#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?

Tri-ed It Tuesday: Gear Corner Screws in my Shoes

In the past, I’ve used Yaktrax or another traction device that you strap onto the outside of your shoes to run safely in the snow and ice.  Some of the feedback I’ve gotten from the review and asking around is that putting screws into the soles of an old pair is a way to make sure you don’t slip, without having to muck around with an extra piece of equipment, and it’s cheap too.

I filed this away somewhere in my brain for at least a year before Jessica from Laces and Lattes reminded me of it and provided this link with instructions for the best implementation (via Skyrunner).

Skyrunner prescribes hexagonal sheet metal screws, and says 3/8″ isn’t too long for most shoes.  I wasn’t able to find 1/2″ screws, so I figured I would have to gamble.  I’d be putting them into my old Salomon’s which have served me well, and don’t owe me anything.  Being a trail running shoe, they’re already well suited to more extreme conditions and they’re probably the best shoe I own for running in the snow, regardless of what kind of traction assistance I’m getting (if any).  Still, the notion of these screws being in my shoes with the sharp ends pointing up made me nervous; one of the challenges I’ve found about winter running isn’t the snow or ice, per se, it’s the mixture of plowed sidewalk (running on cement) to sudden transition of ice and/or snow.  With the Yaktrax I found running on the plowed sidewalk to be like getting light acupuncture… I was worried it wouldn’t be so “light” with the screws!

I’m glad I had a drill with the right attachments; I wasn’t afraid of using some muscle/elbow grease to get the screws in, but the rubber makes it hard to get a hole started.  While the instructions mentioned having screws numbering upwards of 18, but that seemed like overkill.  I put 12 into each shoe, and I managed to be almost symmetrical on each shoe, but not quite.  

On Thursday, I took them out for a run.  Or more accurately a “Runch” – when you run on your lunch break.  Challenge #1: not wearing shoes with hard metal protrusions on the soles on any delicate surfaces like the change room floor (this goes double for my floors at home) on the way out.  I waited till I was on a rug by the exit before I put the shoes on.

The first surface I ran/walked on was the plowed walkway near the office.  To my surprise, the acupuncture feeling was less with the screws than I remember it being with the Yaktrax.  I did notice when I progressed onto the sidewalk on my way to enter the Etobicoke Creek Trail that I was getting some poking on the side of my foot, right in the space between my big toe and the ball of my foot.  Not stabby pain, but not comfortable either.

Once I was on the snowy trail, the discomfort went away entirely.  I couldn’t feel the screws at all.  That’s both the good news and the bad news.  I started off slower, with the intention of really making sure I warmed up properly and slowly in addition to wanting a negative split on the run.  On the way back, if I pushed the pace a little, my feet slipped backwards on each step.  If the snow had been packed down unevenly, my feet could slide laterally to the edges of the cleared/tramped down space of the path.  I made the final climb off the trail back out to the road without any extra traction at all.  It wasn’t totally slippery, but on the other hand, the Salomons have a good enough tread that I don’t think I would have slipped any more than I did had I not installed the screws in the first place.

I can practically hear proponents of this method now: I didn’t put enough screws in, or by placing some of them in between treads, I minimized their impact.  That may be true, but given that at least one screw was hurting my foot, I think I was right not to put too many in, and many of the screws were placed on the flatter areas of the sole, and did not provide any perceived improvement.
At least I got to do some of that winter outdoor Yoga all the cool kids are doing…

On the plus side, the screws stayed in place and I didn’t have to manage any extra bucking or unbuckling in the cold; when I was inside, I took off the shoes, and that’s it.  The screws didn’t cost much, but they cost more than nothing, and nothing is seemingly the value I got out of them.  Just my two cents. And now, I think I deserve a medal, because it’s really difficult to write ‘screws’ that many times without turning it into a dirty joke… I mean, it’s really hard (that’s what she said). *Whew*

Do you run in the snow with a little extra traction help? If so, what kind?

Friday Five: Tips For Active Family Living

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ll have notice that our family life is an active one.  We run races (with a Chariot stroller) as a family.  We take ski vacations, as a family (yes, toddlers on skis).  Triathlons and duathlons are not just for adults.  Bike rides, cross-country skiing with both kids in tow.  One of my earliest posts (and one of my favourites) is about combining training time with family time – that might be one of the central themes of the Iron Rogue Blog in its entire 7 year history.  I say all this in the preface, so you’ll take me at my word when I say might know a thing or two about keeping whole family moving.

I was inspired to write this post after a crazy weekend in Collingwood full of skiing (downhill and cross-country),  and swimming too.  It took some time for me to crystalize the most important things I’ve learned into a list of 5 lessons, but here goes.

