#MotivateMe: Snowshoe Fondue at Hardwood Hills

This post is part of the #MotivateMe Link-up that takes place on Salads4Lunch and Run Mommy Run every Monday.  Visit them to see more great active living content.


In a rare win for Facebook advertising, I came across this event that was being run by Hardwood Hills Ski and Bike.  It sounded like a great date night; my wife and I had a similar experience on our trip to Smuggler’s Notch in 2015.  The combination of fresh air and exercise with a bit of decadent comfort food is hard to resist.

We pulled into the Hardwood Hills parking lot a few minutes after 6PM, and picked up the snowshoes my wife was renting, along with some tickets to sample beers from the Barnstormers Brewery (there was also wine).  I got to try their Polar Pumpkin Ale (the best pumpkin beer I’ve ever had, some sweet notes) and the Smoked Billy Bishop which was a Brown Ale, but the smokiness was something interesting I hadn’t had in a beer before – I’m not sure I’d love to drink a lot of it, but it was still pleasantly complex.  Just before we headed out, we got to try some butternut squash soup.

Sorry about the picture quality – not as good as the soup tasted!

The guide for our ‘team’ ended up being our friend Sam who we knew from when we used to volunteer with the Track 3 Ski Program.  I do regret not packing a head-lamp; I guess I thought the (near-)full moon might provide enough light or that there might be some lanterns on the trail.  The moon didn’t rise till we were well past the halfway mark of the 5.5 km walk, and then it hung low in the sky.  It was a spectacular orange, and I wish I had gotten a photo, but the trees prevented getting a very clear shot.

Even without a headlamp we got by fine.  Sometimes I used my cell phone as a flash light, sometimes there was light from the headlamps of others, sometimes following the footsteps of the person in front of you was good enough.  When you did stray from the trail into deeper snow, well, you were wearing snowshoes anyway.

It wasn’t my first time snowshoeing, but I was still surprised by how much of a workout it was – the first kilometer took us over 25 minutes to complete.  We learned the tricks of leaning back a little on the downhill and forward (with digging in your toes) on the uphill.  After a few breaks to shepherd the stragglers (i.e. us).  We found ourselves at a gorgeous lookout above the city of Barrie, with a refreshment of cider and delicious cookies.  They had even transported a fire via snowmobile.

On the way back to the chalet, I found things both easier and harder.  I stumbled more often, yet I felt like I was keeping a better pace and navigating better without my cell-phone flashlight – I had run out the battery and thus wasn’t able to track the route to show you the final time and mileage.  Luckily, my wife’s cell phone was there to provide more pictures.

Now that the snowshoe part was done, it was time for the fondue!  They had created a nice intimate atmosphere in what they call the ‘West Wing’ of the chalet, complete with live music.  The singer was pretty good, and I admired the different spin she put on songs that would have been described as hard rock in their original incarnations.

In addition to bar beverages, there was also punch and water available, and you could munch on french fries before the fondue course.  I have a theory that french fries taste better after skiing, and I’m pleased to report that this holds up for snowshoeing too.  The fondue platter was 2 different breads, along with an assortment of fruits and vegetables.   The cheese sauce was delicious!

The swag bag on my left had some flyers and a couple of coupons.

For dessert, there were cookies, rice krispy squares and some really decadent brownies.  I think the event was a real success, and there are 2 more of these events in February and March.  In fact, the February one (which we can’t make it to) will be a Valentine’s themed ‘Ultimate’ Snowshoe Fondue.  Check the events out here.


Have you been snowshoeing in the moonlight? Do you think outdoor winter activities and decadent food go hand-in-hand?

Active Family Travel Review: Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort

“You know what I like about Vermont? It has better sticks.” – Shark Boy

While I have my doubts that the sticks of Vermont are of higher quality than the sticks of Ontario, Shark Boy does have a point that we were able to spend our vacation in a beautiful (fairly) natural setting at Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort.  We try to alternate our spring break between hot places and ski vacations, so after last year’s trip to Mexico, it was going to be skiing, even if this was another brutally cold winter.  Having been to Quebec twice, we wanted to switch it up this year.  My wife did some research at the Toronto Snow Show, and while there was heavy competition, we decided on Smuggler’s Notch due to its reputation for families and the 20% discount deal that they offered us through the show.

