First Snowy Ride (Guest Post)

My bike and I went on quite an adventure this week. Thursday night, I reduced the pressure in her tires in preparation for our first ride through the snow. I was excited, but also really nervous. Every time I thought of winter riding, two things came to mind. I thought about how much fun it could be, but my fear of falling tempered my excitement. What was I thinking!?

I have post-concussion syndrome – the result of a car hitting me while cycling four years ago. I know that my brain is more vulnerable than most since brain injuries are accumulative. Shouldn’t I avoid any activities that put me at risk of falling? But I know better than that. I could just as quickly fall and hit my head slipping on the sidewalk. I have to live. I cannot stop living life out of fear. Sometimes it’s tricky balancing caution and quality of life.

Typically, I exercise significantly less during the cold winter months – I think most of us do. Last year, I got a gym membership as soon as the snow flew in hopes of working out at least a few times a week. I only live a few blocks from the gym, and I had friends who I could work out with there. Still, there were plenty of weeks when I didn’t get there at all – especially once I started school.

This year, I knew that I needed to do something differently. I have a bike trainer, but that alone likely won’t be enough. Cycling outside with the wind on my face and nature all around me – that is a different story entirely. If I can gain enough confidence in my winter bike handling abilities, it could be a game changer for me. The benefits of trying winter cycling, seem to outweigh the risks.

When I woke up to a winter wonderland on Friday, I noticed a friend who has cycled through many winters had posted on social media about how slippery it was. I reconsidered – again. “Just try it,” I told myself. “You can always change your mind and take the bus if you don’t feel safe. Just try it and see how it goes.” And so I did.

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I biked a slow 12 kph to the bus stop. Bus there and bike home was the plan. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be and I felt exhilarated by the time I arrived at the bus stop. Fresh snow to make tracks in made it more fun than I expected!

I was nervous about biking downhill on the way home, and by then I had pre-used snow to contend with. Fresh snow is more fun and relaxing to bike on, but I soon realized that my rubber tires were good at keeping me balanced. Biking over the footprints in the snow felt similar to biking over gravel – go slow and steady, don’t turn sharply and don’t brake suddenly.

I was 7 km into my ride before I realized that I had been so worried about falling that I wasn’t enjoying the experience or the scenery. By then, I was feeling more confident about the conditions and realized that I could relax a bit. “Look up and enjoy the view,” I reminded myself. Seconds later I came around a corner to a delightful surprise. Straight in front of me, heading across the path, was a buck. We paused to look at each other for a few seconds before he wandered into the woods. There’s no photo of the encounter, but the moment is crystal clear in my mind – I had never been so close to a deer.

Initially, I had planned to put studded tires on my bike. There’s a good chance that I would feel more confident with studded tires, but from what I’ve heard, the energy required increases significantly with studs. I enjoyed Friday’s ride enough to try it again, but even without studs, lowered tire pressure doubled my riding time. Given the number of dry days we typically have here, I suspect I will ride more often without studded tires.

I expect it will take a while before my nerves settle down and I’m able to fully enjoy winter biking – it’s a bit of a learning curve. I also know that there will be lots of days when I opt to take the bus instead. However, Friday was a great start, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to bike on a fresh dusting of snow!

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Phoenix – my bike – was messier than I had expected, so I decided that the easiest way to clean her was with a gentle shower. 5 minutes later she was sparkling and free of dirt and leaves!

Do you ride during the winter? What was your first ride like? What are your tips for newbies?

Joy Cameron enjoys cycling, painting, and tai chi. In 2014, she founded Bikes n’ Brains as a response to a collision she was in. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know many individuals from the cycling community. She is excited to be pursuing a social work degree at King’s University College.

The first sharp shock of riding in the cold

Last week was the week that we had our first overnight frost warning. It was also the first week of riding in just above freezing temperatures. Also, it was the week that the furnace came on and we closed all the windows.  I was kind of shocked. Each year it kind of catches me by surprise.

Thursday’s coached ride began at 12 degrees at five o’clock. Sunny, windy, and cool but not too cold. We worked hard out into the wind. But by the time we were heading home the sun was sinking and the temperatures were dropping. By the time Sarah and I got back to our cars it was four degrees. Brrrr.

After a drive with the car butt warmers cranked and the heat on high we made it home where we ate take out Thai food and jumped in the hot tub. I’ll be fine once the initial shock wears off. It’s time to dig out the warm booties, the ear warmers, and my serious cycling gloves.

I don’t mind riding in these temperatures. The coloured leaves are beautiful. It’s a great time of year to be outside and  after all, it’ll soon look like this.