  1. Leave it to the last minute.

This one sounds counter-intuitive, as planning and organization are the keys to stress-free living, right?  And when it comes to races (and booking travel, etc.) earlier means cheaper.  Still, nothing is more expensive than paying for an event you can’t attend at all.  I once DNS’ed (did not start) the Bracebridge Triathlon because the Lightning Kid got sick.  This year, we wanted to go to Collingwood for a weekend, and I wanted to do the Tubbs Romp 2 Stomp snowshoe race, but with it being a brutal winter (that might make the drive difficult, or be too cold for outdoor fun), with a brutal cold/flu season to go with it, we knew it might not happen, so we waited till a couple of days before where it seemed like it was going to be OK to leave home, then we booked the hotel and I registered at the race site (online registration was already closed) and hoped for the best (see #4).
  1. Be Flexible (WYCWYC*)

Why are you out there?  Fresh air, fun, and exercise.  Those are the reasons, those are the goals, and the actual activity/sport you are trying to do are just the means to an end.  When we put the Lightning Kid on skis, we only hope he’ll try to move his feet a little, or if we’re at the hill, one single run (him riding between my legs) is a victory. (WYCWYC=What You Can, When You Can)

My wife and I used to volunteer with the Ontario Track 3 Ski program for children with special needs (everything from cognitive/developmental delays like autism to physical impairments like cerebral palsy), and the motto was always “first safety, then fun, then learning.”  While we ostensibly there to teach the kids to ski, sometimes you couldn’t really get that far with them, and if rolling down a snowbank was what they wanted to do, then that’s what would take place that day.  You would be connecting with them, and they with physical activity in the outdoors, and sometimes that would lead to better chances at learning the actual sport later on.  It’s not really different for any children, especially when they’re very young.  You have to take what you can get today, and hope it pays off tomorrow, which brings me to point #3…
  1. Consider the Long Game

I’ve taken the Lightning Kid out in the Kayak, and traversed a total distance of about 200m.  It was still worth it, because he got exposed to boating, and I got a little, tiny bit of exercise.

When we went cross-country skiing last year, we had some outings where the time spent on skis was all of 30 minutes, and that’s with about 90 minutes of driving each way; I don’t even want to get into the time spent packing the car, unpacking at the trail-head, re-packing at the trail-head, and unpacking at home.  This year, though, we’re lasting longer (especially Shark Boy who’s gotten faster and stronger, completing some 2 km trails himself).

At very young ages, it’s hard to know how much they remember, but somehow the routine of getting out of the regular routine pays dividends and sticks into their character makeup later on.  

It goes for more than just the kids, it goes for you too.  It takes a second to lose your patience; how long does it take to find your patience.  Fairly long, I’ll bet.  Being patient has never been a strong suit of mine, and when I found out one of my children was going to have special needs, it became a real fear that my lack of patience would keep me from being a good father to him.  I honestly think I’m getting better at waiting for the kids to learn what I’m trying to teach (manners, reading, physical education).  You just have to believe that it will pay off; you have to…

  1. Use Your Optimism Muscle

This past weekend, I had to take care of both boys myself.  Well, like any red-blooded adult who is in control of their life, I ran to my mother for help.  We went to her place on Saturday afternoon and spent the night as well as all day Sunday there.  There are two ways I can relate the events of the weekend.

      • Both boys were sick with nasty colds, and I had one too, feeling feverish and being nearly unable to swallow on Friday night, meaning…
      • I barely slept between taking care of their various discomforts and my own
      • We didn’t get outside much
      • The kids demonstrated that they still don’t listen no matter how many times they’re told, to the point that their doting grandmother even noticed that their behaviour was lousy


      • I got the Lightning Kid to his soccer program and Shark Boy to his dance lesson on time.
      • The kids and their grandmother got to spend time together/I got to see my mother.
      • The kids and Shark Boy’s Godfather got to spend time together
      • We got to enjoy my mother’s wonderful cooking
      • I got to do a favour for my wife, who totally deserved the weekend away from the kids
      • I got more bonding time with the kids, especially cuddling up with the Lightning Kid during his nap (while I read a few chapters on my e-reader)
      • It honestly gave me a sense of achievement to have gotten through it all (parenting is the ultimate endurance sport)

While the weekend doesn’t typify one of our family outdoor adventures (we only got outside long enough to shovel her driveway), it’s a good demonstration of how your attitude re-frames the experience.

