Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Through sleet or snow for my daily mile

One of the best things about making a commitment to run every day is the close connection it’s required me to forge with the natural world.

And one of the worst things about making a commitment to run every day is the close connection it’s required me to forge with the natural world.

What’s good about it is that I never find myself oblivious to the weather the way I once did. Especially for people who work in offices full-time and commute by car, it’s so easy to go from home to car to office and eight hours later do the whole thing in reverse without spending any time outdoors. For people like me who live in houses with attached garages or work in buildings with garages, it can be even more extreme. Living in the city and walking to work or to the subway, as I did when I was in my twenties, I often complained about the freezing cold or rainy or slippery conditions, but at least I couldn’t overlook them. When I returned to full-time office work in May of 2006 after four years at home with children, I remember the first few days on the job I would leave the building at 5 PM and want to cry for the fact that I hadn’t drawn a breath of fresh air or felt a ray of natural light on my face in more than eight hours. And when I lost my full-time job, one of the very first things I felt cheerful about regarding my unwanted change of circumstamces was the opportunity to be part of the outdoors again throughout my regular day.

Still, even when the opportunities present themselves, it’s easy these days to avoid the natural world when the weather is less than ideal. We can still drive the kids to the bus stop, spend the day in the house, even exercise on the stationary bike or treadmill or at the gym and avoid exposure to the natural world when it gets really hot, or really cold, or rainy.

When I joined the United States Running Streak Association two years ago and made a commitment to run every day, I promised myself that even though the official USRSA guidelines allow treadmill running to count toward the daily minimum mile, I wouldn’t go that route. Like a lot of the other men and women on the USRSA registry, I resolved that for me, running meant running outdoors.

So for the past 856 days, regardless of the weather, I’ve spent at least ten minutes outside doing my daily mile.

I think about it a lot at this time of year because this is when it gets most difficult. Cold temperatures; ice on the ground; and such an early nightfall. Yesterday I had an all-day on-site contract position which would keep me away from home from 8:30 AM to 6 PM, so I did my run first thing in the morning. It was still pitch black out, and even though the freezing temperatures of the weekend had abated somewhat, the result was melting ice and slushy puddles all over the roadway. In the dark, I slipped and slid and stepped in frigid puddles that my headlamp failed to pick out ahead of me.

Still, I believe ultimately it’s a positive thing to stay in close touch with the natural environment. There are plenty of days in the winter I don’t feel like going out for a run. During our first year of daily running together, my son Tim and I almost always had to run in the dark on weekdays because of my work schedule. Coping with icy winds, slippery roads, patches of snow and sleety rainfall was part of the foundation of the tight bond we forged during that first year of running together. Together we discovered that there’s almost no temperature so low – at least in Massachusetts – that three layers of fleece can’t make it bearable for ten minutes. We learned to wear face masks and scarves as well as hats and gloves. We bought Yak Traks, the nylon webbing that stretches over the soles of shoes to give runners traction. We endured.

Now it’s winter again, and I’m already dealing with snow (not a lot, but enough to make the footpaths treacherous), ice, and short daylight hours again. But having to cope with those conditions, even by choice, even for just ten or twelve minutes a day, reminds me of the cyclical nature of seasons. We’re only a week from Winter Solstice. The daylight will soon last longer; the ice will melt. Springtime running will be back before I know it.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you come down on the side of nature, even in the toughest of times -- your telling of slipping and sliding through the freezing slush on a dark morning tells of great commitment and bravery.