Taxicab Selfie on the way to the airport

When I told people about the trip, most assumed we’d drive there from Toronto, but that would have taken longer than I generally like to spend time in a car, never mind with two bored kids in the back.  Flying Porter from the Toronto Island is actually a reasonably comfortable experience with young ones; they get excited about all the various stages – taxi, ferry, air-plane.  The line-ups aren’t as long as at Pearson International Airport and the waiting lounge has free coffee and cookies.  Propeller planes are a little noisier and slower than jets, and they seem to have more turbulence (maybe due to a slower ascent into the more peaceful altitudes?) which is tough if you’re a nervous flyer like my wife.  It was also a bit of a bumpy landing into Burlington, VT.  Porter flights de-board in a weird satellite terminal which requires a shuttle ride to the main terminal.  We’d been expecting a shuttle that we booked with Smuggler’s Notch; they were supposed to have a sign with our name on it, but we were unable to find them either at the first terminal or the main one.  We did, however, get a lot of help and support from the driver of their regular inter-terminal shuttle buses, and we eventually found out that our driver had been told that our flight had been delayed when it actually hadn’t.  The upshot was that I never felt genuinely worried that we wouldn’t get our ride to the resort, everyone we dealt with was courteous, knowledgeable and professional.

We got checked into the resort, and driven to our condo which was in the “Liftside” section, and as the name implies, very close to the lifts.  If we hadn’t had a second story apartment we could have walked onto the hill from the back door of our room.  It was also a very short walk to the main village which not only houses most of the resort’s restaurants, but the ski school, rental shop, and guest services so we were well off in terms of location.

We had our first dinner in the Pizzeria, Riga-Bello’s.  Frankly, I found it a little confusing because it looked like the kind of joint where you walk up to the counter and order a slice, but when we were directed to take menus, it made me think it would be a sit-down-server-takes-your-order experience.  My first instinct was correct, but we ended up having my wife run back and forth from the counter to our table to provide updates as to which pizzas were available by the slice versus whole pizzas – it just made dinner way more complicated than it had to be.  The pizza was okay, but nothing special.

Our apartment was quite nice.  We had our own kitchen, which we sometimes used to make breakfast (the rest of the time we fell prey to the lure of treating ourselves), and a living room area where the kids would watch TV while we prepared our (or more specifically their) equipment and outfits for the ski day.  We were all in one bedroom which worked well, with Shark Boy on a higher bed (he’s a little more stable in his sleeping patterns) and the Lightning Kid on a low trundle bed which felt safe.  One of the things we liked best, of course, was the en suite washer and dryer; which meant not only being able to have clean and dry clothes when we needed them, but kept our packing and luggage to a minimum (2 ski bags, 2 suitcases, a ski boot bag, one backpack, one laptop bag – the last 3 items were all carry-on).

Our first full day at Smuggler’s Notch started with a gorgeous breakfast at the Morse Mountain Grill.  I had the stuffed waffles, which I can highly recommend.  They have a great kids breakfast menu too.

Bringing the kids to the ski school involved some confusion for us.  The package we had booked gave us ‘Discovery Camp’ tickets for both boys, and at the intake/registration, upon hearing that the Lightning Kid had been on skis before (albeit with our help) and was toilet-trained, said he’d be ahead of some of the other students in his class (named Discovery Dynamos while Shark Boy would be in Trail Blazers).  This sounded promising, but we had envisioned him as being in more of a daycare situation with some one-on-one ski instruction.  The instructor who was leading his proposed group had some directed questions about the Lightning Kid’s ability to follow instructions verbally, and in programs like his Little Kickers Soccer class, he’s done better by being able to follow the other kids.  The instructor pushed the Adaptive Ski Program as an idea; Smuggler’s Notch is clearly very proud of their adaptive ski program for individuals of different abilities, as well they should be.  It’s just that we’ve found that he does better when he’s surrounded by typical peers in an inclusive environment – ultimately we know what’s best for our son.  We eventually opted for the Little Rascals on Snow program, which is run out of their Treasures daycare building.  

The Treasures daycare is a short distance uphill, but once we had him registered (a process which was impressively thorough for the safety and security of the children), he seemed comfortable enough, and my wife and I were off for a day of skiing!  The day before had brought some new snow so as we got higher and higher we were treated to some beautiful scenery; snow coated trees and branches.  Smuggler’s Notch has 3 mountains: Morse, Madonna and Sterling.  I guess we were still a little antsy about leaving the kids alone, and we weren’t too confident in our own legs: we had said that getting in even a few runs alone would have been good enough for us on this vacation! We stuck to Morse mountain (the closest to our home base) and only did Blue runs that day.

I found it a little strange that even with 3 mountains worth of ski runs, Smuggs only has old-fashioned (read: slow, not high speed), two person lifts over the entire resort.  It seems quaint, and it didn’t bother me that much, but I think it’s something you’d want to know so you can manage your expectations.

