I was recently asked by a friend what gets me out in the winter, and I’m often met with derisory comments from work colleagues for leaving the house at 6am to run to work in inclement weather. Essentially wouldn’t it be saner to join the gym? This got me thinking, why would I join a gym? The obvious reason is that they are relatively expensive for something that I don’t really enjoy, but there are more nuances to it than that.
I can see the advantages to the gym, I can, and this is in no way an attack on people who use them. They are warm, dry and have a myriad of different bits of kit for me to embarrass myself on, and there’s the crux of it. They are warm and dry because they are indoors and I like to be outside.
Running outside offers me so much more than just a cardiovascular workout. During the week I tend to run on the road and watch the world going about its business as I go about mine. I love the visual impact as the sun goes down and the lights come on. At the weekend I try to get out the city landscape and hit the trails. This doesn’t always mean leaving the city, I’m lucky living where I do that I have a number of nature reserves and wooded areas within a couple of miles of my front door. These little pockets of ‘wild’ offer the trail running experience without having to drive all the way out to Dartmoor. Dartmoor is an incredible, beautiful place which offers amazing running options and is worth the drive but it isn’t always a viable option.
When running on a treadmill with nothing to look at but a magnolia wall – or worse a mirror – I feel I’m missing something. Early morning runs offer so much visual stimulation, from the changing tones of the sky to the chance of a – brief – sighting of the cities shyer inhabitants, most notable for me a fox darting across a graveyard and one summer I had the privilege of seeing an adder basking in the mid-morning sun (admittedly the adder was some way out of Plymouth).
The only indoor training I do is cycling on the turbo trainer. I don’t particularly enjoy the turbo but if definitely has a place within the winter training arsenal. I have blogged about using a turbo trainer before (which can be found here: http://wp.me/p4NbsO-1g) and won’t go into that again. What I find with the turbo is I can get two hours’ worth of real riding into an hour on the turbo. Having said all that given a choice of a two hour ride out in the cold (or even the rain) and an hour on the turbo I would take the two hours on the road. I actually rather enjoy cycling in poor weather for a couple of reasons; one of them is that I genuinely feel it makes me a better bike handler. There is also a feel good factor from getting back from a ride in bad conditions. Provided to can keep yourself warm and dry these rides have a true feel good factor. The feeling that a lot of people will have had a look out the window and gone back to bed. To quote Sean Kelly “To know if the weather is too bad for training, get your kit on and go train, you’ll know when you get back”. I particularly enjoy riding in crisp cold conditions. The type of day where it’s so bright you have to wear sunglasses but so cold you wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without having your ears covered.
Other than the physical and technical benefits to cycling and running outdoors, it also gives me a chance to de-frag. I think I am a better person as a result of the time I spend outdoors. I have more patience and generally I think I’m more fun to be around. In fact when I’m being a bit snappy with my wife she’ll ask me if I need to go out for a run!