrets every runner should know.

Two years ago, I became a Race Director.  The race had been around for a while and was one I loved.  In 2016, it had permit problems and other issues and had been cancelled.  When I was approached to resurrect it, my trail group already had a course ready to go, plus a race roster of eager participants and volunteers.  We were golden, right?  Not so much.

When we did our first orientation run, the race’s previous “regulars” were not happy.  What kind of course is this?  This is dangerous!  Do you have permits?? It’s not even runnable! We’re all gonna die!  (The latter might have been their inside voice, but some were definitely thinking it.)  After one especially long orientation run with a few frustrated and very vocal participants, I turned to them and suggested – Perhaps this isn’t the race for you.  They heartily agreed.

There was a lot of pressure to re-design the course to something like what it had been before.  But, I  had my own vision of the type of course I wanted, something that showed off not only how beautiful our natural river valley could be, but that could also hold its own amongst the toughest of races:  gnarly, rooty, edgy, breathtaking and beautiful.  Being married to someone who thinks a lot like Lazarus Lake, also the course designer, I was certain (hopeful? nervously optimistic?) that even if we lost previous participants, we would attract those looking for what we were offering.  The risk paid off.  In just 18 months, the race tripled in size and has been featured in every major Canadian and North American trail running magazine.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that there are races that are right for some and not right for others.  Knowing how to choose the right race for you will help you get the most out of that experience.  Below are four “trail secrets” that every runner should know when choosing their fit.

Trail Secrets I Wish I’d Been Told

When you decide to do a milestone race, choose the race wisely.  Think beyond the training plan to what you want to get out of the whole experience.

  1. Do you want support or anonymity? 

img_9745For my first marathon, I did what I’d done with all my previous races:  I told hubby to stay home and watch the girls while I did my own thing.  It was “me time” and I loved the solitude of the experience, even in a crowd of runners.  I didn’t realize the importance of a first marathon – that sense of accomplishment – until I was at the finish line with nobody to hug but strangers.  It was a let-down.  That said, I know those who prefer to be alone for milestone races, traveling far enough away from home to be guaranteed anonymity.  Know yourself.

2. What kind of energy do you want the race to have?

For my first ultra – a 50-km race in the mountains – I invited Todd to join me.  Marathon lesson learned.  But, I also made the mistake of choosing a race whose energy wasn’t my fit, at least as a soloist.  It was a hyped-up relay race where solo runners could get lost in the masses.   Teams of cheering crowds hardly noticed fatigued soloists crossing the finish line as their own relayers did a fresh-legged sprint and clicked their heels for the camera.   Worst of all, my solo medal was identical to that of the relayers. In a later moment of good-humoured reflection, I used a permanent marker to scrawl “50” on the back of the medal.  I have never gone back.

Two subsequent ultra races that I thoroughly enjoyed had the type of crowd energy I was looking for:160 specifically, they did not have relay teams.  Somehow, knowing that every person I saw was doing the same mileage as me had the feeling of camaraderie and support that I had been seeking.

I know a lot of runners who prefer to run as a soloist at large relay events.  They like the hype and energy, returning year after year.  That I prefer a “true” solo event is really about how I like to race.  Know yourself.

3.  Do you want others to read your race report?2016-07-29 20.50.37

There is nothing more exhilarating than recalling in fine detail every high and low of our race experience.  Race reports are the best…and the worst.

The most important question you can ask yourself when you are writing a report is:  Who am I writing this for?  If you are writing to remember the experience, learn from it, maybe provide insights for others who decide to run it, the more detail the better.  But, if – and this is usually the case – IF you are writing the race report to share an epic event as broadly as possible, keep it short and sweet.  Simple, like an orthopedic surgeon explaining a blunt-trauma compound fracture: “The bone is broke.”  My rule of thumb is, if I have to scroll down, I stop reading.  And I like running!  Imagine how our family and friends must feel.

I wrote my first race report years ago, shared it with my husband, suspecting he would be in awe of what I’d been through. This was his comment:  I’m gonna need the Reader’s Digest version of that – as he handed me back my masterpiece.  Shocking?  Yes!  Am I over it?  So much.  You can thank him for my last race report, which went something like this:

Inkedheart and brain_LI.jpg

Occasionally, I read long, detailed race reports.  Either the content is useful, the person is meaningful, or the author is an amazing writer (rarely the last one, including my own reports).  So, decide why you’re writing a race report and who you want to enjoy it, then go crazy within those parameters!  Otherwise, expect skimming and lies.

4.  Which race will set you up for success?

2016-10-14 21.33.39There are rarely race reports by those who didn’t finish.  If you want the medal, you need  to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses in the race you choose.  Not to say that you should do the same race year after year.  Push your limits, challenge yourself, chase the white whale.  But, a lot of things can go right and wrong between the start and finish.  The more you choose a race that matches your skills, the more you can push your limits.

