Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January running

We’re in the thick of winter – and it’s the thickest thick of winter I can recall in many years. We have piles and piles of snow on the ground, record low temperatures this week, and more snow (plus sleet and rain!) in the forecast.

Needless to say, that poses a challenge to runners.

My problem is not generally the cold, though when the temperature is lower than about 20 degrees, I admit that the cold can be hard to counter. But the real problem right now is the snowbanks. Carlisle’s Department of Public Works simply does not have the manpower to clear the footpaths throughout the winter, and the houses along our meandering country pathways are not close enough together to expect homeowners to clear their own stretch, like in the city. Running on the road, though feasible at other times of year, is a terrible idea right now because the snowbanks are so high as to make it very difficult to get off the road if need be when a car is approaching. As a runner, I may be tempted to do it anyway; but all it takes is a short drive while I imagine encountering a runner on the roadway next to my car to realize there just isn’t enough room for both.

Fortunately for me, the plow driver who has been maintaining our long dirt driveway this winter is doing an excellent job of keeping our own roadway nicely packed and neat, and that makes it possible to continue running through the winter. We’re almost a half-mile off the main road, with three other houses on the same common drive; simply by running to each house and then out to the road, I can log a full mile.

But, of course, I like to do more than a mile. And once in a while I push myself to do the circuit of all four houses and the end of the driveway two or three times in a row, but it gets very, very dull. Retracing my steps is never something I enjoy, on any running route; doing it on my own driveway, day after day, defines tedium. It’s true that the scenery here never gets boring – surrounded by trees and meadows, our setting provides an ever-changing panorama of the seasons and nature – but somehow that’s not so easy to appreciate as winter wears on and on.

I admit it: I’m bored. And cold. Committing to a daily running streak is a great discipline, and with 1,264 days under my belt, I’m not ready to give it up now. But this is definitely one of the low points, and if ever I dreamed of taking some time off from running, this is that time.

Nonetheless, being a little bit exasperated with the limitations that winter weather puts on daily running serves a useful purpose as well. It reminds me once again of how much I love running under better conditions. Before starting my running streak, this was the part of the year I took off from running. I’d give it up for the whole of winter and early spring. And then as the snow started to melt, there would inevitably come a day in March – or even during a particularly mild spell in late February – when I couldn’t wait to get back out for my run. My body would start absolutely craving the feeling of the asphalt under my running shoes and the cold air hitting my face.

Now that I run every day, I don’t get that craving that comes from a respite anymore. But restricting myself to a mile or so on the driveway every day has nearly the same effect. It’s only late January, and I have every reason to believe the limitations of winter running will impose themselves for another month or more, but when the snowbanks melt, I’ll be ready. I’ll be even more eager to leave the safe dull confines of the common driveway than I am now, and my usual daily two-miler through the town center and back will have never looked so good.

With spring comes the end of hibernation. Once, my hibernation involved no running at all; now it involves one boring mile a day. The snow will melt, and when that happens, I’ll be more than ready to hit the road – the big road, with its myriad choices of running routes and wide variety of scenery – once again.

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