  1. Sacrifice

There have been many times we’ve come back from an outing, tuckered out, and the day waning, and I’ve thought: “I guess I’m not going to clean the garage again”, or whatever random task I’ve equated with being a real adult who is in control of their life.  On balance, though, those tasks are unlikely to cause me any deathbed regrets.  Taking care of yourself, getting outside and spending time with your family are the things you’ll regret not doing.  And again, this is a two way street – your kids might not make it to that classmate’s birthday party that they were invited to, because they were out with you.  It might not have been their first choice to go out biking/skiing/spelunking with you, but as parents, we make healthier choices for their diets, activities (both mental and physical), and everything else; what are they going to remember more fondly on their deathbed (sorry to be morbid… let’s just say they live to be 999), fun times in the great outdoors, moving their young, healthy bodies with loved ones, or a bunch of cake and wrapping paper to spoil a classmate whose name they won’t remember anyway.

Between increases in youth obesity, and wanting to limit ‘screen time’, many families are looking to make fitness a family affair, as Victoria Freile writes.  As I discussed the topic of this post with my wife, she pointed out how much more we have to learn; smart cookie.  Forging an active family life is an on-going, iterative process.  Some, like Katie Arnold of Outside Magazine’s column Raising Rippers are at the more extreme end of the spectrum, while some families would probably be happy to take regular family walks.  When you start early with your children, they absorb it easily and fitness becomes part of their lifestyle; inactive adults need to learn this like a new skill.  While how well my pants fit has fluctuated, I’m lucky in that I never had to figure out how to get active.  I was raised in such a way that exercise was as natural a habit as washing.  It’s a gift I hope to pass on to my kids, and hopefully the generations that come after I’m long gone.

Hopefully, some of you reading this will be able to use it to make your family life more active, and then I’ll have passed on the gift even further.

How does your family get active together today?  Are you looking to do better?

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.

Tri-ed It Tuesday: My Experience With Hot Yoga at Infinite Yoga

I’m participating in Lakeshore Runner‘s Tri-ed It Tuesday Link-up.  Head over there to check out other great posts about new experiences!

The cold weather, a somewhat lighter schedule, and the off-season (from triathlon training) made me want to try Hot Yoga either at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015.  For some, it is really the ultimate workout (an actual quote I heard at the office).  The heat makes it easier to get deeper into the stretches, and you sweat more, releasing toxins from your body.  I figured I’d be OK as long as I pre-hydrated and kept a water bottle nearby.

Infinite Yoga had a great introductory offer of $25 for a week’s unlimited classes.  I spoke to the director Karla, and she told me about the water they had available (no charge) to fill your bottle that is clean, but room temperature.  She compared drinking ice cold water in hot yoga to throwing water on a cooking grease fire.  I’m glad I listened, as the water felt cool when I drank it in class, and it was refreshing enough.

I managed to fit in 4 classes in the 7 days, all from the Signature Hot Series.  Here are a few notes I took:

  1. Day 1: Evening of Tuesday January 13th – Started off in corpse pose, then moved forward with core warm-up (variations on leg raises) into a fairly standard Yoga flow.  Lots of downward dog.
  2. Day 2: Noon of Thursday January 15th – More challenging.  My shoulder was bothering me, and the instructor did well to get us to engage our lats on many poses as well as stretch the shoulders out with eagle arms in various pose variations.  The instructor was very hands on and had great ways to make me aware of which muscles could and should be engaged on all the movements.  I struggle to keep my palms upward when lying in corpse pose – it doesn’t feel comfortable – but she managed some kind of adjustment that made it so much easier? Who’d have thought that I can’t do “lying down like a dead body” properly.  Still, the discomfort of the heat made it difficult to find the peace and stillness that you want at the meditative part of the end of the lesson.  (Wore a Hoorag as a headband for the first half).
  3. Day 3: Noon of Friday January 16th. I struggled with side planks and had to keep a knee on the ground.  I use the blocks a lot and generally adopt the easiest, most beginner friendly pose variations just to get by.  
  4. Day 4: Noon of Monday January 19th.  Warrior II pose into a side bend.  Many, many Vinyasas (plank to upward dog or cobra, back to downward facing dog), even as a rest/restoration pose.  Shoulders felt very sore, even during simple things like the Warrior II pose.  My legs seemed to hold up better in poses like chair, and the Warrior poses when I’d load my weight onto the front leg, which is odd considering they were tired from cross-country skiing and running on the weekend.

Overall, I came across three different kinds of challenges:

  • New Poses like the inverted (downward) dog, which were unfamiliar and I needed to get used to.
  • Old poses that I had to enter from new positions/angles/situations e.g. Dancers pose starting from being bent over rather than standing.
  • Heat effects on the ability to hold a pose (a question of muscular endurance, or mental endurance?) and breathing. I needed blocks on poses I didn’t think I would. I couldn’t hold poses as long as I expected, and my shoulders or hamstrings would start to quiver well before I thought they should.

