On Saturday, I finally broke out of my one-mile running rut. Each winter, as soon as we get measurable snowfall, my running routes become more restricted because the footpaths don’t get cleared, and although running in the roadway isn’t out of the question, it doesn’t work with the dog on leash, and it’s feasible really only in broad daylight and not during rush hour. So the recent snowstorms have kept me running up and down our (fortunately long) common driveway and logging barely over a mile per run. Before starting the running streak, I didn’t even bother to run in the winter once the snow fell; now I often do only the minimum one mile necessary to maintain the official streak.
On Saturday, though, enough melting had taken place that the roads were down to bare asphalt, and I guessed there would be little traffic, so I took the dog and headed to a nearby neighborhood, and it felt so great to be out running a normal distance again. It was a gray, raw afternoon. No precipitation was falling but the air was damp, the temperature in the high 30’s, and although I always claim my favorite weather for running is the end of a hot summer day, in the past couple of years I’ve come to realize that physically, there’s actually nothing more invigorating than a day like Saturday; there’s something about the cool damp air that feels so good to inhale. After all the time indoors on Christmas Day, all the rich food, all the sitting around (at parties, in the car, at home afterwards when we were worn out from celebrating), it was the most wonderful feeling to be out running in the cool air.
I was listening to a podcast of “Science Friday” in which Dr. Julie Holland (“no one but my mother actually calls me Dr. Holland”) talked with Ira Flatow about her memoir depicting her years as director of emergency room care at Bellevue Hospital. Again and again, she returned to the theme of spending time outdoors as an essential factor in mental wellness – she actually thinks she might see more mental illness working in New York City simply because it can be harder for people to spend time outside – and her words dovetailed so beautifully with how I was feeling on that afternoon as I ran.
Bill McKibben wrote in Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas that what most people crave over the holidays is more quiet time and more time in nature, and as much as it makes sense that those should be elements of the holiday, it can be so hard to fit in solitude, quiet, and walks in the snow amidst the parties, baking, wrapping and errands. Saturday’s run, at 3.1 miles, restored my spirits more than anything else could have. The time alone, the time in the fresh cool air, the exertion, and the fact that it was the first time in a week that I’d run for more than 15 minutes at once got the week after Christmas off to a healthy, rejuvenated start for me, and I was so grateful for that half-hour of running.