Skiing From a Runner's Point of View

Nothing like helplessly getting passed by a pack of kindergartners to send me scurrying back to my own sport.

Photo via iStockphoto.

I’m not a good skier, but I like skiing. I spend a day or two every year on the slopes, which is barely enough to prevent my meager skills from eroding. I like the crisp views from the top of the slopes right where the chair lift drops you off; I like generating a little bit of speed on a nice easy wide blue trail; I really like the beer in the lodge at the bottom. But I find the best thing about skiing is it helps kick-start my winter running training after taking a couple weeks’ break in December. Nothing like helplessly getting passed by a pack of kindergartners wearing fluorescent pink mohawk helmets to send me scurrying back to my own sport.

One challenge I face as an athlete in Boston is motivating myself through the late winter. Whether it’s the lack of sunlight, or the colder weather, or all of the social opportunities surrounding Christmas and New Year’s (and, this year, my wedding), I always have a struggle training in January and February. I think it’s good for me to take it easy in December for some recovery time, but it’s tough coming back from that.

On the ski slopes, once or twice per day, usually right after lunch, when I’ve finally gotten the feel for quick turns but before I get tired, I can try a run on a steeper black trail. I have some pride. I’m extremely nervous and breathless taking the first plunge, but then within a few seconds, I get the rhythm down and I can even start looking ahead a little for my next two or three turns and where there might be icy patches. But here’s one of my peeves about skiing. These runs invariably get crisscrossed several times by the winding green trail (yes, the same one which was all I could handle right before lunch) and I always pause at these intersections. And then I have to get started again and face the same anxiety about the steepness and my abilities. Just like starting my training again every January.

The equipment’s another stark contrast for me. Skiers have helmets and hand-warmers, boots and bindings, skis and snow pants. And to top it all off is a brand new waterproof indestructible high definition web cam. I particularly hate taking off the boots at the end of the day, wiggling and squeezing and pulling my poor tired foot out of an opening barely larger than a tube of toothpaste. Running, even in cold winter weather, can be pretty minimal. A couple of layers, a pair of sneakers, maybe some gloves, a hat, and you’re out the door.

A nice long day of skiing works the quadriceps pretty hard, especially in warmer conditions when every turn pushes aside a volume of heavy wet snow roughly equal to the entire contents of a Slush Puppie machine. By the end of a few runs I can feel the burn of sore muscles right above the knee that reminds me I really need to start doing some hill work. Usually winter running means mostly easy flat runs around the Charles with some occasional indoor track work, but I miss hilly trail runs.

So the contrast of skiing reminds me of many of the things I love about running, and gives me the spur I need to get training again. Not that I love training in February any more than I did before, but it’s a means to an end, to be able to be in good shape when April’s nice weather rolls around.