The hillside cafeteria food was basically the kind of fare you might expect, but somehow it all tasted a little above average.  There were a few novel treats too, like macaroni and cheese in a bread-bowl (carb city!).

Everyday at the Treasures daycare, they took the kids into their little backyard where they have what has to be the world’s smallest magic carpet and slope.  Already on the first day, he had done a little skiing on his own.  We’d pick him up in our ski boots, get him geared up, and I’d ski down the hill with him between my legs to the bottom, where we’d walk back into our condo and change for dinner.  Skiing like that is a little tiring (it’s like holding a deep squat), but this was often my favourite part of the day.

Before dinner, we gave the kids a little bit of free play in the Fun Zone, which is an inflated dome full of play areas for kids of various ages and adults.  There’s skee-ball like games, bouncy castles, inflated giant slides and obstacle courses as well as mini-golf.  There’s a few rules for the larger structures that also keep little ones like the Lightning Kid off them, but there was enough smaller play structures to keep him happy.  The Fun Zone was a daily highlight for both kids (even if there are no sticks in the Fun Zone).

We had dinner at the Morse Mountain Grille again.  We were serenaded by Rockin’ Ron the Friendly Pirate.  Ron has some corny pirate humour, but the songs were fun to sing along with and the kids were frankly entranced by him.  Vermont cuisine, in which as far as I can tell always involves Maple, Bacon or Green Apples, was always featured and always desirable.  I had the Maple Whiskey BBQ Steak Tips, which were tasty if a little tough, but what I really enjoyed was the local craft beer sampler, especially the ‘Sunshine and Hoppiness’ Ale.

On the second day, we dropped the kids off a little more efficiently after a breakfast of toast and peanut butter (supplied by items I bought at the General Store the night before), and we sampled Mount Madonna and Mount Sterling.  I had been warned that crossing between the mountains involved flat stretches that needed a lot of skating to get through, but having been warned, I gathered up plenty of momentum each time, and I don’t think it was really that bad.  One of our first priorities at Mount Madonna was to try one of their on-hill Waffle snacks.  I could smell them from several hundred meters away.   They were very tasty, but I’d decline the Nutella if I were you because cleaning up one’s face on the hill isn’t easy.  

We got some good runs in, and I found plenty of Blues that still gave me a little kick with their twisty narrow turns.  One complaint I had was I found that branches would crowd the fringes of many runs; I nearly got taken out by a branch on two occasions, once because I was looking uphill at a run we were merging with – just like the caution sign suggested.  The morning weather was pleasantly mild, but it turned nasty and we spent most of the midday being drizzled on. Getting wet like that made us get cold faster. We knocked off a little early to pick up Shark Boy from his lesson and ski with him.  Being the older brother means getting less attention much of the time, so it’s nice to address that with some two-on-one time; plus we wanted to see what he’d learned!  He showed us some great linked turns and much better stopping than we’d seen from him before we came to Vermont.

We also picked up the Lightning Kid early. My wife wanted us to have a date night, and she found out about a kids’ Fun Feast that would have the kids being looked after and fed, with games, movies and interacting with Mogul Mouse and Billy Bob Bear. She figured we’d have a dinner for two at one of the restaurants, but the reservations desk upped the ante… they were running a snowshoe adventure that evening where we’d take a lift Mount Sterling, do a little snowshoeing, enjoy a candlelit gourmet dinner (catered by their Hearth and Candle restaurant, but on the mountain the location is called Top of the Notch. Then we’d snowshoe down the mountain; and to boot, we’d be able to drop the kids off earlier than other parents who’d signed up for the Fun Feast (another trip to the Fun Zone for our boys).

We took the shuttle from the village to the bottom of Mount Sterling. We were briefed on how we could pick up our snowshoes, board the lift, and disembark – which was going to be more challenging and tricky than it would have been on skis. Not being able to slide off the ramp meant having to turn away from the chair and letting it pass, then crossing the ramp without getting hit by the returning chair. We managed it on our first try. We moved inside to Top of the Notch, where the guides explained the course of the evening. We sat with two other couples who had kids in the same Fun Feast and ski school, and they were even from the West side of Toronto – unfortunately, we were too big dorks to get their contact info… Beth, Richard, Dave and Jenn, if you read this, you can contact me at one of the links on the right side of the page! The head guide/host explained that calls of nature would have to be answered… in nature with a secluded area for the ladies, and the men just about anywhere else. He also invited the whole group for what he called a ‘little hike’ – it ended up being a mostly uphill climb all the way to Stowe! Some of the scenery was lovely, but that was a tough hike, and I’m surprised everybody managed it. Apparently we were the first group that had been able to accomplish that trek this season! I later kicked myself for not wearing my Garmin to track it, especially because the Garmin was actually in the backpack I had brought along for the event – the dinner was BYOB with the exception of a hot chocolate with banana schnapps. We both had trouble with our snowshoes staying on, but the guides were really good and making fixes on the go.

