Winter Warriors | Winter War Stories

Battling the elements

Ah, the highs of the Canadian runner. No matter where you hail from across the nation, running in the wintertime, at some point, makes us pause and say, Really? In that?

But the Winter Warrior is always there to look us in the eye, shrug their shoulders and say, Yep.

Whether it’s torrential rain on muddy trails on the west coast, horizontal snow sweeping across the prairies, or just bitter temperatures not fit for an emperor penguin, most Canadian runners have some war stories of runs battered by the elements.

We asked some Saucony Hurricanes to share some of their Winter War stories, while we sit and read about them from the increasing comfort of our living rooms…

From Marilyn Arsenault, Canadian Masters record holder, 3,000m and former Canadian Cross-Country Team member:

On one of the coldest days in February while I was doing my undergrad at McGill in Montreal, a friend coerced me to run up the snow-covered path in Mount Royal. The temperature was well below 30 C with the wind chill. We ran to the top of the hill to the lookout (about 4-5 km of gradual climbing). Of course, it progressed into a race and by the end, my face was frozen and ice had formed on my eyelashes and eyebrows. I found it exhilarating and felt fantastic. From then on, we made it a weekly run, no matter the conditions.

From Chantelle Groenewoud, 5-time Canadian National Team member, Steeplechase, and 2-time Canadian National Team member, Mountain Running:

It was a -30 day in Guelph and I had to go for a 10 to 12 mile run and all the treadmills were taken. It was one of those days where it was hard to breathe it was so cold. We got 6 miles out and never actually felt warm. This was our turn-around point and coming back was straight into this cold, blasting, snowy wind. The condensation of my breath on my scarf that I had over my mouth was frozen solid and it was hard to even keep my eyes open to see where we were going with the wind and snow. It was my first run that I debated hitch-hiking back. Every part of me felt frozen. We ended up getting back safely but it was pretty scary and humbling how a seemingly safe situation could turn somewhat dangerous if not prepared. 

From Emily Setlack, Canadian National Champion, Half-Marathon, 5,000m, and Mountain Running:

When my husband I first started dating, I went to Ste. Anne, Manitoba to visit his family in January. It was the first time I had run in -45 C with the wind chill. I was not prepared, my face mask froze and chafed my face. Since then, I have learned a few tricks about running in -45 C, it’s called a treadmill. 

From Victoria Coates, Current Canadian National Champion, 10,000m, and Canadian National Team Member, Cross Country:

I hate running on the treadmill and I avoid it at all costs. I’ve always been of the belief that as long as you dress appropriately for winter weather, you can run outside. That was until the two winters I spent in Kingston (aka the coldest and windiest city with the least plowed sidewalks).

One particularly cold and snowy night I set out for my run dressed in my three pairs of tights, two pairs of mitts, and face fully covered except a hole for my mouth. I ran over  to a 1K loop through the parking lot of a hospital – where I knew I would have good footing since it was regularly plowed. Running kilometre loops for 70 minutes isn’t exactly my idea of fun, but it sounded better than the treadmill. I got through the first loop okay but the wind was piercing and, as is always the case in Kingston, it seemed to be coming from every direction. A few loops in and some sort of sleet or snow got added to that wind and next thing you know I had a sheet of ice covering the front of my jacket. When my eyelashes started freezing together as a blinked that was the last straw and I ran over to the gym, tail between my legs, to finish the last 40 minutes on the dreaded treadmill.

From Matthew Travaglini, Canadian Champion, Mountain Running, and Provincial and National Cross Country Champion

Days in the mountains and overcoming adversary go hand in hand. This one had it all. What started as a sunny day at the car quickly turned on my running partner and I. As we made our way up, rain turned to snow and temperatures moved towards zero. Water that had soaked through our rain shells froze as we headed into a cloud bank nearing the summit. The last 100m or so took close to 45 mins as the snow kept getting deeper, the temperature kept dropping and visibility reached critical lows. Finally, as we trudged through knee-deep snow in subzero weather, wearing shorts and a thin rain jacket, we decided to turn back the way we came—instead of summiting and connecting to the loop along the ridge. Unable to feel my hands or legs and shivering viciously, we started to run our way out of the fog. Heading back, we encountered a very large pile of bear droppings that was definitely not there on the way up. As we slid and slopped our way back down to the car, making as much noise as we could, the heavy rain was almost welcome and felt warm by comparison. Some days, the mountains win and this was one of those days. The good thing about turning around, though, is that it lights a fire in you to go back and try again. 

So there you have it, some stories to inspire you to when rain or sleet or gloom of night tries to stay you from your appointed rounds. At least let you know you and your frozen eyelashes aren’t alone.

Do you have your own Winter War story? Let us hear all about!