In our chequered history of competing in crazy races, running five miles on a frozen river in Canada is right up there with racing horses, trains and the ill-fated egg and spoon incident of '77. We were confidently assured by the race organiser that the ice was 18 inches thick, and easily strong enough to support our combined weight, but having previously confidently assured riders that our MTB races were flat, dry and not very technical; I know that organisers are habitual liars. But I've seen ice road truckers, had spent hours researching the sound of cracking ice and was fully primed to adopt the 'sliding starfish' position at any given second.
Considering Winnipeg is a damn big city, and there are precious few sports event in the Canadian winter, having 100 runners pitch up for a pretty unique race is a piss poor turn out. For all their roughty-toughty image (big cars, big beards, big burgers) Canadian runners and cyclists suffer the same affliction as their UK counterparts - they disappear indoors faster than a vampire at dawn as soon as the winter arrives. They use these amazing filters that help them only notice evidence supporting the value of wrapping your tits in and sitting on the turbo trainer, and ignore all the fantastically functional kit that you can wrap yourself up in to battle the elements, Bear Grylls-style. The weak scuttle into their Ivan Drago laboratories - air conditioned, bacteria free, wi-Fi enabled torture chambers that make you fit while removing your soul, while the enlightened get all Balboa on yo ass. We accept the clothing challenge, howl into the teeth of the gale and can spend the rest of the day extracting our testicles with a warm spoon.
The Canadian winter, I am first to admit, can be a nostril-hair freezingly harsh environment. There are times when I am scared for my life while de-icing the car, driving on ice and snow encrusted roads is a sphincter clenching thrill ride and frozen eyelashes are a daily occurrence. But as my dear departed Granny too frequently said, "there's no such thing as cold weather, just cold clothes." Dressing for a Canadian winter is a piece of cake because IT'S NOT RAINING ALL THE BLOODY TIME! Avoid exposed skin, wear the biggest parka you can find, hat, gloves, boots and away you go. No Gore-Tex, no wellies, no steaming when you're in the pub, no constant pile of muddy laundry and no moss growing behind your ears.
Dressing for sport is equally easy. You just go for full body cover, fire up the amazing furnace that is the human body and as long as you keep it stoking at 80 per cent, you'll be right as rain. Admittedly you'll have to get past the initial ten minutes of "oh shit, I'm going to die" but you'll mostly survive. Be bold, start cold and all that.
A woeful example of the Canadian lack of backbone was our visit to a running club's weekday session. Meeting place was at a leisure centre where there was an indoor running track. All well and good so far, seen such things on the telly, let's go! But this track was basically made of a rectangular corridor that ran round the top of the swimming pool. It was about 3 metres wide, was 250 metres long and had hundreds of people going round, and round, and round it. The 90 degree bend at each corner didn't help your running fluency, the humidity from the swimming pool made for a pretty sweaty atmosphere, and the occasional roof-supporting pillar made it a full dodgeball run. The sane runners bashed out a swift interval session, as best they could, while the mentally unstable just shuffled round the track for an hour, round and round, slowly unscrewing their hips. BUT THE WORST BIT! The worst bit of all was the presence of a walking track on the inside! People pay to walk round a 250 metre indoor corridor! Are you out of your tiny minds? Roughty toughty my arse!
There is a worrying trend towards thinking about winter as dangerous, evil and best avoided. But we know better, don't we? Enduring winter is how we earn the summer.
Winter - it's a state of mind.