The Eye of the Storm
It is often said that the one true bane of all traceurs is rain. Most, especially beginners, will grimace at the sight of dark clouds or the feel of cold winds, head for home and resign themselves to another day without training. A current prevailing view within the parkour communities seems to be that the winter months are solely for indoor-based fitness training and preparation for that third of the year or so when the sun comes out and practice becomes a pleasure again; that during adverse weather conditions one can only shut up shop and keep an eye out for when the rain or snow abates and an hour or two of limited training can be stolen in the interval.
Does it have to be this way? Most definitely not.
In fact, if this has been your approach to training thus far then you have been missing out – not only on several months’ practice a year, but also on a distinct opportunity to delve into areas of parkour that commonly go unexplored. The onset of winter does not have to herald the end of progress – instead, if approached properly and with just a little reflection, difficult weather conditions can provide an entirely new set of challenges through which we can learn, grow, and improve just as consistently as we might in the balmy months of summer.
The key is to let go of the view that weather is either inherently good or bad: this limiting perspective leaves you utterly at the mercy of an uncontrollable variable, which is not somewhere a traceur ever wants to be. There is, of course, no such thing as good or bad weather… there is only weather. It comes in many forms and can change often, and yes, certain types of weather are more conducive to certain activities. However, the truly adaptable individual sees these variations in the weather as he would different types of obstacle: as walls of differing height, or gaps of differing length, or even as an altogether new and untested terrain. In short, he sees them as opportunities rather than as barriers.
A Healthy Respect For Nature
Of course, there are considerations that must be taken into account when training in adverse weather conditions. These are largely matters of common sense, but it pays to review them often and always to bear them in mind. Adaptation to weather is exactly that – adaptation: it does not mean carrying on as usual regardless of the conditions. Such an arrogant standpoint would be counter to the understanding that a harmony must be found and fostered between the individual and nature. You simply must tailor your training to the environment you are presented with, and take precautions where necessary. However, training in the cold and the wet can be enormously invigorating, as well as being a true test of your dedication and commitment. As long as you manage it correctly and respect the danger that variations in weather can present, such training can be hugely rewarding.
The Chill Factor…
We know from experience that moderately cold environmental temperatures actually enhance performance. However, severely cold temperatures can adversely affect our performance, and prolonged exposure to the cold can be deadly if hypothermia (the lowering of our core temperature) occurs. Unlike acclimatization to the heat, the human body has no adaptive ability to the cold except for mental tolerance. Therefore it is absolutely crucial that you maintain adequate body temperature during your cold-weather training. Muscles and ligaments must be kept warm or you risk injuring them.
The keyword here is layering, as layers of material will trap the body’s natural heat next to your skin, thus keeping your temperature stable and appropriate. The layer next to your skin should be made from a breathable fabric, such as polypropylene, which wicks away moisture from perspiration, preventing it from cooling next to your skin as you train. Cover your head and hands in extreme cold, and wear decent socks and footwear, as the majority of body-heat is lost through the extremities – the judicious use of a beanie will serve you well here! Furthermore, avoid wearing cotton as it has poor insulating ability, which decreases even more when it becomes wet. Gore-Tex and other waterproof materials are ideal as an external layer. Wool, polypropylene, and treated polyesters are the best insulating fabrics to wear underneath. Avoid overdressing, however, as the exercise will warm you considerably – in general, dress as though it were 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer outside than it really is.
Avoid running on hard surfaces that may be ice-covered: opt for snow if it is there as this provides better traction underfoot. In very cold weather the humidity approaches zero and large amounts of fluid are lost through exhaled vapour, so it is imperative that you maintain adequate hydration in order to ensure your muscles recover properly after training. Use a high-carbohydrate energy drink, as this will support your immune system, in turn helping to prevent colds or worse.
