Training for a 5K without running

My February fitness challenge is to run a 5K.

Running, without stopping, and finishing under 40 minutes. My first 5K of the year was the Resolution Run on New Year’s Day and I finished in 43 minutes.  Okay, so maybe upping the time to 40 minutes isn’t much of a challenge… maybe 35 minutes.

Thirty five minutes will be crazy regardless, because this isn’t a straightforward treadmill 5K. This is outdoors, in the winter, in Canada. You know, where -30 C is pretty common. It’s a trail run.  There are hills.  There will be snow.  As well, it is a sort of participatory event… it’s the Dead Cold Run with GoT-esque White Walkers chasing the warm-blooded runners.

Hey – I need motivation to keep moving.  Zombies will do it.

The only catch with my newly inspired goal is the training regime.  The run is 26 days away, on Feb 22.  On Feb 3, my gym membership expires, and because I bought my brother a snazzy birthday present last week, I kinda spent my fun money.  So, between Feb 3 and pay day, which is Feb 10, I need to work out without a gym.

So, I can run from today to Feb 3, right?  Wrong.  My sports bra has become uncomfortably loose, and there is NO WAY I am running on the treadmill without proper support. (If I end up getting out the duct tape, I will be sure to let you know).  So, Feb 10 is the “big day” where I can buy a sports bra, renew my membership and start really running. (Is that enough time?? I have no idea)

P.S. Winter is still here

P.S. Winter is still here

In the mean time, I have to figure out a beneficial training plan.  Training for a 5K run without… running.

Here’s what I’ve got so far while I have the gym membership pre Feb 10: incline treadmill, swimming, tabata, rock bottoms class, zumba.

Here’s what I’ve got for my 7-day stretch of no gym: river valley stairs, medicine ball exercises, squats & sit ups & push ups (oh my!) and any other body weight exercise that will elevate my heart rate.

After that I can launch into some quick fix couch to 5K solution for the remaining 12 days prior to the run…

Easy to sit here and write all this.  Actually have to get to it…and cram it all in.  Here’s to a new goal! Woot!

Embracing routine

I loved being in the mountains, but I missed my little “health” routine.

Oh my gosh – words of a stodgy middle-aged person??

My 0600 hrs gym workouts. The ability to drink as much water as I need to without worrying about the midnight run to the outhouse. Having a choice about the food I was eating. (What a whiner I am…)

I feel super duper accomplished to have “done” Skoki in the winter on snowshoes.  I ache for the mountains on a regular basis, and it totally was amazing to be there for a long weekend.  But it wasn’t enough.  And now I need a new anchor – a new goal to shoot for. Am thinking about this now… must come up with a fresh, awesome, hard goal.  That requires training. Something short term, something long term.

In the mean time, excited to be back to my little routines, I made a different smoothie this morning.  It was a “Cake Batter Smoothie” with cottage cheese, vanilla almond milk, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, a few drops of almond extract, some vanilla extract, ice and a banana.  It wasn’t too bad, but it didn’t have anything on my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie

How am I going to live today in order to create the tomorrow I’m committed to?  ~Anthony Robbins

Top 5 things to do at a backcountry lodge in the winter

Happily arriving at Skoki Lodge all in one piece the intrepid snowshoe adventurers – that would be Jill and myself – now had two days to kill.  Sounds terrible when it’s put that way, but given that the journey was indeed the destination, there was now the matter of entertaining oneself in the backcountry.

I hadn’t really given it much thought as to what we’d get up to.  Summer would be easy – there are dozens of day hikes and places to explore.  Winter?  Hmmmm.  Despite my efforts to be healthy and outdoorsy, I’m not sure if I wanted to see my snowshoes again after the 11 km, 2 pass crossing endeavour to get there.

Luckily, R&R comes in a variety of forms in the backcountry.  Here are the top five:

5. Day tripping.  Put those snowshoes or skis back on and explore the area.  Skoki staff spend time each morning with guests offering suggestions or directions on where to go depending on skill, ability and time you’d want to spend out in the backcountry that day. Admittedly, we took a short venture out to the meadows chasing the winter sun for tanning opportunities but ended up drinking Baileys in the shade and sinking up to our waists when we went off-trail.

4. Add a friend.  You’re bound to have one or two things in common with your fellow inmates at the lodge.  Start with, “So, you like to ski…”  Break open the whiskey, rustle up a board game (being completely unplugged from mobile devices and the Internet, it’s time to go back to your roots.  Scrabble, Monopoly, Charades, strip Poker, etc.), read some of the ancient novels left behind by other hikers, or tickle the ivories on the old piano.

3. Stargazing.  The unbelievably clear night skies offer up stunning views of the constellations and the Milky Way.  Bundle up with a blanket outside or at least take a quick glance upwards on way to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

2. Napping.  There is nothing sweeter than an afternoon nap, unfettered by duty, chore or responsibility.  Slide under the feather duvet and drift into another world. It’s like getting your life back. Should you be travelling with a significant other, napping could take on a whole other slant.

