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A Winter's Tale

Posted Jan 23 2012 7:20pm

“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
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