That last one sums up Hot Yoga for me. If you went running with a 40 pound backpack on your back, you would burn more calories and get stronger as a runner for the same time spent running, no question. The problem isn’t just that it would be uncomfortable, it’s also that it would be frustrating to not be able to run as fast or as far, due to the fact that you’ve purposely made it harder for yourself. I found every session to be a struggle, and I guess I figured it would get easier. I have to admit not needing blocks on the last day might have been a good sign. Though it was humbling to have to practice Yoga at a level lower than I would expect for myself given prior experience, Yoga is forgiving that way – it isn’t competitive, and it makes it easy to accept whatever circumstances you happen to be in on a given day.

I do think that I put some good strength work into my shoulders and legs that should help them stay injury proof and help with endurance and stability. Fitting Yoga into a triathlon training schedule is advisable, but difficult; at least Hot Yoga gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of time (and sweat!) spent.
I took this picture in stealth mode, I figured photograpy might be frowned upon.

Infinite Yoga is a simple and clean facility. Nothing too fancy in the change-rooms (lockers would have been nice), though there are showers and a filtration machine on the water tap.

The hot room is large and spacious with adjustable lighting, so they can dim for the meditative beginning and ending to each session. The lobby has a warm, welcoming atmosphere that gets you in the right mood for yoga.

Iron Rogue Finds a Cure For Winter Running at Tribe Fitness #JoinTheTribe

After having complained about winter running, I was feeling a little painted into a corner… was I really going to give it up? No, but without a change in perspective, I would be locked into dwelling on the negatives and wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself.  Enter an unusual set of circumstances (and a little initiative on my part).

It was shortly before Valentines and my wife and I had our plans already locked down – we were going to see a production of Alice In Wonderland that benefitted Mary Centre.  That was Thursday, so when an opportunity to be kid-free for Wednesday came up, she wanted a girls night out.  While a guys night out would have suited me fine too, they tend to end in the wee hours of the morning, and I wanted to pick my kids up and have them home and in bed before 9:00 at the latest, so I looked for other opportunities.  

One of the things I find have to miss out on are group exercise classes and lessons, since they tend to be held sometime in the period that is usually dinner and/or the kids’ bedtime.  Not this Wednesday!  I ended up picking Tribe Fitness, I believe having originally heard about it on Robyn Baldwin’s blog.  They have been doing training runs on Wednesday night, and some of the group are using this to get ready for Around the Bay or other bigger races.

All I was expecting was a fun, social 5 km run, but I got so much more! After struggling to find a parking space (which ended up being illegal, I didn’t discover the parking ticket till the next day!), I caught up with the tail end of the group and was warmly greeted by Heather Gardner who runs the group.  The warm greeting I got in person was to be expected after the one I got on Twitter when I mused about maybe turning up that night.

OK, tweeps… I have free time early Wednesday evening. Who thinks I should go to the @Tribe_Fitness 5k run?
— Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) February 10, 2014

We ran a little around the area surrounding Canoe Landing Park

First up was Biathlon.  Instead of skiing and shooting a rifle, we ran a sprint lap and took up to 3 throws to hit Hulk-hand targets with a snowball (I made a successful hit on my second lap, but otherwise came up empty).  Taking the throws counted as recovery between sprint laps of the park.

Next up was Luge (though it reminded me more of Bobsled).  I was on a team of 3, and as the biggest member, I didn’t ride, but only pushed my teammates on a crazy-carpet.  I think I made my biggest contribution for the uphill segment, when we switched riders for the way back, I had trouble keeping up and ended up letting go, rather than contribute to bad steering and crashing.  Luckily there was none of that, though there was plenty of laughter.

The last event was a “speed-skating” relay, or more simply, a relay around the park.  All 3 events were great ways to introduce a little of the dreaded speed work (which burn more of those hibernation calories) into the evening, and what’s more, they made them fun.

The group headed indoors for warm drinks, but I had to take my leave and pick up my boys, but I’d heavily recommend to any level of runner in the Toronto area to try and make it out to one of these events, or any other that Tribe Fitness puts on.

The Problem With Winter Running

This season has been a little different.  The weather has been unexpectedly cold, but you knew that.  It’s gotten so that there are now complaints about all the complaints about how cold it is. And I’m about to throw another complaint in, but maybe it should go into a different pile.