A pond just off the peak of Mount Sterling

We made it! A view from the top of Stowe…

Obviously the way back down was easier, though the sun was getting low and the air got colder. For spring, it was pretty cold, especially with the wind cutting through you. We had a lovely dinner, my pork was a little dry, but the wild mushroom ravioli was heavenly. We heard good things about the Vermont chicken too. Suddenly, it was time to go if we wanted to be on time to pick up our children. The mountain hadn’t gotten any warmer in the dark, but it was a fun downhill hustle in snowshoes, and interesting to see some of the familiar runs of the daytime in the darkness, never mind going at a slower pace than on skis.

We picked up the kids and they were over excited, and over tired, never a good combination. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the Lightning Kid had his face painted green for the occasion. In the spirit of many other St. Patrick’s Day revellers, he also did a face plant in the village courtyard that left a nice little scrape on his nose.

Day 3 was our last full day at Smuggs; and I promised Shark Boy that we’d visit the pool after skiing. We’d been avoiding it since all winter long, every time we took the Lightning Kid skiing, he’d get a nasty cold – barking coughs, wheezy breathing, you name it. My wife booked a massage at the spa, and I wanted to get a few lengths in the pool; it was officially week 1 of my Half-Iron training program and besides the snowshoeing, skiing, lugging ski equipment and chasing the kids around the fun zone, I hadn’t had any real exercise. I found out to my delight that the pool used a salt water chlorination process, but it was only 20 yards long. Ah well, better than nothing.

After that my wife and I met up for more skiing, but the cold winds were blasting up the hill. We got too cold, too fast, and the wind had also cleaned the hills of snow to a large extent. We did the best we could to enjoy ourselves, but getting inside for lunch was a pleasure that I have to say we dragged out longer than we would have otherwise. We only did 2 runs on Mount Madonna before opting to make the ski trek back to Mount Morse and the Village to pick up the kids. While Shark Boy had been a little resistant to go to a “Ski School” – we shouldn’t have called it that because school means teachers which means rules and orders to follow – he didn’t want it to end and was sad when he found out it was his last day. The instructors were great, and they use a GPS tracking technology (called Flaik) which not only lets them track the kids in case of emergency, but summarizes their runs, you can even map it out from the Flaik website.

One of Shark Boy’s days on skis.

Swimming in the pool ended up being a lot of fun. I had Shark Boy do a swim test to prove he could handle the deep end, which I’m proud to say he passed with flying colours. The Lightning Kid has tubes in his ears, and we got custom earplugs to protect them; this was one of my first times working with them, and I lost them. Three times, but I found them every time, once in the drain filter, once floating nearby, and once in the middle of the pool where I did my best Hasselhoff impression with a daring aquatic rescue (Baywatch reference!). 

We took the kids to the Fun Zone which was next to the indoor pool so their hair could dry a little before going the the Hearth and Candle. It’s a cozy restaurant which would have been nice for a romantic dinner in the basement where the fireplaces are, but the main floor accommodates families beautifully too. I got a chance to try the Vermont chicken which I had missed out on the night before and it was delicious. What I didn’t enjoy as much was the Maple Bacon Manhattan; I blame myself, because it didn’t taste any different than it should, I think I just expected to like it based on the fact that all the individual ingredients were things that I liked.

On Day 4, we weren’t flying out till the afternoon, and Smuggs was nice enough to let us have a late checkout without any extra charges which meant being able to do a few runs as a family. And the Lightning Kid didn’t seem like swimming had caused him to catch a cold! Oddly enough, it was the first time we’d gotten a real look at the beginner’s runs and lifts. Apparently Shark Boy was able to ride the Mogul Mouse lift by himself, and he didn’t like me lifting him up to get on the Village lift; turns out it was a good idea though because those chairs are a little higher and it nearly knocked him down – I managed to snag him in the last second. He actually rode mostly with his mother, because it was my job to get the Lightning Kid on the chairlift. Both my wife and I were nervous at the prospect, but I resolved to simply keep a good hold on him. The lift staff didn’t bat an eyelash as I lined up for the lift.

