How I use parks to push myself harder as an athlete

As a varsity track and field athlete at the University of Toronto, Park People intern Kayla Greenberg tells us about how she uses parks as a space to workout.

We start our weekend in the bright sun, breathing in the cool air. A babbling cacophony of forty voices, we are all anxiously anticipating the grueling workout ahead of us.

As a pack, our feet pound the ground, propelling us through the warm up that takes us around and down the hill. Together we lead and surge up the giant mound. Getting to the top is the goal – it’s not about the scenic “insta-worthy” view, it’s about finally breathing when we get there. Out of breath, zig zagging down the hill, our sole focus is trying not to fall forward and go tumbling down. Finally at the bottom we start to catch our breath but by then it’s already time to go again.

Every Saturday morning for the past six years, I have started my weekend at Riverdale Park East with my teammates from the U of T Varsity track team. The park’s giant hill is likely one of the best discoveries our coach has made. He loves nothing more than to watch us run up its steep incline so quickly that sometimes we may even throw up as a result.


Strangely enough, despite their difficulty, workouts for us are like therapy. They provide a distraction from whatever is going on in our personal lives. In the park, surrounded by the soothing calm of nature, our personal crises cannot reach us. We are focused on putting one foot in front of the other and feeling the grass beneath us. This green, open, outdoor space is a welcome break from our usual flat, monotonous, unforgiving 400-meter track encircled by condos in downtown Toronto.

This is how we use city parks to train in the warmer months, but it should be noted that once the snow arrives, my teammates and I will be gleefully sliding down the Riverdale hill, one of Toronto’s best sledding spots.

Every year during school breaks our coach takes us to a training camp outside Toronto and uses hiking to supplement our usual training. Much like our Riverdale workouts, he eagerly awaits our return to hear our stories of suffering post-hike.

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One particular memory that stands out is our training camp last year in Arizona. Our coach dropped us off at the bottom of a humongous hill and told us that he’d be back to pick us up in a few hours. He assured us that it would be an easy hike and would act as a “shake out” workout to get our legs moving.

While the hike was very enjoyable in the midst of the desert landscape, it was not in fact an easy stroll up a hill. It was hard and I sweated profusely. When we descended we saw a sign indicating the difficulty level of the hike. It was indeed the highest and hardest level, a double black diamond.

Hiking or training in parks is a great method to get hearts pumping in a way that isn’t just laps around the track. Instead of talking about the number of sets and reps we have left or how many seconds it takes us to run 150 meters, training in parks allows us to enjoy the splendorous surroundings, take advantage of the natural challenges out there that can push us differently, and ultimately help us achieve the necessary vigorous workout we need to achieve our goals. And even when we aren’t training, spending time in our wonderful parks is the perfect respite from every day pressures.


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