It’s Been a Long Winter, and We’re Done Now

View of the McIntosh Gallery and its inviting red door, from my office window during the late winter snowstorm yesterday.

View of the McIntosh Gallery and its inviting red door, from my office window during the late winter snowstorm yesterday.

As we are plunged back into wind chill factors and fresh snow after one day of spring-like weather, I can hear the collective groan! It’s hard to believe that Sam went for her first spring ride just a couple of days ago! See her post about that here.

I met the challenge this winter by joining a 10 week 10K running clinic on January 2. We built our distance slowly over the next ten weeks, with short runs and later hill work on Wednesdays, medium distance on Thursdays, and our long, easy-paced runs on Sunday mornings.

We ran through it all — wind chill, snow storms, icy sidewalks and roads, slushy stuff on the occasional thaw.  The week I was in Mexico (enjoying the shorts and tank top running weather, and quickly tempted to complain about the heat!), the group encountered pelting rain one night, and at their furthest distance from home base, it began to thunder and lightening.

I have to say, committing to the group helped me enjoy the winter and feel a real sense of accomplishment.  And as I mentioned in an earlier post, it got me out the door for my runs through a winter when I can guarantee you I would have skipped most of them if I’d been running alone. The conditions just felt too fierce. Read my post about getting over the fear of winter running, here.

The best achievement came on one of the hardest days. A couple of Sundays ago, six of us set out for our first 13K run. The sidewalks were greasy and challenging, the roads not much better.  The thermometer clocked a temperature of -15C, not too bad in relative terms.  At about the half way point my left knee started giving me grief. Then my right calf seized up from the effort of running through thick snow.  But I kept at it, even when we ran right past my street, less than a block from my house. Oh, how tempted I was to cut out the last 2K of the run. But no!  I’d come this far.  And I finished.

Yes, I limped for the rest of the day and couldn’t easily climb or descend stairs.  But I did it!  And I recovered in a remarkable way, no longer limping by the next day when I felt sure I would have to take at least a week off of everything. Not so. I got back to my workouts the day after that run. And I went back out with the group later that week for a short (!) 5K. When I started the clinic, 5K was my longest!

Anyway, this is all to say that it’s been a long winter, and many of us toughed our way through it, and now we’re ready for spring.  Like, so ready!  When I posted that picture from my office window during yesterday’s blizzard, one friend said she was torn between wanting to say “what a charming view” and wanting to cry.

I’m right there with her.  Here’s hoping that this morning’s -32C with the windchill is the last of it!

Cold fingers and female athletes

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There’s a line that makes me want to punch people. “You know what they say, cold hands, warm heart.” Yeah, that line.

For many years, I was just fine with winter. I love the snow. My first years in Canada–my family moved to this country when I was four–were spent in cold, snowy Newfoundland. I didn’t even mind, as a young person, the shorter days. I mind them now.

And then I started to get seriously cold and for a few years I spent most of winter inside. That drove me a little bit bonkers. I love the outdoors. So I started running. And cross country skiing. The really neat thing was that exercise kept me warm in a way down coats never could. I love being active outside in the winter. I love the outdoors and moving fast meant I was warm enough finally.

But then a new problem emerged, Raynaud’s phenomena. Or that’s what my doctor tells me it’s called. Since they can’t do anything and it’s more an inconvenience than a danger, modern medicine doesn’t have much to tell me other than a name. Thanks doctors. But I’ve been poked and prodded an investigated and that is what I have.

I’d start skiing and work up a good sweat but then my fingers would start to get really cold. They’d get lumpy and hard and I knew frost bite would soon happen. I had a few really scary run ins with frost bite. I’d be skiing and find myself with hard frozen hands miles from anywhere. I’d be running, even with the best gloves on, and start to get pain in my hands. Once I considered knocking on a stranger’s door and getting in out of the cold.

Now it happens even in just a few minutes, in the walk in from the parking lot at -5 for example. I’ve even had it happen indoors.

I have battery operated mitts for skiing. Oddly, the mitts themselves never feel warm but your hands never ever get cold. I also started skiing in loops around a fixed point so I’d never be too far away from warmth.

What is Raynaud’s phenomena?

A condition of unknown cause in which the arteries of the fingers become hyperreactive to the cold and go into a spasm. It is more common in women than men, and may affect up to 10% of otherwise healthy female athletes causing them great difficulties in cold environments. Warm gloves and calcium-channel blocking agents may relieve the condition. Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/raynaud-s-phenomenon#ixzz2lVB3LK7c

Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon and sometimes simply Raynaud’s, is a condition that causes some areas of the body to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or emotional stress, caused by a problem with the blood supply to the skin. Raynaud’s disease is a vasospastic disorder – spasms in the blood vessels lead to vasoconstriction (narrowing). What is Raynaud’s?

