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How to get over the 'mental hurdle' of being active in the winter


Winter storms have left most of Canada blanketed in snow and with a polar vortex likely on the way, many are looking to hunker down inside.

But for some, like Anne Francis, the cold weather is welcomed.

At first, the idea of running outside in the cold Canadian winter was daunting but with the help of good equipment and her running group, she said she now prefers it.

"It took me a few years before I was comfortable running outside all winter. I just assumed that in winter you did other stuff or went to the gym," she told in an interview Friday from Toronto. "After many years of running outside in winter…I really enjoy it and I'm more comfortable."

Francis and several other winter activity enthusiasts spoke to about how to embrace Canada’s colder months with proper clothing and by creating an outdoor community dedicated to enjoying snowy weather.

Francis, the editor of Canadian Running Magazine, has been running for 20 years, a hobby she took up after her third child was born.

Through encouragement from her husband and the drive to get over the "mental hurdle" of boredom and exhaustion while running, Francis gave herself permission to explore the sport further.


When braving the snow, Francis said layering clothing is key to make sure she does not overheat.

"Generally, the rule of thumb is to dress as if it were 10 degrees warmer than it actually is," she said.

Francis decides how many layers to wear based on if the activity is high impact (running) or low impact (walking).

"(If) temperatures are hovering around zero Celsius, you're generally going to want to wear tights and maybe a long sleeve and a jacket," she said.

The layer closest to the body is the most important, Francis said, it should be made from "moisture-wicking material."

"The last thing you want when you're running in winter is to be sweating and not have anywhere for your sweat to evaporate. That's how you get cooled and chilled," she said.

Anne Francis and her family (Supplied).

Judy Andrew Piel, a community support coordinator for Ottawa-based outdoor company Bushtukah, told the layer closest to the body should be made of synthetic material or merino wool.

"Then your outer layer, you want to make sure it's breathable because you're going to get most cold if you get hot and sweaty underneath your clothes," she said in a phone interview Friday while on a run.

Piel said for those out skating on the Ottawa Canal or downhill skiing, a "bulky" winter jacket is best. For running or cross-country skiing she prefers the brand GORE-TEX.

"Generally, you can run in cross-country ski clothes, they're interchangeable," she said. "A lot of cross-country ski jackets are designed so they have more wind protection in the front…And they're more breathable in the back.”

Both runners advise people to keep their heads warm with a hat or headband.


Along with snow and low temperatures, Canadians see their fair share of ice. Extra precautions should be taken for those eager to get outside on slippery days.

Michele Guimond, vice president of marketing for Mountain Equipment Company (MEC), described herself as an outdoor enthusiast.

"I'm passionate, a year-round kind of West Coast woman who loves trail running and skiing, Nordic skiing, backcountry skiing, mountain biking and gravel biking," she told in an interview Friday.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Guimond said nature has always been a part of her life, especially in the winter. Even when temperatures drop, Guimond can be found doing summer sports in the winter.

One of her favourite ways to get outside is mountain biking. When out on the mountains no matter the activity, she does bring "microspikes", which attach to the sole of any shoe to provide extra traction on ice.

"Some (microspikes) are better for running, very lightweight, some are better for hiking longer distances and are a little bit more robust," Guimond said.

Since the sun sets earlier, Guimond said she always brings lights with her. In the city, she advises people to wear reflective clothing.

Whether it's daytime or not, Guimond said she never goes out on trails by herself.

To feel more secure, Francis said when she goes on a run in Toronto by herself she brings a phone.

"A lot of phones now come with safety features built-in and you might get into trouble out there…It's nice to have your phone on you if you do," she said.


When it's minus 25 degrees Celsius with a windchill factor, it can be easy to skip getting outside. The motivation for Franz Plangger comes from knowing he will have fun.

"I've been lucky enough that I've had great times outside pretty much no matter what the weather is," he told in an interview on Friday from his home in Calgary.

Franz Plangger (pictured) enjoys getting outside during the winter. (Contributed)

In the past Plangger worked for Outward Bound Canada, a company providing outdoor education and tours. He's been fortunate to go on expeditions all over Canada. His most memorable was a dog-sledding adventure in Ontario's Algonquin Park.

Now, as the executive director of the Outdoor Council of Canada, an organization advocating for barrier-free outdoor programming, he tries to motivate others to get outside.

"I think the easiest entry point is going for a walk in a park," he said. "Then, cross-country skiing is also relatively easy to get into. There are a lot of old cross country skis that are for secondhand sales."

Plangger said people should look for an outdoor club in their community to create a social connection to nature.

Guimond and Francis said they both find the motivation to be outside from friends and family.

"Getting out with friends and being social is certainly part of it," Guimond said. "You know you're always going to feel better after you do it."

Another motivator for Plangger is that the Canadian winter can offer a moment of reflection.

"Enjoying the outdoors does not need to be a grand adventure," he said. "The beauty of natural spaces is that you just need to look around…It takes you away from the to-do list and then gives you time to just be in the moment." Top Stories

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