1. Eating & drinking.  No need for dehydrated food or protein bars on this holiday… backcountry chefs create the most delicious fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Don’t count the calories, you’ll be burning off that beef tenderloin, mushroom risotto and gingerbread cake & toffee sauce when you’re…stargazing.

Brain vs. mountain


I lived. Am here to write about it.

Jill and I arrived in Lake Louise super stoked about snowshoeing out to Skoki Lodge. Woohoo – January challenge is in da howse!  After checking in at the Lake Louise Ski Area reception and cramming into the gondola with our packs, snowshoes, poles and three other boarders that we squashed against the windows, we made it up and over the mountain to Temple Lodge, a log cabin restaurant/bar on the back side of the ski hill.

For some reason, the directions from Temple to the Skoki Lodge trail head just didn’t seem logical. We ended up screwing around for a bit looking for the trail head, and it was in the that moment… that exciting rush of “we’re going to do this!”… that I freaked out. Silently.

My pack was heavy: “better safe than sorry” had been our packing motto. The air was thin. Bloody thin. There were skiers & boarders zipping by us from every direction. Lots of curious stares. The day was already passing quickly (gotta go! gotta go!) which meant the later we started, the later we got there (aka in the dark). My glasses were fogging. The one night stand I had with Rock Creek Dry Cider wasn’t offering any strength to fall back on. And we couldn’t find the trail head.

Turns out that the little sign indicating the way to Skoki is about 100 metres up Larch run #143. We marched – vertical nightmare – up that damn ski run and every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. My legs felt like lead. My lungs could barely suck in enough air. Sweat dripped from my brow as I stood heaving in front of the sign that pointed to a pretty little path through the trees.

At that point, I didn’t care. Not a bit. I took a photo of the sign for posterity, and shoved my camera back in the pack. Jill lead the way, and I followed, feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t keep up with her and I couldn’t breathe. I quietly suffered. Or maybe I wasn’t quiet. I might have bitched and moaned but I don’t remember.

All I know is that it was HARD.  It made every bit of “training” I did seem like a joke. I was sad.

He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.

~J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings

At that point it became very much an individual sport. I locked into my own world and just walked. One snowshoe in front of the other. When my heart hammered too excessively I stopped and I took long steady breaths, and then started up again when ready. (I felt awesome standing still – I just had trouble with the moving part).

The trail gradually looped up through the evergreens and out into an alpine meadow bathed in sunshine and gloriously warm temperatures for January. I caught up to Jill and we talked to passersby (uber fit skiers, dogs with little jackets) and soaked up the sun as we stood in the middle of the trail eating beef jerky, cheese and energy shots (mmm… Salted Caramel GU).  This break came around 4 kms into the snowshoe.

This was my first experience of athleticism being a mind game  as much as a physical ability.  I calmed down, I accepted what I could do today, and then I did it.  Wasn’t a race, it was a marathon.  It truly did become the journey over the destination.  My body no longer exhibited signs of fight or flight, and I just kept moving slow and steady.

Following the gradual climb to the alpine meadow, we began the short ascent of Boulder Pass, winding up a fairly steep route between boulders capped like massive snow mushrooms. At the top of the pass, frozen Ptarmigan Lake stretched out in front of us with the trail  leading up and over Deception Pass at the far end.

This was my moment of joy.

Not because the lake crossing guaranteed absolutely no incline, but because there was something delightful in front of me.  A couple of the people who’d passed us earlier on the trail were now skimming across the icy surface on their snowboards attached to giant, brightly coloured kites.  Kiteboarding!  How awesome was that?  The thought that people were willing and able to hike into the backcountry in the dead of winter to a frozen lake at several thousand feet above sea level for FUN… So cool. I loved it.

We motored across the windblown lake at a good clip and began the slog up Deception Pass.  One. Two. Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight.  Stop.  Repeat.  That was all I could manage.  Tired?  A bit.  But just not able to physically do any more than that.  Not far behind us was a father-son duo also headed out to Skoki for the night.  Climbing the pass on their backcountry touring gear proved to be challenging for them as well.

Deception Pass rewarded us with stunning views from the top, looking over Skoki Valley and the peaks beyond that would be our backdrop for the next few days.  We had only a few more kilometres to go before reaching the lodge, and all were downhill!  We stopped for a celebratory swig (or three) of peppermint schnapps.  Papa Bear and his son swooped past us on their skis as we continued to snowshoe down into the valley.  Gravity blessed them with a time advantage on the flip side and they made it to the lodge a whole hour before us. (Not that it mattered…but Papa Bear pointed that out to us over dinner later that night…)

We arrived at Skoki Lodge, about 5 hours and 15 minutes from the time we began.  A bit weary on my part, but pleased.  And totally within the suggested travel time to Skoki of “three to five hours”.  Overcoming my own mind seemed to truly be the biggest challenge.  Silly brain.

