Monday, January 23, 2012

A Winter's Tale


“Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?” - Italo Calvino
In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. - Albert Camus

As winter presses on, many runners turn their attentions indoors during the long, cold, dark days of winter. Many resort to the "dreadmill" as the only/best option. I have run year in and year out through winters, tough or mild, solidly since 1986 (and earlier, but that's when I became more consistent). Over all my years of running I've only run on a treadmill twice: Once for a VO2 Max test for a Physiology class research paper I was writing at the University of Maine, and once for gait analysis during a shoe fitting at the Boulder Running Company (I ended up returning the shoes they recommended). I run outside, 6 days a week, every week, in snow, ice, wind, rain, groppel, whatever mother nature has in store. I'm not going to lie and say that I love it all, because I don't, especially wind, but I do it because that's what I do.

Over all my years of running I've lived in Upstate New York (lake effect snow is just yummy) where the sun never seems to shine. It's true. Cornell University has a state of the art telescope that it can use, like, 5 days a year. I've lived in Maine - "If you can't take the winters, you don't deserve the summers." Portland has a giant flashing temperature sign looming over the city so that you can see the -5 degree temp flashing for your whole 8 mile loop around the city. Thanks. I really needed to be reminded that it's stupid-bloody cold, and that I'm bloody-stupid for being out in it. I firmly believe that the municipal water supply in Maine is laced with a hearty dose of Downeast stoicism. I've run through Nor'easter and winters where the streets and sidewalks are chopped through 6 feet of accumulated snow and the town snow dump was the tallest geological point within 60 miles and doesn't completely melt until late August.

Now, however, I'm spoiled. I live in Boulder, Colorado. When my husband and I moved here we thought we had found paradise. We could rock climb all year round, if we found the right cliffs. And the running? Well, Boulder has it's reputation for a reason. But the fact is that it was 17 degrees and pitch dark when I went off for my 10 miler this morning. And that was actually pretty balmy for 6 a.m.  We usually have a good spell of solid single digit highs at some point during the winter, and usually several good dumps of snow. The snow removal plan relies heavily on the "solar shovel" to come along and make the snow magically disappear - which may or may not happen - so the roads and trails may melt out quickly, or not. Boulder is also a windy, windy place. And days with hurricane force winds happen about once a week (at least) in the winter and spring (depending on the year).

But I figure if the mail can get through, so can I. I have, however, succeeded in running on several days that the mail never made it.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not making a judgement about treadmill running, and I'm not claiming to be a card-carrying member of 'team tough', but the fact is that I'm too much of a spazz to run on one. I can't run on a treadmill - they scare the bejeezus out of me! That belt starts moving, and I panic. Perhaps I've seen too many cartoons where some hapless critter is caught on that churning belt, spinning around and around for a painful eternity. No thank you. I just can't handle it.

I'm also too cheap and too lazy. I won't buy a treadmill: Too expensive. Gym membership?: Too expensive. And then if you have to go to the gym there's all the fussing-and-bothering: driving and dressing and undressing and showering and dressing again...and then more driving. All to go for a run? Sorry. I'd just never do it. I know that in some conditions you will have a better training run if you run on a treadmill rather than slip-sliding-away at a glacial pace outside. But even rational, reasonable argument falls on my deaf ears.

The fact is, I'm lazy and I'm cheap (mostly because I have no money), so I either walk out my back door and run, or I don't run. For me there is only one choice - I run outside. 

And, what  have I learned from this pigheaded laziness? That winter running can present the most magical and unexpected experiences. One morning I ran after a fresh snow fall, and the flakes on the trail glistened in rainbows. That doesn't happen every day. That was a special sort of snow. I've seen bald eagles sitting as still as the frost, 40 feet up on cottonwood trees, and I once rescued a new born calf curled up alongside the road in the snow. I've seen hundreds of pelicans glide together to a landing on a freshly thawed pond. And I've watched, with considerable fear and trembling, as massive snow squalls move out off the mountains toward the plains, where I am still 8 miles from home.

Oh, and I've learned from experience that: my lungs will not freeze (The coldest temp I've run in is -12F plus windchill); that, an ice encrusted face mask can actually be pretty darn toasty; that, you should always run out against the wind and back with the wind - but if the wind shifts, you better run fast and think creatively! I once stopped at the doggy poop bag dispenser at a trailhead and stuffed plastic newspaper bags under my jog bra because, well, certain parts were about to freeze off.

So go out on that cold and blustery day. If it sucks, come home. But if it doesn't you might experience something entirely new and it will open up your world and expand your horizons...

...And watch as spring reveals itself, in light green blades of grass poking through the snow and robins singing the sun rise, when running through the world opens time and space, and moments of eternity are grasped for an instant.


