The Big Sky

March in Colorado. Tonight it will snow again, though as I write this it is raining. The days are growing longer and warmer, but winter won't leave yet, and it can snow into May.

Yesterday I ran up a trail early in the morning on eight inches of crusty snow, packed in a corduroy pattern by a snowmobile. It was 24 degrees F, perfect running weather. I was on the same trail where I had my coldest run at -3 degrees F on January 9. Today I lifted weights and did some jumps and calisthenics at home. It was a good, tiring workout, but I missed being outside.

Earlier in the week Gina Kolata had an article in the New York Times about whether its better to train inside or outside. The focus was really on whether you can get the same benefits from exercise on apparatus like treadmills and bike machines as you can running or biking outside. The MD's and PhD's cited in the article said you don't get the same benefit because inside there is no wind resistance to overcome, but there are health benefits. A recent study found that people run 11.5% faster on a treadmill inside. One of the experts suggested raising the incline of the treadmill 1 degree to compensate. They also observed that the machine perfect surfaces don't engage as many muscles in the legs to maintain balance. However, the experts did agree that if it's very cold (under 20 degrees F) or icy then no doubt inside is safer. Plus inside is usually more convenient.

There's no surprise that a workout on a machine has cardiovascular benefits. One of my favorite exercise physiology books (whose strength training obsessed exercise recommendations I disagree with) by Doug McGuff, M.D., and John Little, entitled Body by Science, says, "Your heart and lungs cannot tell whether you're working your muscles for thirty seconds on a stationary bike or working them intensely on a leg press. The heart and lungs know only about energy requirements, which they dutifully attempt to meet." Nor, I might add, can they tell if you are inside or outside. A workout is a workout.

But, most times, a TOJ prefers outside, where his/her body responds dynamically to heat, cold, rain, snow, wind, and varied terrain. Indoor workouts are monotonous by comparison. The air is still, tepid, stale, smelly, and, if a public gym, germy. Outside you get the chance to see critters - eagles, fox, elk, deer, bear and lions - and the beauty of terrain.

In a few months, I'll get to take my weights and exercise mat back outside onto the deck, to sweat in the heat, under a blazing sun and the big sky. That's heaven for a heathen TOJ. Outside is the place of awe and wonder.

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