In cold weather, warming up and warming down are doubly important and take proportionately longer. If possible, warm up indoors before going out to train in the cold and avoid standing around outside doing nothing, as your body will cool down very swiftly, leaving you susceptible to injury. Wind-chill is another hidden danger that you must factor in to your clothing requirements, and this refers to both natural wind and the air movement created by fast movement. All this may mean that your training sessions become shorter but more compact and intense during cold weather periods, which is no bad thing.
Water, Water Everywhere…
Not only must you contend with rain itself, but you must also bear in mind that water will take longer to evaporate in cold weather and so surfaces can remain greasy and dangerous long after the rain has actually stopped. Be wary of all surfaces, metals in particular; wet railings are a recipe for disaster, as are slippery walls. Even gnarled tree branches can become treacherous after a downpour, so go slowly and move with extra care and attention.
Wear shoes that have a good grip to them. As it is likely that actual running time will be significantly reduced during wet weather you can afford to sacrifice weight for grip and go for a slightly heavier shoe that can handle the poor traction. Adjust the pace and distance of your runs for the conditions. The majority of winter training injuries result from poor footing in snow, sleet, slush, and ice. When running in conditions such as these, slow your pace, shorten your stride, and watch your footing.
After training in wet conditions get out of damp clothing as soon as possible – they will lower your body temperature significantly if left on and the result will be a cold that otherwise could have been avoided. Ideally you should change out of wet clothing before you stretch and warm down. If travelling far to reach your training ground, pack a set of dry clothing to change into for the journey back.
Through preparation, heightened awareness and proper care during training, you will be able to maintain a good regime throughout periods of difficult weather. Take into account what nature presents you with, learn to adapt to the conditions, and there is no reason you cannot make significant progress no matter what the skies forebode.
The Opportunity in Adversity
Beyond merely managing adverse weather, there is a real positive to be found through extending your practice into the winter months. In a very real and immediate sense, you are being presented with an entirely different training environment – and all without having to travel or pay for it. Covered in snow, washed by rain, battered by winds or shadowed by cloud, the world takes on a very different complexion from that of sunny days and warm temperatures; again, not necessarily worse – just different. And isn’t one of the aims of parkour to be able to move efficiently and successfully within any environment and over any terrain? So see this as your opportunity to master a new environment: adapt and overcome.
The possibilities are myriad. You will have to invest more time and energy in observation of your surroundings, giving much more attention to the details than ever before. Just how fast can you move over wet ground? How must your gait and centre of balance shift to manage it most effectively? Your grip and sense of touch must become more certain, stronger, and more penetrating to compensate for the wet and the numbing cold. Your landings will have to become more sensitive, softer, and more controlled due to the uncertainty of the footing and the possibility of ice. In short, your physical and mental awareness will have to expand and deepen considerably to cope with these new challenges, and this process will vastly increase the comfort zone in which you train.
These fine-detailed areas of observation are often neglected in the comfortable fair-weather practice of Parkour, simply because they can be: we can afford to be less careful when the ground is soft and dry and the conditions are warm and welcoming. But take advantage of the opportunities presented by adverse weather and when the clouds of winter pass and it comes to practising in ‘ideal’ conditions once more, you will find that you move with a new confidence and improved ability all round.
Not only that, but you will grow in the knowledge that no matter what conditions you are faced with, you will able to adjust to them and embrace them as allies, much as a well-captained ship turns into high waves to rise above them and survive. And just the same as in surviving a terrible storm at sea, there is a profound sense of accomplishment and self-mastery to be found in successfully navigating and overcoming challenging weather during one’s own training.
All weather is a storm, when you think about it. The world is in fact subject to one great swirling weather pattern, a web of interrelated causes and effects that make up the Earth’s troposphere: It is calm and dry here precisely because it is tempestuous and torrential over there. This storm is ongoing and everywhere at once, and the student is limited to the parts of the storm that he finds most comfortable and welcoming – he is restricted to fair-weather training only. The master, however, knows that to be truly effective one must learn to be centred and productive no matter what the conditions; that one must be serene in the face of all seeming adversity. One must become the eye of the storm.