I got a lift-selfie to mark the occasion

We moved over to make use of the magic carpet and were able to let Shark Boy ski independently while my wife and I got the Lightning Kid to ski unassisted. WHICH HE TOTALLY DID…. for about 6 feet, but still! I got him to put his hands on his knees which is something he’s learned in the soccer program I mentioned earlier. That made his stance perfect with a low centre of gravity. Any time he wasn’t being held up, he screamed, but he did ski independently which was a great moment for us. Another funny moment was when we convinced him to ski without being held, by distracting him and singing “LET IT GO!” (his all-time favourite song from the movie Frozen). We capped off our last day at Smuggler’s Notch as a family of four skiers, and we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

Our shuttle back to Burlington airport had all the info he needed to make sure we were there in a timely fashion and he even gave us a little scenic tour so we could see some of the mountains and learn about what some of the local villages have to offer; Underhill and Jericho Corners are great for hiking, for example.

We had a fairly uneventful flight back, and I think this trip stands out as a good example of how family vacations don’t have to be stressful; there were hair-pulling moments of course, but altogether, we got what we wanted out of the trip.

Tri-ed It Tuesday – Race Recap: Romp 2 Stomp Snowshoe Race

I typed the first part of this post on a Saturday night in a hotel business centre in Collingwood, Ontario.  I was intending to finish writing about the entirety of the Saturday, but the slow net connection and my own exhaustion made it impossible.  As I type this now with borderline frostbitten fingertips, I know I have to break the tale of our crazy Collingwood weekend up into more than one post.  For now, you’ll have to settle for my contribution to the Lakeshore Runner Tri-ed It Tuesday linkup: a recap of our first snowshoe race.

I’ve wanted to take part in a snowshoe race for some time now.  I’ve owned my own snowshoes for over a year, but I haven’t gotten many chances to get proficient with them. This year I missed two chances to take part in snowshoeing events run by Personal Best at Albion Hills.  Not only was the venue close, but vendors were allowing you to try on snowshoes for demonstration purposes, and they had children’s sizes, so I ended up getting Shark Boy all psyched up to, only for us to miss our shot by a few minutes each time.  As a family, we made cross-country skiing the top priority weekend outdoor activity, and snowshoeing kept getting punted.

Before we were married, my wife and I used to love coming up to Collingwood for both cross-country and downhill skiing, and even with two kids, we still try to make the effort.  Knowing that we wanted to make such a weekend happen, and since I found the Romp To Stomp Snowshoe Race (benefitting the fight against Breast Cancer), I had a way to kill two birds with one stone.  All I had to do was pack cross-country ski gear for four people, downhill gear for four people, the Chariot, my snowshoes, plus swimsuits and clothes for an overnight stay into my car…

We’ve had to deal with enough chaos in our life (e.g. the Lightning Kid getting sick in the last minute) that I was unwilling to pre-register; I just have to live with having every plan be tentative.  I had packed the car the night before, but when I got outside on Saturday morning to pull the car out of the garage, I saw it was snowing.  Heavily.  This was going to impact the ideal schedule… not catastrophic, but chaotic as the norm.  After a 2 hour drive, we were passing through Collingwood on the way to Scenic Caves, where the event was being held, and we saw that there was parking for the event in town with shuttles to Scenic Caves.  This didn’t bode well, since we knew we wanted to park there so we’d have access to both the snowshoe event and cross-country ski trails afterwards.  Luckily, the staff let us park in their lot, even though it was off-limits to race participants.

The building housing the registration desk was far from just about everything else, but luckily (again) Shark Boy and I made it in time.  It was a bit of an ordeal filling out at least 3 different forms, and the network connection was too spotty to make a credit card authorization for my $42 (plus tax) registration fee.  Somehow, we still got out with our race bibs pinned to our jackets and I got a demo pair of Tubbs (the main sponsor) snowshoes for Shark Boy, and I still had time to change into my Salomon trail runners and grab my own snowshoes.

The ‘Lil Rompers’ race took place first.  It was a very short out and back of only a few hundred meters; a nice little sprint for the little ones to get their energy out and try out what it was like to run in snowshoes.  Shark Boy did great, and took to snowshoes like a Shark to water (where do you think we get that nickname from?).  He was actually last to cross the finish line, but he was one of the smallest/youngest kids, and there were several who gave up crying.  He always puts on a brave face, but I found out later that he was actually a little upset at coming in ‘last’ and when I spoke to him about it on Sunday night, he also complained of getting snow kicked into his face (which I would also experience at the start of my own race).  I explained about how his not giving up and crossing the finish line made him a hero to me, and it’s one of the things I love about him most.  I hope that’s worth a gold medal to him…

Starting Line

Shark Boy is in the green jacket back there…

Look at the snow fly!

If you see a lot of pink in these pictures it’s because the Romp To Stomp Snowshoe series benefits the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  So in addition to being a lot of fun, they’re also helping out a great cause.

