Thursday, December 9, 2010

Early-winter running

Suddenly, it’s cold.

Not cold by Far North terms, and not even cold by winter-in-New-England terms. But cold for late autumn, which it technically is for another twelve days or so. I’ve been waking before dawn this week to temperatures still in the twenties; even in the middle of the day the mercury doesn’t hit forty. For early December, that’s chilly.

And I’m a little alarmed by how hard I’m finding it to adjust to cold-weather running, even for the twenty-five or thirty minutes I’m out doing my daily weekday two-miler. I’ve run in far colder weather than this, I remind myself. I’ve run in single-digit wind chills, blizzards, frigid temperatures. Two years ago, during a January weekend in northeast Connecticut, I ran five miles on a morning so cold my eyelashes froze.

This isn’t like that. Not at all. But somehow after the nine months of spring, summer and fall, I’ve forgotten the feeling of a chilly wind on my face, a cold breeze blowing down my neck. Even temperatures in the twenties feel startling to me right now.

But I know I have to get used to it. Winter hasn’t even begun yet, and with more than 1,200 days of consecutive running under my belt, I’m not planning to stop this winter unless unforeseen circumstances make it necessary. The cold weather is just setting in; I need to remember all over again how to layer the fleece and forge ahead into the wind. I need to renew the mindset that it’s good to feel a frigid wind as you start out because that means it will be behind you on the return, and I need to get reacquainted with the itchy, damp feeling of a sweaty wool hat on my head.

Besides, there are positive aspects to this cold snap. Once I’ve settled into the rhythm of the run, I find it invigorating. There’s a pure, icy edge to the air that makes each frosty breath feel cleansing. And the frozen ground is firm under my feet, even on the sections of the driveway that are muddy once the temperature rises into the forties.

So far, no snow has fallen, and that’s fine with me too. Snow is so pretty, but I’m not fond of the wet or slushy or slippery aspects of running in the snow. But that will come too in time, and then, just as with the cold, I’ll struggle with it at first, then remind myself I’ve coped with snow plenty of times before, and then gradually re-acclimate myself to its challenges and pleasures: the feathery fluffiness of snow beneath my running shoes, the muffled squeak as I run in tire tracks, the soft thump of running in powder.

Before I was a “streak runner” committed to running every day, I used to take the whole winter off. I’m glad that now I try to run through the cold and the snow. It’s challenging. It’s invigorating. And it reminds me that every condition – in running and otherwise – has its positives and negatives, its challenges and rewards.

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