The weather this winter has not been friendly for athletic training here in southern Ontario. In January we had very cold weather with negative double digits (Celsius) temperature and windchill. In February, we have had a few days with snow followed by a couple of warmer days to melt some of it, and the ground re-freezes again. This has made the roads icy and slippery. However, this does not deter those of us who prefer to exercise outdoors. There is nothing that can match the fresh air when you exercise in the open. It is only when it is absolutely necessary that I would get onto my treadmill or elliptical machine and plod away watching the Food Network, which is my only incentive to exercise at home.
As my coach has said, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” How to equip oneself for a training walk on an icy dicey day is an important lesson to learn.
1. When it is icy, the prerogative is safety, and this means making sure that you don’t slip and fall. A walking buddy who fell earlier this year and sustained multiple fracture on her humerus was too sad a reminder that we must not take safety for granted. The essential equipment: Tracks.
For me, walking with tracks is analogous to driving with snow tires. They give me better traction and holding to reduce the risk of slipping or skidding. I have two pairs of tracks. I just put one on each of my shoes for this photo illustration. The one on the left has wires and it provides very firm footing. However, the downside is that it is also harder on the feet especially on asphalt or cement when there is not enough snow on the surface. I use this pair only on the day after a snow storm and before the plows are out. The one of the right has spikes and they are kinder to the feet on landing. I have been wearing them for many winter walks.
A word about my shoes too. They are trail shoes that have deeper grooves. I find them good for winter walking even when I am not on the trails. They are slightly heavier than my other all season training shoes and racing shoes and higher on the heels, yet for long winter walks, they provide me with safety.
2. I need to protect my face when I walk outdoors. The biting wind and wind chills can take a lot of pleasure away even when I have dressed appropriately. First I put some Vaseline or Shea butter (any cream as long as it is not water-based) on my face. Then my hat and my face mask. The is how I look when I go out—looking like a Ninja or a bank robber. I do not put my sun glasses on to remain incognito. The glasses or goggles are good to shield the glare of the winter sun or the wind that makes the eyes watery.
Besides my balaclava, I also have two other pieces of face covering.
The neck scarf is like a tube that I can pull up or down as desired to cover my mouth and nose and it is versatile for the slightly warmer days. However, the down side with any face covering that goes over the nose is that my glasses will fog up easily. The solution is the face mask with a nose beak and perforations around the mouth area.
3. When it comes to clothing, layering is the key. Technical fabrics air better and when I am out for a work out walk, I do not want to overheat and trap the heat inside my clothing. I can survive the cold without a down jacket when I train.
4. In the summer, I freeze my drinks before taking them out. In winter, I make it warm or hot. Don’t be surprised to find your water or sports drinks turn into slush. It has happened to me when the walk is longer than three hours. Even though it seems unnecessary to replenish water in winter training, the body may exert more without our knowing, because it has to work hard to balance the body such that it does not fall.
5. Always aim for safety rather than speed when training on an icy, snowy day. You cannot tell what lies under the snow. Adjust your speed according to the condition of the road surface and footing. Although you are walking slower, the amount of energy output during winter training does not alter much from normal training, because the body is working harder. This is good to know if you are counting energy output or calories.
6. Taking smaller or shorter steps also helps to reduce the risk of slipping, and still keep to good walking form. You may need to look down more, but do not bend your head down, because it tilts your balance.
7. The muscles become stiff easily in winter training. Make sure you do a good stretch afterwards.
8. You are one brave soul and should be very pride of yourself for completing your outdoor training in winter. Do not forget to reward yourself. I become hungry faster on an icy walking day. What’s waiting for me and my walking buddies after the distance walk (usually 14 to 18 Km) is breakfast at our favourite haunt near the university in Hamilton. The Pancake House serves decent breakfasts and it is frequented by the local athletic community on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I rewarded myself the other day with a ham and eggs breakfast. I ordered sunny side up (normally I ask for poached eggs) and home fries (my rare treat, for otherwise I only have tomatoes). The extra dessert was a chocolate coffee rice crispy brought in by a friend. Well, I exercised on an icy, dicey morning; therefore I could indulge.
8. Finally, the pleasure of walking outdoor is to enjoy the scenery around us. The same route can look different with the variation of the weather and the seasons. Hamilton Harbour welcomed me on this icy wintry walking day.