Winter is coming! I’m not really a Game Of Thrones fan, but I love that line. Granted, I’ve never actually seen it as I don’t have cable. I am, however, a pretty big fan of the Rocky movies, which probably dates me more than I care to admit. But the one that comes to mind is the fourth instalment, where the antagonist kills one of Rocky’s best friends during an boxing match and Rocky travels to Russia to train for a revenge fight.
In this movie is likely one of the best winter training montages I’d ever seen at the time and even since then. With Vince Dicola’s “Training Montage” playing in the background, you can see Rocky using unorthodox training methods to build and develop himself in preparation for his fight against Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren). I included a YouTube video of the scene I’m referring to. Now would be a good time to point out that I have no ownership in the video nor am I responsible for it; it’s just a linked video I found on YouTube.
The scene actually demonstrates a clear difference between intensive training using machinery and a comfortable environment versus using the elements and whatever one has at their disposal. And now that I’m writing about it, I need to find a copy of this damn movie so I can watch it again! But in all seriousness, it got me to thinking about the effects of training in a cold weather environment.
First of all, let me just say that I’m a bit of a fussy bastard when it comes to temperature. I don’t like it when the temperature is very cold and I don’t like it when the temperature is very warm. So I’m basically screwed, all year long, living in Saskatchewan. But realistically speaking, I’ve found myself training in just about every climate and temperature I have available to me, and a couple that I don’t.
What I mean by the latter, is that when I travelled to Japan in 2001, we trained almost every day in 40 degree weather. It felt tropical to us, but it was autumn to the Okinawans. I was drinking litres upon litres of water and rarely went to the washroom. My body was literally using the hydration as fast as I could provide it. But the flip side to this, and the purpose behind this post, is that I’ve also gone running in snow storms. Not recently, mind you. I’m old as disco, now.
Back when I was training for my black belt, I would get off work at 1 in the morning, head home, change into workout gear and grab my walkman (think iPod, but much bigger) and circumvent my hometown of Dalhousie. This made for about 10 kilometres of running in wintery conditions, which is not a lot by my cycling standards. But I guarantee that it felt like forever while I was doing it. It probably doesn’t help that Dalhousie stands on the side of a reasonably steep hill that slopes down into the Restigouche Bay, so there was a fair bit of uphill running.
Let’s start on a positive note, because I am frequently way more negative than I should be, and let’s discuss the benefits of training in extreme cold weather. According to a post written by Dr. Adam Tenforde for the Harvard University website, working out in colder weather can help improve your endurance as “your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.”
The article goes on to explain how working out in the winter can give you some exposure to sunlight, which people tend to get much less of during the winter, as well as helping to transform certain areas of white fat, like the stomach and thighs, into a calorie-burning fat. This can be helpful if you’re like me and are struggling to tone down some of the “Micheline effect” I seem to have developed in my midsection.
Another benefit is that if you have a preferred trail that you run on, you’ll likely have it to yourself as most people have an unfortunate aversion to working out in the cold and likely won’t be sharing your enthusiasm. Now, if only I could guarantee the trail around Wascana Lake would be vacant and ice-free, I’d bike around that bad boy all winter! But I digress…
Since all the world is balance, we wouldn’t have the positive if not for the negative. So let’s cover off some bad aspects. If you have an underlying or chronic medical condition, cold weather training may not be for you. Listen to me, I sound like one of those commercials for a new prescription drug. “Talk to your doctor, if you think that running outdoors and freezing like a dumb ass may be right for you…” But seriously, things like heart conditions, asthma and many others can be adversely affected by pushing yourself when it’s cold outside.
Next, one needs to consider all the typical wintery hazards such as frostbite, which can affect any patch of exposed skin, hypothermia and even dehydration. Yes, that’s right! You can dehydrate in the cold; it’s not just an extreme heat thing. People also forget to consider sunblock when running on sunny days in the winter, despite the fact that UV rays are UV rays, regardless of the temperature. But maintaining your core temperature is important in order to prevent getting sick, as well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should dress in layers. Their article says to start with a synthetic layer that wicks moisture away from your body, followed by a layer of fleece or wool for insulation, topped with a breathable, waterproof outer layer. They also mention that you may have to experiment and try a few different combinations to find what’s right for you.
I use a base layer of Under Armour, specifically their “cold gear” apparel, which moves moisture away from the body but also helps to keep my body’s heat contained. I follow this up with a cotton shirt, since I don’t have fleece or wool. Even if cotton has a propensity to stay wet, it also provides a layer that will absorb moisture that makes its way through. then I have a waterproof Columbia jacket I throw on top of that. Couple it all up with a comfortable pair of waterproof boots and some windproof pants over thermals and you’ve got yourself a winter running outfit.
The last aspect I’ll cover off is the Diabetic one. Obviously, all of the problems I’ve described can affect someone with Type-1 Diabetes in some given way, shape or form. One of the bigger problems is that the cold will sometimes block or numb some of the recognizable signs of hypoglycemia, which can potentially be dangerous if you’re running far from home. Here’s where technology pays its due, as you should be carrying a cell phone and/or letting your family know where you’re going, if training outside.
The winter season shouldn’t be an excuse to stop working out. I’ll admit, I much prefer curling up on the couch with my wife, munching on nachos and binge-watching Kitchen Nightmares. But Diabetes doesn’t take a day off and neither should your health and fitness! Dress well, monitor your blood sugars and stay hydrated. Whether we like it or not, the colder season will be in full swing, shortly. ☯