Winter RunningPosted: February 9, 2011
I love running outside in the winter. A few years ago, you never would have heard me say that. I enjoyed neither running nor winter.
I grew up in Chicago, so you’d think I’d be used to winter and know how to deal with it. You’d be wrong. I think after I got old enough not to wholeheartedly adore playing outside in the snow, I just avoided the cold. Only when I had to figure out how to dress my daughters for the elements did I learn how to properly dress myself. And as far as running — well, the only sport I ever played was tennis, in high school, and whenever our coaches made us run a mile as part of our practice, I was the last one in, grumbling all the way about my “weak ankles.” (It’s true that I’m always twisting my ankles. I twisted one a few days before I got married and wore an Ace bandage down the aisle under my dress.)
But a year and a half ago, my friend Susie was training for a half marathon. At the time I’d been thinking about starting to walk regularly. “Hmm, maybe I should run instead,” I said to her.
“You’re welcome to come along anytime,” replied the woman who would soon become my running guru. “Even for just a mile. Let me know.”
So I did. I ran a mile with her. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I didn’t turn an ankle. I didn’t pass out. I actually felt pretty good afterward. Then we did two miles. Okay. Then we ran two miles again, but afterward she e-mailed me that she’d miscalculated, and we’d actually run about three miles, which, for my information, was practically a 5K. Had she miscalculated, or did she do that on purpose? Well, it’s not for me to question my guru.
Two months after I started running with her in September, we did a five-mile race over Thanksgiving weekend along with our friend Kathleen. And I finished it in about 53 minutes. Not too shabby. I was a runner!
Then it got cold, and it started to snow. But I was hooked. I didn’t want to stop running just because of the weather. I bought some running tights and long-sleeved running shirts (the kind that wick moisture away from your skin) to wear under my fleece. I put a knit cap on my head even though it makes me look like a dork. I took along my gloves. And met up with Susie and Kathleen and whoever else was up for it at the South Mountain Reservation running path. As often as I could. That was last winter, and I’m doing it again this year. Despite the terrible weather we’ve been having, I get up there at least twice a week, to run four or five miles. Susie and I have a regular running day, and I usually do at least one run by myself with my headphones.
As it turns out, getting out into the cold actually makes winter a lot more bearable. As long as I’m dressed appropriately, after a half-mile or so I’m warm. I don’t get overheated or dehydrated, like I do in the summer (when I really need to run inside; even though I adore summer, I can’t handle running in the humidity). The snow-covered branches of the trees up there are gorgeous. The cold is exhilarating. The light is stark and beautiful, and my body and spirit soak it up. I have more energy all day, and I’m less depressed about the next impending snowstorm. Instead of hiding out for the cold months, I stride right into them and even embrace them.
This is only the most explicit way I’ve learned this lesson in the past few years. If something is difficult or upsetting, avoiding it doesn’t work. The fear of whatever it is, or the anticipation of how bad it’s going to be, is usually harder than the thing itself. It’s like edging into a pool of water instead of just diving in. It’s easier, ultimately, to dive in (though I must admit I’m still an edge-into-er at the pool). And you never know where you might find joy and beauty, and even strength and accomplishment: It might be hiding within something you dreaded until you actually experienced it.