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Lessons About Running Learned on the Slopes

Posted Jan 23 2013 11:15am

I know, I know…it sounds weird, but just go with me on this one.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram , you’ll noticed that I’ve been doing a bit a lot of skiing this winter. In fact, you may get the impression that I’ve been strapping on my skis more often than I’ve been lacing up my running shoes these days (sort of true…).

skisMy super fancy seasonal rentals

But in my defense, it’s good cross training.

Also winter in Vermont goes until like April or something…and I’ve got to find a way to keep myself from hating every single minute of it.

Anyway, I digress. I know you aren’t here at Health on the run to read about skiing. Particularly from someone who is a mediocre skier at best. But, I promise this connects to running. Because my time on the slopes (although fun) has reinforced certain lessons about running…and has given me an even greater appreciation for my one true love.

sunbowl base lodge

So here are 5 quick lessons about running I’ve learned on the slopes…and, ultimately, why I’m not ready to hang up my running shoes just yet.

Last week Evan turned the big 3-0. To celebrate, we spent the whole day skiing…despite the fact that the high for the day would only reach a blazing 9 degrees. The temperature at the top of the mountain, along with the windchill, was well below zero. We were cold. We had to take more breaks than usual to keep ourselves from turning into icicles. It was not the ideal day for flying down a mountain. But there was never any question about whether we’d still go. We bundled up in extra layers, purchased hand and feet warmers and just…sucked it up.

hand warmers

The funny thing is that I don’t always have that mentality about running through the winter. Maybe because I can’t exactly run in a winter coat and snow pants. Or maybe because it’s harder to take little breaks to warm up — and running when you’re frozen is just so uncomfortable. But last Friday I came to the obvious realization that I was being a little silly when it came to running outside in the cold. How could I not even think twice about going skiing in negative temperatures but yet balk at the thought of running when it’s in the teens?

IMG 0224

Now I’m not advocating for running outside every day and in all conditions. Today “feels like” -8 with the windchill, which means I’ll probably be retreating to the treadmill this afternoon. But I can tell you that I’ve stopped being so much of a baby about running outside in this weather, and will think twice now before I claim that it’s simply too cold.

Yeah, I know you know this already. It’s not rocket science. But it’s so easy to push strength training to the side in favor of more miles. Even though it’s those strength exercises that can help improve your body’s ability to handle the extra miles.

When we first started skiing this winter, my legs could barely take it. I always thought that I have pretty strong quad muscles, but skiing engaged them in a different way than running does and a few hours on the slopes would leave them burning. However, I’ve been working hard(er than usual, anyway) at strength training lately, and as the weeks go by I can feel myself getting stronger and, as a result, faster.

ski hill bottom

I know this will translate into my running as well (especially since skiing, in a way, is excellent strength training). I don’t always see the results so quickly and clearly on runs as I do with skiing, but I’m learning to be patient and trust that the improvements will come.

Sure, sometimes I get blisters and I usually can’t wait to get my sneakers off my feet the second I cross the finish line of a marathon, but have you ever spent an entire day in ski boots? Those things are the worst.

chairlift view

I love skiing fast (a relative term). There’s no greater thrill than flying down a mountain with the wind in your face and nothing but an open slope ahead. It’s so incredibly freeing. But if I did that every single time, I’d miss the beauty that’s around me at every turn. Standing at the top of the mountain and looking out for miles is something that often takes my breath away…especially around these parts.

IMG 0222

The same goes for running. Running fast is hard, of course, but it also feels amazing. I crave those runs where the speed comes effortlessly. When my feet seem to be floating on air and I keep pushing forward…faster and faster. Those runs when I feel like I’m flying — those are the runs I live for.

But I’m also growing to appreciate the slow days. The easy jogs that allow me to truly take in the beauty around me. I sometimes take it for granted that I live in such a beautiful place. The runs are hard and hilly, but the views are astounding. I’d miss out if I my only goal was to run as fast as humanly possible every time I’m out.

This is a lesson that I’ve learned time and time again. From my early days on the cross country and track teams in high school to all the runners I’ve met at races around the country to the friends I’ve made as a result of this blog. In my experience, most runners are genuinely wonderful people. It’s one of the truly awesome things about this sport.

MCM_group after

Skiers – well, they’re a completely different story. (Mind you, I say this as a skier myself.) Shared gondola rides up the slopes are filled with conversations about how great/expensive a person’s gear is, or their winter homes and extravagant ski vacations. Being a somewhat poor 20-something with no vacation home, living in a rental house, skiing with a discount pass on cheap rental gear — I don’t exactly have much to add to the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, runners love their gear. But conversations revolve more around the function of that gear rather than the price. And most times, there’s a sense of community among runners — we talk about goals, training techniques, great races we’ve done, why we love running so very much.

Runners constantly strive to improve. To better themselves. {sometimes it seems as though} Skiers just strive to get the best stuff.

So I may love skiing. It may get me through the winter as a fun cross training activity I can share with my husband. But I’m a runner at heart. And that’s the way I like it.

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