The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Glitter nail polish – is there an age cap?

I’m sitting in my bathrobe surrounded by piles of things that need to go into my pack and duffel, and I’m painting my nails with rather fetching tiny globes of blue & silver from a bottle of NYC “Disco Inferno” polish.

I needed a break from the frantic pack-a-thon. And because I’ve never been a girly girl and tend to associate getting your nails done with important events, such as weddings or tea at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, I thought this special going-to-the-mountains day warranted a celebration. I can be backcountry princess for a day with my Disco Inferno toes and fingers.

Might not save me from the cougars, mind you. Might make me a cougar. I’m sure I’m a little old for Disco Inferno, but what the hell. If there’s an age limit on glitter nail polish then I don’t want to know. My inner 13-year-old is loving it.

Have taken “rest days” (a bit more like lazy days) over this week from training, so am all ready for Skoki 2014! Can’t wait to share my snowshoe trip/challenge adventure (if I come back)!

Now, just to pack…

20/20 vs. beer goggles

It’s come down to budget: contact lenses or adult beverages?

The adult beverages won out.  I know – terrible, right?  Rather than ensure clear visibility whilst snowshoeing through the delightful Canadian Rockies, and avoiding the maddening fogging of the glasses/goggles, I’ve opted for bringing a mini bar into the backcountry.  I never claimed to have good judgement.

Skoki Lodge, the destination of my ultimate January snowshoe challenge journey, is a rustic mountain cabin built in the 1930s, and was recently given a celeb-boost by the stay of HRH William & Kate in 2011.  In the winter, it’s an 11 km ski or snowshoe into the backcountry of Banff National Park up and over two mountain passes.  All of the meals are included – and are reputed to be nothing short of spectacular – along with all bedding, so no sleeping bags required.  Technically, only clothing and snacks are necessary for me to carry in, but my pack list is as long as my arm. It’s WINTER. You never know what might go down, man.

I’ve got everything from duct tape to the lodge-worthy flannel shirt going.  Knife. Emergency blanket.  Hut booties. Head lamp. Down jacket. Toothbrush and face cream. Rebel, Flip, iPod. Camo buff for cool photos. Insulated Skhoop skirt for awesomeness. A bunch of the aforementioned adult beverages.  Jill had read somewhere that the wine – ordinary wine – was $40 a bottle out there. They do, after all, have to pack it with their supplies.  So, I figured I’d save a dollar or two and bring my own. Captain? Aye-aye!

Two more days until we hit the road for the Rockies!

The mountains are calling, and I must go. ~John Muir

Sweet Sunday snowshoe

Sundays no longer equal brunch, football or sleeping in.  Sundays are now when-am-I-gonna-meet-you-to-snowshoe??

Round 3 – ding!  Snowshoeing this week was back at the dog park, fully loaded with packs ready for the mountains.  The only thing I hadn’t yet packed was the first aid kit.  And the cheese and jerky. And the rum.  And the rope. (Rope just seemed like a good thing to complement the duct tape which was already packed. It also is a lovely accent for the snazzy blue & orange avalanche shovel Jill bought.)

Thankfully, it was a glorious day at only -6C and it was our first warm weather, sunny sky go at it.  Long, slow ascents and a couple of loops.  It almost felt as though this was getting easier.  We had a few minor heart attack moments when dogs came racing past or stealthily just appeared at our sides.  Good prep for any unexpected backcountry visitors on our 11km trek next week: you know, grizzly bears taking a break from hibernation, or cougars just out to plain old snap our necks.

Yes, cougars.  Cougars stalking us is one of our safety concerns for our Rocky Mountain snowshoe adventure. Another is turning left too early (aka getting lost) at Deception Pass and falling off a cliff in a white-out.  There are one or two more, but thankfully I can’t recall them right now.

This Sunday snowshoe outing with Jill ended the week on a high note.  For the past several days I struggled with getting to the gym in the mornings, which meant I then had to go at night with 20 million other people. I dreaded that.  And then I began to lose focus – why bother? I’m never going to get into shape. It’s going to take forever and there will be so many disappointments along this journey. And my knee hurts. So, why not take a “rest day” or three?

Right?? Not sure where the devil on the shoulder came from, but it was rough. Once I was out snowshoeing on Sunday, it was all, riiiiight. Now I recall what I was training for… And it didn’t hurt that we had a couple of interested bystanders at the dog park be all like, “That looks like good training!” (why yes, yes it is) “Why are your snowshoes so big?” (it’s all about size, ma’am) and the like.  Part of you just wants to smile smugly and say nothing, and the other part wants to talk their ears off about training, snowshoeing, getting fit, going to the mountains and other exciting parts of my life story.

Only three more work days until we hit the road for the Rockies! Woot!

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
~ John Muir