Why Canadians aren’t totally masochistic for running in the wintertime

Why Canadians aren’t totally masochistic for running in the wintertime
But we all have our people and when mine get together on Wednesday night, it’s electric. There’s an energy that comes from being around other unpaid grownups so committed to something, to anything, that we’ll run in circles and practice 1600-metre repeats at half marathon pace at a time when two pairs of tights and special socks and underwear, custom jackets and windproof shirts and every layer in the world leaves you in the exact same position: freezing and dying for the stupid run to end.

I run in the wintertime because to not run would leave me wondering who I am. And anyway, there are goals for spring; and to head indoors would take something away from my being. I lace up and jump over the snow and envision myself being immortal. It’s a feeling of power; of strength and dominance, and of not being afraid.

Canadians have been running in the wintertime since the days of Tom Longboat, and before. In 1900, Hamilton, Ont. was to running what Iten, Kenya is today. We took all three top places that year in the Boston Marathon.

“On a beautiful day in May along the Montreal Gateway Terminal, you can’t wave at every runner because it’s so packed. But when it’s minus 15 and you see another runner, there’s so much more meaning — you both know that you’re really doing this,” explains Reid Coolsaet, two-time Olympic marathoner and a 39-year-old father of two, the third fastest Canadian in history. “When I’m slowing down in a race, it’s not because I don’t have enough calories or aerobic fitness, it’s an overall pain that I have to conquer. The more pain that you put yourself into, the more pain you know you can overcome.”

A friend in Winnipeg went out the other night in minus 38. She has a sister-in-law with cancer, and her husband just had surgery. The cold was reassuring. She called her devotion to run outside an urge for something else that isn’t everything else. All day and all night, the bell calls.

“It’s more painful to walk in this cold weather than it is to go for a run. For me, it’s just another day at the office,” says Krista DuChene, an Olympian and mother of three whose third place finish at last year’s Boston Marathon was the best Canadian result in 36 years. DuChene has competed nine times at this month’s Around the Bay, an epic 125-year-old race in Hamilton that breeds a specific toughness in all those who run. “I can’t postpone a workout. I have to pick up my kids and coach hockey practice. You go out there and you suck it up,” says DuChene, who will return this year to compete in Boston. “Childbirth was unbearable pain. At least with running outside, you know what to expect.”

“In Edmonton, especially in the wintertime, we found it motivating to put together a group,” says John Stanton, the Running Room founder who launched his empire in 1984 and has since put more than one million Canadians through his run clubs. This month, Stanton has almost 20,000 Canadians across the country running outdoors. “Dealing with the small challenges, snowy conditions, wind and cold, that helps us deal with the big challenges in life,” he says. “Often I think winter runs remind us that we’re more powerful than we think.”

For me, power is a state of mind. If I tell myself I am mighty, then I am. Running outside in the winter is about fighting myself: that bit about myself that I don’t like, that questions at 44 whether or not I have the mettle for life, for raising children, for being a grown up under fire by the pressures of existence that we all must endure. When I can’t find my five-year-old’s toque, when the lunch box is filled with spilled yogurt and when I’m exhausted at eight in the morning, it’s important to remember I am capable of being strong.

If it takes a few laps in a snowstorm to reinforce this, to give me courage, it’s only a small price to pay.

In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life

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