There’s not a lot you can do. My doctor’s advice: Plan to retire somewhere warm. Gee, thanks.

There is some concern that outdoor, winter exercise makes the condition worse. See here.

“Exercising may shift blood away from the skin to the muscles. During exercise, body parts, including the hands, are in need of more blood. Even though you may feel warm, if your skin is sensing cold, then the shift to the muscles and other parts of the body may be exaggerated.Exercising in a warm environment is recommended for people with Raynaud’s, and people with severe disease may not be able to safely exercise in the cold. To help, it is important that the central body and brain sense that it is warm, even if you are in a cold environment. This is done by using layers of warm clothes, including a hat to cover the head as well as gloves and socks for the fingers and toes. After exercise, it is critical to warm the central core temperature, and not just the fingers. Swinging the arms in a wide rapid circle can force blood to the fingers.”

I now spend more money on mittens that just about any other item of clothing. Maybe footwear is the only thing that costs me more. I read online reviews of mitts and I have alerts set up for medical literature on Raynaud’s.

I’m not going to stop playing in the snow. The photo below is from a trip to Algonquin a few years ago. Love it.

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I like it in the dark: Winter and the joys of night time riding and running

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Photo from Get Out There magazine

Caitlin from the wonderful blog Fit and Feminist posted on Facebook recently about enjoying running in the dark.

I’m also a fan of running in the dark but only the early morning, not night. I’m pretty wired to early morning exercise though I did a fair bit of night time running the year I took a 10 km clinic over the winter.

When I first started running on my own I confess I liked the dark because no one could see me! I didn’t look like a runner and I felt stealthy about it all. In the dark it didn’t matter that I was a much larger than average runner, that I wasn’t going that fast, and that I didn’t have all the right clothes and gear. It gave me the protective nudge I needed to get started though now I’ve left that cocoon behind.

In general I don’t like the reduced daylight hours that come with living nearer the poles than the equator. I thrive on sun and I’m a creature of the day. That sounds much less sexy and exciting than being  a creature of the night, but there it is. I tried going goth in the 80s but it never quite took. I liked punk but I liked bright colours too, usually in my hair. I was a “cotton candy punk” as one friend teasingly called me.

However, there is something very special about the dark. It’s powerful. And there is something that feels mysterious and secretive about it. The dark hours of the morning feel like stolen time, extra hours of dark before the day really begins.

And soon enough, it will all turn round. The worst of the lost daylight happens just about the time real winter begins. Soon, in just a few weeks, the days will be getting longer and the sun will getting stronger again, as they say. December 21st marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. If what you fear most about winter is cold and snow, the worst is still ahead. But if it’s light you crave, we’re almost at the low point, that halfway mark on a race to the sun.

I like riding at night too and I have super dooper headlights. They don’t just made me visible. They’re bright enough so that I can use bike paths in the dark. You feel so much faster at night, the world just whooshes by.

There are safety concerns about running in the dark and I wear lots of reflective gear so that I’m visible. I’ve been thinking of getting the dogs flashing collars to add to the disco party effect. I was going to include ‘running in the dark’ safety links but most of them are about personal security. If that’s an issue where you live, have a look. One of my best safety running stories concerns Sweden. I asked the young man at my hotel in Gothenberg if it was safe to go out for a run. I’d been traveling for awhile and staying in large American cities where people worry about that sort of thing. He looked at me quizzically and then said, “Oh, no there are no wild animals in the city.” Different cultures, different concerns.

These days I like running in the dark because I feel like a speedy ninja! And I’m a fan of all things ninja.

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Winter is coming: Some thoughts about adventure and fitness (Guest post)

This time of year, my thoughts turn to adventures in the snow, especially the tantalizing 160 km Canadian Ski Marathon. The CSM easily fits archetypal male adventure narratives, or what a friend of mine once called the genre of “Men Who Die in the Cold.” You hear stories, like the one about the man who did the gold-level marathon each year with a frozen fish—“dinner”—strapped to his back. But the CSM actually emphasizes a very inclusive and open understanding of adventure. Thanks in part to adventure narratives from people with diverse abilities, ages, sexualities, and cultures, we know that there are many different ways to be an adventurer. What counts as an adventure is relative to your personal and social circumstances. Because the focus of the CSM is skiing not “winning,” skiers can design their own adventure while still experiencing the fun of a shared event. You happily find all sorts skiing the CSM.