As I lined up for my own race, of course a few nerves kicked in.  I asked some of my fellow participants if they knew what colour our trail (3 km race, there was also a 5 km race and 3 km walk available) was blazed.  Someone pointed out to me that I was wearing a Walk bib as opposed to a race bib.  I needn’t have worried, as there were pink and blue arrows spray painted into the snowbanks and marshals at every possible fork to keep anyone from getting lost.  As we took off, I had only 3 people running in front of me, but their intensity was enough to kick up a good cloud of powder.  As I settled into a pace I thought I could maintain, we got a little spaced out on the trail and I stayed firmly in fourth place.  Scenic Caves is on the Niagara Escarpment, and as such the trails are made to start with a lot of climbing (which is better than ending with a lot of climbing).  I’m familiar with the terrain from cross-country skiing here over the years, but I’m not as competent at pacing myself on snowshoes, and try as I might to climb slowly while still ‘running’ I found myself taking it back to a walk.  I blame peer-pressure, as the other front runners were doing it too, so it only seemed sensible.  The snowshoes have little teeth that make traction a non issue, so every step was efficient and meaningful.

What I noticed about the snowshoe trails (when they deviated from the ski trails) is that they can go into much denser vegetation since there’s less chance of quickly careening off trail into a tree.

Whoever was in first had left the rest behind, but I kept seeing racers 2 and 3 a little ahead, and some of the volunteers even egged me on to try and catch them.  On uphills I felt like I was gaining ground, but on every descent they’d seem to disappear.  I eventually learned that I can lean into a downhill on snowshoes much like when I run normally.

Another way I might have been losing ground was that I stopped to take pictures.  When it came to crossing the big suspension bridge, I simply had to.  It has a great view, and luckily I’m not afraid of heights…
The bridge is 25m above a stream below…

…and 300m above Georgian Bay.

On the final kilometre of the race, I finally began to gain ground on racers 2 and 3 who seemed to be sticking together, with one always a little ahead of the other.  There was one last big climb that I managed to maintain enough intensity on to pass them both.  I still needed to drop back into a walk before the top, but I figure my longer legs kept me ahead on a stride by stride basis.  My only regret about this race was not wearing my heart rate monitor strap; I think it would have been interesting to know exactly how hard I was going.

Once I crossed the finish line, they let me know I came in second place!  Not bad for someone racing in snowshoes for the first time!  I think I heard them announcing some of the podium places for both 3km and 5km racers later on, but I was busy with the family at the time.  We might have been chowing down on Maple Lodge Chicken Dogs which were available for nothing but a donation to Breast Cancer awareness.  They were tasty!  If it wasn’t the chicken dogs, then we were out continuing our adventures on the cross-country ski trails, which will be the first part of Chapter 2 of our Collingwood Adventure. So I’m leaving you with a bit of a cliff hanger… see you next time!

Friday Five: February Goals

I was inspired by Krysten over at Darwinian Fail to write up a series of fitness goals for February (and also, though not as recently, Robyn Baldwin’s Winter Bucket List).  I guess I’m really feeling the flow fitness wise.  Let’s see if I can round this out to the standard Five for Friday, though I expect some inter-dependence in these, if not out-right recursion (that’s a reference for any programming geeks out there).

  • Start implementing the structure of my Half-Iron training plan.  Though I haven’t thoroughly outlined it in this space yet, you might have caught a glimpse of the training plan last weekend.  In the early stages, I’m allowed 30-60 minute spin classes for bike rides (even when more in specified) and some workouts are marked with an asterisk which means I can cross-train in other activities instead of biking or running.  The important thing for me before the official plan kicks off in March, is getting used to the logistics of over an hour of strength training on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as making Tuesdays and Thursdays both Swim and Run days.

  • Snowshoe.  Not only is this a valid form of cross-training mentioned above, but having bought a pair of snowshoes last year, it’s a return on investment.  I’m hoping to do the Tubbs Romp To Stomp this weekend.  I wanted to continue my commute series by snowshoeing to work after the last snowstorm, but it was too cold.  Still, with some initiative, I should be able to fit some snowshoeing in.  (Update: I did 20 minutes worth on Thursday morning… it’s exhausting, especially if you’re doing it on unbroken fresh snow).