The last race I did was two and a half years ago.  I was going into the race with an injury but was in denial, never good.  Even more significant, I was taking on a race that was going to make me work in areas of weakness for 50 miles.  There are things I do well:  uphills.  There are things I’ve learned to do well: downhills.  All things athletic I have learned that I have to work hard to do well, period.  I’m a runner, not an athlete.

So, I went to this race, in a different province, on unknown terrain, to discover that I was not ready for it.  An athletic person like Todd figured it out in minutes.  He had a blast, whooping and careening down crazy mountain sides.  To date, it’s his favourite race.  It took me about 62-kilometres and 13 hours into the same race to realize that I didn’t have the athleticism to learn on-the-spot and nothing else could prepare me for the tough course except time.  The one thing a race does not give you is time.  I timed out and that sucked.  But, I learned something valuable:  That was not the race for me.  Yeah, yeah, if I wanted to prove something, I could train for the conditions and return to finish it.  For what?  Pride and ego aside, I didn’t enjoy the race, I struggled, I was frustrated with my hesitations and nerves.  It maximized my weaknesses and minimized my strengths.  Not my fit.

Find what you’re good at and do that race, and other races like it, as many as you want. Occasionally, you may want to try something that frustrates and drains you, so go for it.  But, if you’re going to pour time into training, money into racing, and effort into finishing, find your fit.  Train your weaknesses and race your strengths.


Above all, and in case you missed it, in any milestone race you choose, the best trail secret is this:  Know yourself.

to think own self be true

Feature Photo Credit:  Angie Zee Photography


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The Fit Life: Staying Upright on Winter Trails

By guest blogger Victoria Twanow

Winter is my favourite season for running! There are no mosquitoes, the trails are quieter, and all of the roots are covered by a thick blanket of snow! However, this season is not without its challenges. But, if you follow a few rules and tricks, you too can keep up your training all through the winter without ever having to step foot on a treadmill or indoor track!

With many asking about grips for the winter, I thought I would share what I have learned in my many years of winter running.

Road and Groomed Trails

Korkers Ice Runner Traction Aids

You can purchase grips like Kahtoola Nanospikes,  Due North All-Purpose Traction Aids and Korkers Ice Runner Traction Aids. All of these products are great for roads, sidewalks and paved trails that are regularly cleared. They vary in price and can be purchased from many different stores including Costco, The Running Room and Amazon

Ungroomed Trails

If you want to venture onto ungroomed trails, you are going to need a lot more traction than the road spikes will offer. Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats are a good option. For hilly single track like Edmonton Trail Runners regularly frequents, Kahtoola Microspikes fit snugly onto your shoes and the actual spikes provide enough traction for even the gnarliest of trails. 

Kahtoola Microspikes

The Kahtoolas and Uelfbaby brands would be too much on paved surfaces and groomed or compact trails. Without ice or snow, the spikes would dig into your foot after a while and possibly lead to ankle discomfort or injury

Shoes for Winter Running

The last option are shoes that are made specifically for winter running. These too would come in varieties that would suit the single track trails of Edmonton’s river valley. They feature a rugged tread, insulated uppers, and some even feature carbide tipped spikes built right into the sole such as the Salomon Spikecross or Icebug Studded Shoes.

Salomon Spikecross

With so many different grips available there truly isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. Your best bet in finding what’s right for you is to go to one of the locally owned running stores here in Edmonton that are staffed by people who run in Edmonton’s river valley in the winter! 

Recommended Resources

Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop: 7326 101 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB

Track & Trail: 10148 – 82 Avenue, Edmonton or #107, 130 Bellerose Drive, St. Albert.

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The Fit Life: Who are you meant to be?

There are three categories of people in this world:  the givers, the takers, and the livers.

Takers

Takers are self-oriented.  They may feel owed or entitled, why should they give, who will take care of them?  Or perhaps they experienced loss and are afraid – not ever wanting to feel that helplessness ever again.   Maybe they just know their limits.

Givers

Givers are other oriented.  Generous, thoughtful, considerate.  Some feel a duty or obligation, compelled by beliefs imposed on them about how they should act, hopeful for good karma in this life or the next.   Or giving is a way to be liked or valued or revered.   Occasionally, giving is a smoke-screen for things that they want to hide.

Is one category better or worse?  Is it better to give even if for bad reasons, or is it better to hold onto what you have so that you’re never for want or need?

