Hamsters On Treadmills: Embracing the Great Indoors

As we approach the coldest, darkest and slipperiest season, I find myself spending almost as much time in the gym as I do outdoors, and can’t help feeling a little guilty about using electricity to power the treadmill – it’s bad enough that I have to shovel down so much pasta to keep the legs moving.

I still enjoy long runs on country roads –friends and I have loped together for 10, 12 and 15 miles on the last few Sundays – but the experience loses its charm when ice coats the pavement and drivers splash slush in your face.

Normally, as far as I’m concerned it can never be too cold to run and I’ve bundled up when the temperature has dropped as low as 20 below zero. I’d rather be out in those conditions than in the triple-digit heat and humidity of August.

Still, there’s something to be said about running in shorts and a T-shirt, even if you feel like a hamster.

Some of my fellow gym rats watch the tube, listen to music or even read, but I’m one of those people who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time so I stare straight ahead like a zombie and try not to fall off.

As for bicycling, rolling along on the open road when it dips below the teens is brutal, especially into the wind, so until March or April I’m more inclined to pedal on a stationary bike.

Swimming? Fuhggedaboutit. A friend and I took a quick dip in the pond after a run on Dec. 1 just to say we did it, but I don’t think we’ll be going for long swims again until April – except in a pool.

Unlike running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike, swimming in a pool can be a hypnotic experience induced by staring endlessly at the black lane marker, with no distractions except having to turn and kick off the wall every 25 meters.

Some of my kayaking friends use the pool during winter to practice Eskimo rolls and high braces, but I skip those sessions. As long as it’s not too windy or choppy I’ll paddle year-round, and recall one memorable voyage a few years ago with a couple of enthusiasts so crazy, even by my standards, they performed rolls in Long Island Sound when the air temperature dropped below zero and a breeze kicked up to 15 knots.

Takes all kinds.

Happily, there are quite a few activities that you can only enjoy in winter: Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating.

It’s also prime time for wood splitting, when frozen logs pop apart at the first strike of a maul.

I have a whole stack waiting next to the woodshed.

No need to lift weights in a gym; a few hours a week with a wedge and sledgehammer provides all the upper-body workout you’ll need.

Best of all, there are no bugs.

Yes, it’s nice to hit the gym now and again, but why live in New England if don’t venture out in snow and ice?

Still, I can do without the slush in the face.


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