  • Combine Weight-lifting and Yoga for Strength.  One of the things I’ve noticed about the training plan is that there’s no room for yoga, and the other is that strength workouts are timed for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I rarely lift weights for more than an hour – in my defence, I tend to structure whole body workouts and execute them in circuits.  Maybe I could learn to space out the sets, do more sets, and make bigger gains, but the truth is I also get bored.  I figure if I stay close to my basic structure which includes split squats, deadlifts, lat pull-downs and bench presses (or my dumbbell doubles time-saver) and vary things by throwing in some extra exercises that I see here and there, especially functional ones like pistol squat modifications, negative phase pull-ups, and handstands, I’ll get good variability and gains.  And of course, I’ll cap the workout off with some yoga flows that will include strength/balance work (crow pose is one I’d like to master).

  • Continue with the Doctor’s Diet I still haven’t written up a comprehensive review of this yet.  Since I’d like to continue the weight loss, I’ll be alternating between the STAT and RESTORE plans which are similar, but the RESTORE is more permissive in its list of fruits and has more (complex, not simple) carbs.  The longer we stick with this the more natural it becomes to adapt our lifestyle to it.  We still lean heavily on the meal plans, but we’ve had (and will continue to have) on the fly substitutions when we’re out and about.  

  • Enjoy the outdoors as a family  I think I can give us an ‘A’ grade on this for the winter season so far, we’ve gone cross-country skiing, I’ve taken Shark Boy skating, and the boys have even fooled around in the snow while I shovel the driveway (they even help shovel for a few minutes before a better offer comes along in the form of the neighbours’ snowbanks).   Not only do I want to keep it up though,  I also want to do even better than we have done.  So far there have been 2 factors that keep us from enjoying the winter outdoors on some days: 1.) No snow.  Snow is what makes winter fun especially for kids; we need it for cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, tobogganing, snowmen, and general fooling around.  There’s not a lot we can do about the actual weather, which brings me to factor number 2.) The cold.  While we do have to think safety first, and some of the days have simply been too cold to avoid frostbite or hypothermia, there have been days where the kids are seemingly fine, but the adults give up the ghost first? Why? Simple, we just put on coats, hats and gloves, whereas the kids have long underwear and more importantly snow-pants on.  Obviously, the answer is for us to put on snow-pants and get down to their level; we’ll probably be warmer playing along than standing there supervising anyway.  We can use our ski-pants, but I’m curious if they have snow-pants for adults…
Do you have any goals for February? Are you getting the most out of winter so far?

Weekend Update

I picked this title because the post will go live on the weekend, and rather than the detailed work (research, references, links, consolidating data)-intensive posts I’d like to do, I’m going to bring us up to speed on some of our latest developments instead.  Try to picture me behind a news desk in a suit, and I’ll try to bring some Saturday Night Live style snark (no special guests though).

In Sickness…

The whole family seems to have gotten sick with a nasty chest cold.  Anything respiratory is always a problem for the Lightning Kid and we’ve had to visit the hospital, the pediatrician and a kids clinic in the last 2 weeks or so.  It’s taken me out of commission too, as the accepted wisdom is you can exercise with a cold that stays above the neck… and this cough was definitely in my chest.  Besides the conventional wisdom, I also was absolutely wrecked by the early afternoon every day.  Having no exercise for a week was nearly enough to make me think any goal I might have for the year might be a pipe-dream.  I guess I can be a little melodramatic that way.  

Marriage Going Downhill (in the best way!)

As a family, sometimes it feels like we just can’t make it through the winter. We want to be healthy, not sick, we want to play in the snow, not stay inside. There have been few periods of snow coverage and yet, it’s still really, really cold so doing things outside with the kids feels impossible. Still, there are bright spots in the overall winter grey: my wife and I took advantage of a University of Waterloo Alumni Ski Day to go to Osler Bluff in Collingwood. Skiing at a private resort is awesome because there are basically no line-ups, and the other skiers you share the hill with are competently skiing in control. The forecast seemed like it would be perfect, and though it was a little colder than expected we had an awesome day (thanks to the kids’ grandparents who watched them – due to the aforementioned illness and a P.A. day, they weren’t in school/daycare), and I captured much of it on Instagram. You follow me on IG, right?

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

Downhill skiing is one of the things we always did as a couple, even before marriage and kids; it’s a great (and fun) way to reconnect.

Less of me to love…

In some good news, the Doctor’s Diet has gone really well, and I’ve won my first DietBet (I won’t know what the winnings are till it’s all tallied up).  I’m down 13 lbs since the holidays! Reviewing and recapping the Doctor’s Diet (STAT and RESTORE phases) is one of the more work-intensive posts I’m meaning to do, but I want to go down another 7 lbs and maintain from there, so I guess I’ll still have the opportunity to discuss this with you guys.  (For my prior experience with DietBet, see here).