Adventures like the CSM have, I believe, something to teach us about how fitness contributes to well-being and a good, flourishing life. And this is that fitness matters less than you might think. While I fully agree that exercise is important for physical and mental well-being, there are at least two difficulties with “fitness.” First, fitness is not by itself a goal worth pursuing. We want to be fit because it will help us achieve things we desire, like living a longer, better life, or do fun things like skiing, walking, or chair racing. My guess is that if you pursue fitness for its own sake, you are going to come up empty. The second issue is that for many, fitness goals are tied to body image ideals which are in turn tied to the judgments and evaluations of others. By focusing on how “fit” or “attractive” your body is, you are likely focusing on evaluations that are external to your identity, needs, and well-being.

One problem with focusing on these kinds of external evaluations is that they can sap your motivation. Exercising to look good for others, please others, and avoid negative judgments is dispiriting. Granted, motivation is a complex phenomenon. But my most successful training happens when I do it because it feels good and inspires feelings of adventure. Fitness happens as I experience joie de vivre, test limits, face fears, navigate risks, have fun, be with friends, and wholeheartedly engage the natural world. Motivation depends crucially on setting internally meaningful goals and it is easy to find meaningful goals in adventure.

“External” fitness and body image goals in sport also appear to undermine happiness. Research suggests that people who have obsessive passions for their sport—that is, they ruminate about how their sport relates to self-worth and social acceptance—are less happy than those with more harmonious passions. Those with harmonious passions for their sport—that is, those who do not ruminate and who are better able to achieve “flow” while engaged in their favorite activity—have greater well-being and higher achievement in general. (See the work of Robert Vallerand and Geneviève Mageau.)  When we ruminate about body image and fitness ideals, we miss out on the wonderfully enlivening emotions—awe, fear, joy, passion, exhilaration—that adventures offer. When we allow ourselves to experience these emotions fully, we develop our ability to experience flow and consequently, happiness.

Framing athletic experience with extrinsic motivators like body image or fitness levels also won’t help much with living a more ethically meaningful life. As cheating athletes show, fitness is no loyal partner to ethics. But a wholehearted adventurous spirit might be. In “Climbing Philosophy For Everyone,” Pam Sailors draws a link between ethical action and climbers of two different stripes. “Summiteers,” who focus on getting to the summit and doing so the fastest and with the most fitness, are less likely to help other climbers in trouble. “Mountaineers,” who focus on the experience of climbing mountains, fostering relationships in their climbing teams, and gaining self-knowledge are more likely to abandon their climbs to help others. People with a harmonious sense of adventure focus on meaningful internal values, which includes fostering those values and caring for others.

But perhaps the nicest advantage of adventure over fitness is that adventure isn’t tied to success in the same way. Misadventures can be just as valuable for your life. Just before the Gatineau Loppet last winter, I came down with a bad cold. My training for it hadn’t gone well and the cold seemed like a good sign that I should sit it out. But I really didn’t want to miss my first loppet—and ski—in gorgeous Gatineau Park. And besides, I could always leave the race if I had to, right? Well, I didn’t bail, but you would be right to suspect things didn’t go well. I nearly missed the race start because, after a long washroom line-up, I lost track of my family and didn’t want to begin without waving to my daughter. I followed the slow start with slow skiing: in my weakened state the snow felt like fudge. Then about 5 km in, a skier who couldn’t stop crashed into me when someone wiped out in front of us on a downhill. Toques everywhere. By the 10 km mark, I thought I was going to drown in my own immunological goo.

But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. I felt such joy seeing my little daughter wildly ringing her cowbell and yelling “Go Mommy” as I crossed the finish. I met my goals of experiencing a loppet and skiing in Gatineau Park. And I learned that I could overcome “negative” self-talk like “you’re going to get pneumonia, you fool.” Good to know in case I’m ever, say, skiing with the flu while being tracked by hungry coyotes. But the point is that I took away some valuable lessons and experiences and I didn’t spend any time ruminating about fitness or body image or social acceptance afterwards. I could have cared less—I made it out alive! And I’m guessing that elite skiers who engage their sports with harmonious passion feel similarly. Good adventures have a lot to do with how you handle and value the misadventures. They are not made of ruminations about who has superior maximal aerobic capacity.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic—au contraire. The additive effect of body image and fitness ideals from countless sources in our society is substantially influential. But we are nonetheless responsible, individually and collectively, for the goals we set. In my view, wholehearted, adventurous engagement with your activity is the best antidote for fitness and body image ideals. And the best motivation for tackling damn fool events like the Canadian Ski Marathon. Fish or no fish.

 

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Moira Howes, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D., is a philosophy professor at Trent University. She philosophizes about lots of things, but mainly about argumentation, biology, feminism, intellectual virtue, and objectivity. Most recently she has been writing about mindfulness, virtue, and adventure sport. Her favorite activities include trail running, skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and hiking.