Livers

The third category, I call them the Livers.  Different from an iron-rich organ cooked with onions, the Livers have figured out how to take care of themselves while also considering the wants and needs of others.  They have pretty good fences with a gate that can swing open or firmly close shut.  They give out of what they have, setting and achieving personal goals while supporting others, always checking their own air supply before offering assistance.

I’ve decided that to truly Live is to achieve Balance.  Harmony with our own self and with those around us.  There is very little room to breathe in extremes.

In your life, what are you?  A giver?  A taker?  Or a liver?  How do you make goals?  When do you need to be a taker so that you can be a giver?

Who I’m Meant To Be 

Every day I run a race just trying to get ahead

Don’t think about where I am now, just where I want to be instead

I’m losing so much precious time but will I be satisfied in the end?

I don’t want to spend my life trying to fight for what’s not mine

I don’t want to lose myself in someone else’s dream

I know I was made with a purpose, to reach past the surface and live life fearlessly

I want nothing less than to be who I’m meant to be

Everyone is on their way but I am standing still

Comparing my behind the scenes against their highlight reel

I’m spending so much energy, won’t let it keep distracting me anymore

I don’t want to spend my life trying to fight for what’s not mine

I don’t want to lose myself in someone else’s dream

I know I was made with a purpose to live past the surface and live life fearlessly

I want nothing less than to be who I’m meant to be.

~ Anthem Lights

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For my friend, James.  Life beyond the Amazon.

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The Fit Life: how to run winter trails and not die.

56ceae92b53d4725b44a0c2a21c2927aIf you’re living anywhere in Canada that is not along a coastline, at some point you’re facing the reality of frigid temperatures.  Some take their workouts indoors, others stare like Grumpy Cat out the window waiting for the weather to improve.  But, what if you want to run outside in the winter and you also don’t want to die?

Below is tried and true advice for running in a Canadian Winter, even through a polar vortex.  This advice is for trail running, not road running, an important distinction that is missed in most articles on “how to run in the winter”.  There is a difference.  Let’s start with road runners.


Road Running in the winter

Road runners navigate plowed sidewalks, often with a sheen of slick ice over cement sidewalks, occasionally resulting in a broken bone after a slip and fall.  Grips may help but are not ideal for road runners:  If the grips are too aggressive, you feel like you’re running on a hundred painful tacks.  If they’re not aggressive enough, you can still fall if you’re not careful.

https://www.hypothermichalf.com/register-s14929

Edmonton Hypothermic Half Marathon

Road runners also navigate Wind.  Totally exposed, they are at the mercy of the elements.  Wind Chill is their rival, and a mean one at that.

In my opinion, winter road runners are the true Heroes of the North.  And possibly the most Insane.


Trail Running in the winter

For those willing to venture off the paved path into gnarly single-track trails, you’re in for a treat.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for runners to try winter trail running only to find that this becomes their most favourite run season.  Here’s why:

  •  No wind

The trees do this really cool thing – besides looking awesome – of protecting runners from the elements.  Trail runners only care about the true temp, It still might be -20 Celsius, but without the wind choking your breath and freezing your teeth when you dare to suck in air, even the coldest wind-free temperature can be 100% enjoyable.

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    Jeffery Mattoon Photography

    No broken bones 

Trail runners wear grips, usually the most aggressive micro-spikes you can find, which dig nicely into snow-packed trails that smoothly conceal gnarly summer roots and rocks.  There are sometimes icy patches, and the ups and downs of trails can be slippery, but anyone with good grips will find a level of confidence in winter running only rivaled by wildlife.   Plus, if you slip and fall, you land on soft snow, or maybe in a bush, but the landing feels more like a bowling ball on memory foam.  No damage, no breaks.  Just pick yourself up, brush yourself/ego off,  then you’re on your way again!

  • No boredom 

snl 1The views on summer trails are amazing.  However, winter is when Nature really shows off, rivaled only in epicness by peacocky Fall.  While the streets have turned to brownish-gray snow framed in glass-shard windrows, the trails turn into a scene out of White Christmas.  Sparkling snowflakes delicately balance on branches, paths are glistening white.  Even the skies compete for the best performance, with sunlight beams shooting across pristine trails, or plump snowflakes softly descending like a cosy blanket.  There is no bad day.


How to Dress for COLD Winter Trails

26804813_10155783478321343_382602117827485886_nNow that you are convinced that winter trail running is dope, let’s discuss how to enjoy the trails, especially how to survive Deep Freeze runs.  Below is a list of what to wear for IG pics that will blow your friends’ minds, scare your mom, and maybe even land you on the front page of a magazine.

