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Why you need to keep running in cold weather

Jan 14, 2014 // By Marcus Brotherton

ice sickle

‘Ice sickle’ photo by DAJ.

She’s not much of an athlete, my 10-year-old daughter Addy. At least, that’s what she’d declare about herself.

She’s the type of kid who’d rather read a book.

Or write an incredibly creative story about a giant and a giraffe and a mermaid and a bag of chocolate chip cookies.

Or tell you a joke she made up herself, one that will make you sincerely laugh out loud.

When it comes to athletics, sure, we parents have tried to convince Addy otherwise. Over the years she’s played on soccer teams. And taken dance lessons. And played Frisbee and ridden bikes and gone hiking and been tubing behind a boat.

She likes the tubing. She tolerates hiking.

The rest of it?


So when it came to her running in a 5 K fun-run this past December, Addy told me outright that she’d rather not, thanks just the same.

Mostly because the forecast called for unseasonably low temperatures the day of the race.

It wasn’t like she was unprepared. Through most of the year, Addy participates in an after-school YMCA program called Girls on the Run.

As parents, we like the program a lot. It’s one that Addy enjoys, mostly because she hangs out with her friends. And each semester the program builds to the place where the girls all run a 5 K together.

This is Addy’s last year in the program. She’s participated in four of these 5 Ks already. The girls run the race with coaches, and each semester my wife and I have switched off who runs which race with her.

This December, it was my turn to run again. Only one problem—

I didn’t want to run this race either!

Blame the cold weather again. A harsh icy blast was blowing across our region with a high of 28 projected for race day with a low of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, (-17 Celsius). Brrr.

We could both drop out of the race if we wanted to. I had other things I could do. She did too.

The night before the race, I found myself deliberating on all those “big-scheme-of-thing” questions.

This race wasn’t a hill we parents needed to die on, but I still wondered what sort of message dropping out might send—even if we had our reasons.

See, the point is not about coming in first in these Girls on the Run races.

It’s about proving to yourself you can do hard things.

And I agree with that. I’m not a tiger dad. I’m just old-fashioned. In the big scheme of things, I believe any kid should learn to put his or her shoulder to the plow.

You’re going to need to draw upon that skill of determination plenty of other times in life, and confidence emerges when you purposely don’t shy away from a task simply because it’s difficult.

But would she grasp the greater lesson?

The morning of the race dawned clear and cold.

A slight wind blew. The thermometer outside our house read a frosty 14 degrees F., (-10 C.).

We dressed in layers. I drove Addy over to the race course. We registered, got our numbers, stretched, and hung out waiting for the race to begin.

Addy and I took our places at the starting line. The starter’s pistol sounded, and the run began. We took off at a good clip—and, to my surprise, we stayed at a good clip.

We ran on graveled trails in the crisp winter air. We talked as we ran and joked around and walked a few times, and then went back to running.

When the race was over, it turned out to be Addy’s best time ever.

“Y’know Addy,” I said on the drive back home. “A girl who can run a race in 14 degree weather is a girl who can do pretty much anything.”

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye to gauge her response. She was grinning. Not broadly, but just enough to let me know she heard. And when she spoke her next two words, she spoke them securely, just under her breath, much more to herself than she did to me.

“I know,” she said.

Question: what difficult things have you done just to prove you could do them? If you’re a parent, how have you applied that principle to your children’s lives?


  • Josh

    I ran a Tough Mudder in 40 degree weather, with wind gusts around 30mph. Somehow, I had missed the fact that the race course was quite literally nearly entirely trails up and down hills. I ran with a team that got started late, after we got good and cold sitting in one spot. It was overcast in a cold March, so I was cold and wet the whole time. And that was before I nearly broke my nose diving underwater in the “Arctic Enema” ice tank and slamming my nose into the submerged 2×4 I didn’t see. I’ve run several half marathons and always had fun. But the Tough Mudder was just tough. The cold made my muscles cramp. I trailed behind my team and slowed them down. Frankly, it just wasn’t fun. It was not until several hours later–after gorging on a celebratory meal of hot meat and cold beer, and a hot shower that taxed the capacity of the hot water heater–not until then did I start to feel normal. Then, I realized what had just happened: I had survived being shocked, frozen, cramped, dark, wet, and cold, for 12 miles, 25 obstacles, and several hours. My team mates tried to be encouraging that day, but the most encouraging voice I heard that day had started out the quietest. It was my own: “Just keep going. You can finish this.” I did keep going, and I finished. So why does it matter that a mid-30s poorly-trained white collar professional can be a weekend warrior and run a Tough Mudder? I learned afresh that when frailty and weakness meet persistent effort applied with patience, many things truly are possible.

    • Marcus Brotherton

      Josh, great experience, thanks for sharing.

  • Tuxedo Man

    I started bicycling when I was thirty. Every year I like to ride a 100 mile event because no matter how well your fitness a century ride is a trip into the physical Ughknown…. you never know how well your body will play. But as the saying goes “Effort doesn’t fully release its reward until a person refuses to quit”. It’s one thing to achieve a fitness goal on your own, but to participate in a group event can be a greater learning experience because it puts your own effort into perspective.
    A friend of mine decided last summer he was going to ride his first cycling century charity ride. He worked construction all his life and raced dirt bikes at the semi pro level so he knew how to put in a tough effort. The day of the event he set his preparations in motion and said he did well until the fifty mile mark. He was starting to suffer, but he looked around and saw other riders, some much older, some not in quite as good shape, suffering to and their determination inspired him to keep going. At the 70 mile mark, the point in a century where the mind and body start rebelling, he seriously thought he wasn’t going to make it. Then he looked ahead and there was another cyclist with just one leg, no prosthesis, pedaling along, and it was that point my friend said no matter how bad he was suffering, it in now way compared to the effort of the rider with one leg. He dug down deeper and finished the ride. He said it was physically the most exhausting thing he had ever done, but what he saw on the road was also the most rewarding thing he had ever done too….and can’t wait to go out this year and do it again.

    • Marcus Brotherton

      100 miles. Wow. Great thoughts Tuxedo Man. thanks. And great story about the 70 mile mark need to dig deeper. Definitely true.

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.