Enjoy the adventure
O, wind,  
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? 
~Percy Bysshe Shelley
 
 

16 comments:

  1. I love running in the snow! I started running last summer, and when winter came along, I just didn't stop :-). Thanks for sharing that video.. it was great! Will have to post a link to that on my blog FB page. Great post!

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  2. I wish I had the option of running outside all winter. Realistically, though, with temperatures regularly at -13*F, -22*F and below, with windchills at -30*F and colder, it actually becomes quite dangerous. Exposed flesh freezes in a matter of minutes. If you sweat, it freezes on you and that will turn you into a human ice cube before you know it. I hate the treadmill but sadly, it's often the lesser of two evils.

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    1. Caitlyn - In your case I completely agree! Oh, Canada - but you do have nice summers ;)

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  3. I couldn't agree more. I've grown to hate treadmills. There is almost always something beautiful to see or expierence when running outdoors. Our winters are pretty mild here in Ky. I can't stand out summers. Hot and humid.

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  4. I love running in the cold. I will say that here in Central PA we don't get single digits too often, and I'm out in shorts on days in the 20s and 30s. If I could have high 30s or low 40s all year, I'd be a happy runner -- though miserable the rest of the time. :-)

    If it's under 15, I'm adding layers but would still rather be outside. I've run while it's snowing, and when there there's still snow on the ground but sidewalks/roads are clear, but if it's really slushy out at the time, then I'll wait a day (or if I miss a few in a row), grudgingly get on the dreadmill.

    It's a good place (for me) to run in the winter, since I like the cold but it's usually not so bad that there's not clear sidewalks or roads after a day or two. (It sucks in the summer!) But if I lived just a little bit further north in upstate PA even, I'd have to get more comfortable running in snow or ice, or learn to love the treadmill.

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  5. I love running in the snow. Sadly, we haven't had that much this winter. Some weird weather shift and we finally just got our first 'real' snow of 7 inches on Friday! It's almost the end of January!! Up until a few weeks ago we were running around in our fall/spring attire enjoying 40 degree days and now it's in the single or double digits. It's hard to make the body shift suddenly when it's use to a slight shift here and there.

    I never thought I'd be one to go to the gym, However, hubby's company started having small gyms. I'm either one of 3 or by myself in there, for $6 a month. It doesn't have a lot, but if it's pouring or 30mph winds, it's a great place to head!

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Sounds like Caolan did that facebook group a favor!

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    3. This comment was deleted by me not because it disagreed with my post but because it reeked of hatred and anger. If the anonymous commenter would like to post something constructive and respectful (explain why they disagree with me), that is always welcome here. Name calling and personal attacks do nothing to advance the discussion.

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  7. I think for some runners the treadmill is a useful tool. I know it will never be a substitute for running outdoors but it has been my salvation in winter. My problem is that i live in Aurora, for anybody that lives in that neck of the woods narrow, "no sidewalks" and safe places to run are problematic. The trails are fine but not the safest place at 6am or 8pm. Not to say i have never run at odd hours of the day, I have been running for about 15 years on and off. I used to take my dogs out for a run 8pm all the time. Unfortunately over the last few years i have stopped doing that because of safety issues. I am not saying i live in a "ghetto" but it has changed since we moved in about 20 years ago. I have a running group that i meet on Saturdays and Sundays i have friend i run with, that is fine when it is dark and cold. I also think that when it comes to running if all you got is the dreaded dready then it is better than no run at all! :)

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    1. Again, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with treadmills - I admire people who are able to run on them - seriously, I'm not being sarcastic. Sometimes I wish I could/had that option, but I really don't so I have to deal. And I assume you are referring to Aurora CO, yes? I wrote on the issue of disappearing sidewalks a couple months ago:"Where the sidewalk ends", and I think you bring up a huge social/cultural/health issue. Do what you must and keep it up!

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    2. Yes! Aurora, Colorado. I do live across from a trail that i use quite a bit but it is not so safe at night. Those are the days when the "dready" is my friend :)

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  8. I'm lazy and cheap too. When everything is slippery - I go to the gym. Luckily i get a free gym membership due to my volunteer work for the BPD and my gym is less than a mile from my house - so I run there for my warmup, do the bulk of my run and then run home. I'm a super data geek so i like having the data a treadmill run gives me. But your post is making me think twice about that routine and maybe i just run right past the gym after my warmup. :)

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    1. Maybe, though it sounds like you've got a pretty good routine going on. There are those mornings, especially the slippery ones and the super windy ones, that I wish I had the option, but I'm old and stuck in my ways ;)

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