I live in Canada, and I like living in Canada… frankly (going back far enough) I had other choices.  This is my home and I embrace its strengths and weaknesses.  It is my belief, or I should say my family’s belief, that if you want to survive this country year-round, you have to embrace what winter has to offer.  Tobogganing, skating, skiing (both nordic and downhill), building snowmen, snow-shoeing… it’s all good.   And by that rationale, I try to include my running training in my love of fresh air in the outdoors, and like any good blogger, hope that my example will inspire others…. it’s not that bad out there!

Still, I’m starting to hate winter running… but it’s not the cold or the snow.  Really.  The cold air doesn’t seem to bother my lungs as much as everyone expects, and the rest of me gets protected by layers.  I like the lower impact of running on snow, and the muscular challenge of trudging through it.  So where’s the hate?

The logistics of it all.  Getting dressed in the appropriate layers probably takes 15 minutes, though frankly, I’m afraid to time it – it might break my heart.  I really, really have to remember to put on my heart rate monitor strap first, because it’s too hard to slip it on after I’ve put on 3 layers.  Remembering all the winter gear has created some situations I wouldn’t have expected.
While effectively preparing all the winter clothes I need for running such as:

  • hat
  • gloves
  • facemask
I have forgotten the following things at one point or another:
  • one running shoe (yes really)
  • earphones
  • water for my water bottle (twice)
  • pants
And of all the equipment you’re bringing and wearing, heaven forbid if any of it is not up to snuff…

  • Brought light cycling gloves = nearly got frostbite
  • My original facemask used to hamper my field of vision (not good because I’m having to run in areas with cars and traffic more than I usually do) so I bought a replacement
  • …which didn’t allow enough airflow for me to exhale properly.  I spent my run feeling like I was gagged by kidnappers or something, and for the air to get out, the sides expanded like the gills on a fish which was just plain weird.
Not my happy face
I haven’t quite closed the door on winter running.  Due to a funny set of circumstances, I will have a little bit of free evening time, so I’m hooking up with Tribe Fitness for a group 5k run in Toronto on Wednesday night… misery loves company, right?

I’m putting this into the #BestFoot Linkup over at Darwinian Fail… join us there, OK?

Multi-Sport Mind: Biathlon

With the Sochi Winter Olympic Games right around the corner, I thought it might be fun to learn about an often overlooked winter multi-sport event: the Biathlon.

The word biathlon is of Greek origin and means “two tests”.  In this case, the two tests are skiing and shooting.  The sport has its roots in snow-covered Scandinavia where an important survival skill was the ability to hunt on skis with a rifle slung over the shoulder.

A form of biathlon appeared at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 as a team event called the military ski patrol.  The military ski patrol would also be a demonstration event at St. Moritz 1928, Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 and St. Moritz 1948, the same year the rules for biathlon were standardized.  Biathlon would make its official Olympic debut at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley.  Women would compete in Olympic biathlon for the first time at Albertville 1992.  There are now five events each for men and women as well as a mixed relay which will make its debut at Sochi 2014.
The sport makes unique demands on biathletes’ bodies.  After skiing fast and hard in cross-country free technique, biathletes must calm themselves to take accurate and controlled shots at targets 50 metres away.  The target size depends on whether the athlete is in the prone or standing position.  In the prone position, the hit area is 45 mm while in the standing position the hit area is 115 mm.  (source)

I find that last part interesting, because cross-country skiing is an endurance sport (and a tough one at that), the other half of the sport demands an entirely different skill set.  Mental focus, hard-eye coordination and such are really hard to achieve when your heart is pounding its way out of your chest (I used to have a video game in the early PC days called Winter Games; in the biathlon the targeting sight used to bounce up and down faster depending on how hard you had skied).  Missing targets incurs time penalties, so you can undo the hard work done by fast skiing.
I’I’ve noticed that there isn’t much cross-country skiing going on in Southern Ontario due to lack of consistent snow, so adding the complication and expenses of firearms and the safety protocols doesn’t make the sport very accessible to local youth, though having seen youth in training at Highlands Nordic in Duntroon makes me hope that things are different in Central and Northern Ontario.
I’m not a youth, but the responsibility of storing a firearm safely still makes my interest in biathlon purely academic (but if I did want to get certified, I’d go to Guide To Game).  It got me thinking, what if you substituted a bow (and arrows) for a rifle?  I’d feel a little safer about that… I think the potential for accidents with a bow is probably a lot less.  Well somebody already came up with Bowathlon it turns out… only they’ve subbed cross-country running for skiing.  The other problem is that the site hasn’t been updated in over 10 years, but I still like knowing there are other people pursuing the Multi-sport Mind out there…

Have tried Biathlon? Would you? What about Bowathlon? Any other crazy combinations you could come up with?