1. Winter Trail Shoes

The difference between summer shoes and winter shoes is this:  protection from the elements.  I’m not talking about wind (remember, we don’t worry about that in the trails).  I’m talking about Snow.  Trails have lots of it.  If it’s -20C and you decide to wear mesh running shoes into the trails, the minute the snow seeps through that thin outer layer and wraps around your toes, they will freeze almost instantly.

Not sure where to begin?  Some of our athletes’ favourite trail shoes for winter are Icebugs, Arc’teryx Norvan, Salomon Snowcross, and Saucony Razors.  These are not ALL of them, but this selection is a good way to gauge if you’re in the right shoe store for trail running.  If the staff don’t know what you’re talking about, turn around and leave.  Right now.  Then, find a shop that carries at least one of these brands and try on some other trail brands, too.  You need to wear shoes that are right for the conditions and also right for your feet.

2. Grips

There are two popular grip options for winter trail running.  The first is micro-spikes and the most popular brand is Kahtoola.  In my opinion, the Kahtoola brand is still my go-to product but it has been declining in quality each year, with the rubber cover getting thinner and less durable. For the hefty price tag of almost $100 per pair, they should last at least a couple seasons.  My first pair in 2008 lasted 8 years.  My last pair barely made it through 2 seasons.  Current runner feedback is hit and miss.  When they last, they’re worth every penny.

25445974_2033737526895516_3106780607157784692_nIf you don’t want to drop that kind of dough right away, there are knock-off brands at a fraction of the cost.  I am not endorsing others benefiting from someone’s creative genius, which is what knock-offs do, copying a great idea that they never came up with and then profiting from it.  BUT, I’m not here to judge.  I just want to see people enjoying trails.  My assessment of the knock-off microspikes is that the actual spikes are not as well done, either over-done or under-done, but if you’re on a budget, they are a consideration.

The second popular grip option are carbide tips built right into the shoe.  It’s what I use and it’s great for those who are more confident with sliding on trails.  You get what I like to call “traction with action”.  If you have spent a season or two in micro-spikes and you’re ready to take your running up a notch, maybe work on proprioception, the carbide tip shoes are a lot of fun.  Still, there are a couple runs each year where I’m pulling grips over these shoes.  Options are good.

3.  Hot Pockets

No, I’m not talking about a microwavable snack loved by teens and college students.  Hot Pockets for runners is slang for hand warmers and toe warmers.  You can buy them at Costco, Shoppers, London Drugs, even some grocery stores.  Throw a couple of these in your jacket pocket or pack when you head out.  If your hands and feet don’t warm up after 5-10 minutes on the trails, stop and jam a pair into the end of your shoes (think about wrapping your toes) or inside your gloves/mitts.  They can be a game changer on a frosty day.

4.  Male Protection

The struggle is real.  Guys, if you care at all about your nether regions, and we know you do!  – you have a couple options.  One – you can buy fancy thermal running underwear – or two – you can throw a pair of shorts under or over your pants.  (This concept also works well for females, but more to keep cold bums warm and less to protect the next generation of trail runners.)

The look you choose depends on how much you care about what other people think.  Ultimately, your goal is to keep the bits frostbite-free and bathroom breaks, pain-free.

5.  Extremities

603999_992714476275_149307489_nIf you have layers on your hands, feet and head, you will be golden.  I often carry an extra buff because they’re so versatile.  Wrap one around your neck, use it to cover your nose and mouth or keep it pushed down if you get too warm.  You can use the other one as a “hat” by tying a knot in the end.  Ear protection and neck protection are key.  Plus, buffs are easy to pull off if you get too warm.  You can buy buffs at any running store, or even at the Dollar Store!

This leads us to one final important piece of information for winter running:

6.  Layers

It is always better to wear four thin layers in extreme cold than to wear one heavy layer.  You’re not just managing the weather; you’re also managing your sweat.  Technical layers are the goal.  (Translation: no cotton.)  If you want an excuse to go shopping, you can find merino base layers and high quality wind/weather resistant outer shells at some of our athletes’ favourite shops, such as Arc’teryx, Track ‘n Trail, Fast Trax, and MEC.  If you’re on a budget or would rather save your money for shoes (who wouldn’t?), go through your old race swag for technical shirts, check out Costco for merino base layers and fleece pants, or head to Value Village for $20 worth of polyester long-sleeved shirts and a fleece vest.


This concludes all the broad strokes to running trails in winter.  The rest are details and usually personal preference.  The best way to get going on winter running and to keep going is to join others in trail adventures.  If you visit or live in Edmonton – an Urban Wonderland in Northern Canada – check out https://yegrun.com/ for a variety of winter running options, including Edmonton Trail Runners for trail adventures at every pace and the Hashhouse Harriers for drinkers with a running problem.  Find your fit!  And remember, it’s not just about the run.

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PC: Ashley Sarauer

 

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