Over a Barrel(man)

I’ve figured out that the Barrelman Half-iron race is for me this year.  I’m even using it as a basis for one of my passwords so that I’ll be reminded of my goal every time I type it in.  Remember when I said I was trying to get more into positive thinking and vision boards and that sort of thing? Well, I grabbed my copy of Gale Bernhardt’s book Training Plans for Multisport Athletes and I’m going to follow the 27 week plan to a Half-Iron.  While formally reviewing the plan is a post for another day, I like it because it includes very regular strength training which I think will not only improve performance and keep me less prone to injury, but also help me keep weight off (which can play into the first two factors, too).  I think I need a long, long plan to take my time getting into Half-Iron shape; I’m 41 years old and will be 42 at the time of the race, so I need to be gentle with myself, and a longer plan with a slow transition leaves a greater margin for error for when things in my life go off the rails.

Getting excited about this sort of thing is nice; I started punching the plan details into a spreadsheet, then I started dressing the spreadsheet up for better visualization and comprehensibility, which is weird for me, because I never bother to format anything to make it more pleasant to look at.  Still, it’s looking good.
In fact, this kind of excitement can lead me to make some rash decisions; I joined a gym! There’s a new L.A. Fitness close to me and they have a very nice pool, daycare, tons of treadmills, a gorgeous spin studio, etc, and they were able to meet me at the monthly budget I wanted to spend (money was the reason I left GoodLife).  A full review will come up… you guessed it, in a future post.  While the on-site gym will still be my go-to for most workouts, it’ll be nice to have access to a pool without being hemmed in by lane-swim times at public pools (to say nothing of the overcrowding).  We’ll see if I rue the day I joined…

Let it Snow(shoe)

And of course, I have to close off by mentioning Albion Hills Conservation Area. We love it for cross-country skiing, and it looks like they’ll be open this weekend for skiing. The last time we were there, I wanted to try getting a quick snowshoe in, and I left them there. Luckily one of the staff located them and put them aside for me to pick up…. I haven’t made it back there yet since we didn’t have snow last weekend. We’ll go up on Sunday; which is the day of the Personal Best Bare Bones Snowshoe Race which I’d been hoping to train for by practising with my snowshoes. The race starts at 9:30, so I don’t know if I’ll participate of if we’ll stick to just skiing… packing up the entire family and ski gear does not enhance my punctuality!

That’s my news (and I am…. OUTTA HERE!) Who’s your favourite Weekend Update host/anchor? I think Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler was the best combo.

Half-Marathon Training Weekly Recap: The Write-Off

Due to the capricious nature of cold and flu season, I missed running and cross-training from Monday to Thursday this week.  I don’t want to bore you with the details, but nights without sleeping sabotage both evening workouts and early mornings, and attending doctor’s appointments and such takes out my regular lunch slot too.

I tried to make up a little by running an indoor duathlon today.  I wanted to hit my tempo run from the plan, but I shorted the warm-up from a mile to half a mile before hitting the main tempo section.  Skipping the cool down, I jumped straight into a 40 minute spin class, then did another mile on the treadmill using a ‘random hill’ program in the Merrell Trail Glove/Minimalist shoes, to try and focus a little on form.

I haven’t figured out how I want to tweak this weekend’s schedule to make up for last mileage, and I’m also nervous about a race I signed up for before the Chilly Half Marathon… I’m doing a snowshoe race!  It’s going to be the Yeti Snowshoe Series ‘Sport’ Course (5k) at Blue Mountain.  The Race Calendar Page has been updated accordingly.

In the lead-up to planning this race, and signing up for it, my wife asked me: “When was the last time you snowshoed?” (I love that she didn’t ask me if I’d EVER snowshoed…). The answer? A sheepish “Junior High”.  I’m fully prepared to make a fool of myself on this event, yet according to this video from Canadian Running Magazine, as long as I’m careful, I should find myself getting the hang of it.  Starting off slowly and carefully is always standard operating procedure in a race.

I’ve chosen to use this race as a 5k ‘virtual run’ for a cause started by Lisa of RunWiki to help ‘Kyle’s Krusade’:

Kyle’s Krusade Virtual 5K, 10K and Half Marathon is a race anyone, anywhere can participate in. You can walk, run, push a stroller, do it with a group or by yourself. The registration for this event is $10 a distance, you can sign up for one, two, or all three distances. 100% of your entry fee will go to The Talbert Family Foundation’s Kyle’s Krusade fund. In turn, to assist with the exorbitant costs associated with having a child with Cancer, they give 100% of their donations directly to the O’Connor family. – From the RunWiki.org website.

Please consider doing a run (and donating of course) in February to help the O’Connor Family.