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Staying Active in the Throes of Winter

On a recent Tuesday night, I had to go down into the basement - a dark and dingy combination of crawl space and failed fall out shelter - to get my fluffy comforter and an extra sheet to guard my outdoor tomatoes against that night’s frosty threat.

Our house is nicely shaded throughout the summer, keeping our rooms delectably cool on hot nights. Now the shade is already a hindrance - our leather couch cannot be enjoyed without a throw across my lap. 

On Wednesday morning I had to dig through my freshly unpacked and folded piles of winter clothes to find my running outfit that sticks to my sweaty body for nine months out of the year - gloves, check; hat, check; puffy vest that really is too-cute-to-run-in-but-the-damage-has-been-done, check. As I trotted out into the cool morning I realized, yes, fall is here.

The winters in Montana are long and cold, though I pride myself at the number of times I still lace up my shoes for a trail run. It doesn’t compare to the frequency of summer, but the struggle of chilled air heaving in and out of my lungs makes me feel stronger and healthier. There is a point, however, that the will to brave the elements undermines my enthusiasm. This is when the comforting and cozy feelings of hibernation start to sneak into my psyche and dampen my motivation.

Traditionally, winters have been a time to hole up and work on indoor projects and puzzles and extended evenings of warm beverages and movies. However, for those with the need for physical activity to maintain their sanity, or goals of strength training or weight-loss, this time of seemingly forced relaxation can be met with frustration. 

Last year, when Missoula was essentially shut down and silenced with a blanket of snow that clogged neighborhood streets and blocked in driveways, I took the opportunity to cross country ski to work. I had always imagined how exciting this would be, though never reminded myself of two very important facts: I haven’t cross country skied since I was eight, and cross country skiing - while under a deadline - is a kick in the butt workout. 

I made it to work 15 minutes late, though my showing up at all when vehicles skidded and crashed into snow banks throughout the city made my tardiness a moot point. My hair, plastered to my head with sweat, took some time in the bathroom to become presentable. My skis, borrowed from a friend, propped against the wall in our employee kitchen like a medal - a badge of honor commemorating my dedication to the job.

For those who ski or snowboard, the opportunity for winter exercise is easy. A day of riding powder in the trees, skiing moguls, or hiking to a remote peak for untouched snow are all great ways to get your sweat on in the “inside” months.  For those who don’t ski, however, the chance for a muscle blasting cardio excursion to elate the senses can seem farther out of reach.

Rather than worrying about the miles lost on the trail or the return to automobile commutes to work, look at winter as an amazing and exciting opportunity to cross-train!

Winter is a perfect time to try new classes at the gym, or to start a new strength training routine. The cost of hiring a personal trainer to inspire a new workout or introduce you to the benefits of variety will prove to be an invaluable investment to the level of enjoyment you’ll find from these indoor activities.

Though it is only today - five days after the final shuffle of summer clothes packed and winter clothes folded - that I am going to begrudgingly take my bags of shorts and tanks and window fans down to the basement. I will look at this changing weather as a time to diversify.  

This year will be the year - three winters in the planning - that I finally buy a pear of Yak Tracks to elongate my running season. I will go to the first ski swap and purchase a pair of cross country skis so I can unabashedly skid and grind over winter street gravel and ice.  My days of snowboarding opportunities are more numbered now, so those that are available will be accompanied with hikes and backpacks of lunches and water to lengthen my days and catch glimpses of previously unseen winter vistas.

This is a time to both relish the stillness of winter’s rest, and blast into the exciting opportunity for a change in routine.  


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