Friday, March 1, 2013

34 degrees and raining (a day in the life of a daily runner)

I have often remarked that the best thing about being a so-called streak runner, someone who logs a mile or more of running 365 days a year, is never having to spend time deciding whether or not it’s a good day to go running. I go every day; hence, I never have to choose whether to go.

And there are certainly times of year when that’s fortunate, because if I had to stop and think about it, I almost definitely wouldn’t get out the door.

This past week has been like that: the doldrums of winter, especially from a runner’s point of view. The three consecutive weekends of storms left over two feet of snow on the ground. In our town, the sidewalks don’t get plowed, which means running in the roadway with a three-foot snowbank to hurdle if you need to get out of the path of oncoming traffic. So I’ve been running on the long driveway at my parents’ farm, up and down, up and down; if I do three or four different variations on taking all the different forks in their driveway and then doing a loop around the parking lot of the ice cream stand next door, I can just barely eke out two miles. It’s safe from traffic, but the driveway has been slushy and icy all week; my feet get soaked and my clothes get muddy.

Up and down, up and down. Tedious, chilly and wet; yesterday it was raining as well, compelling me to trot out my favorite quote from Runner’s World founder Amby Burfoot: “There is no bad weather for running. Okay, maybe 34 degrees and raining.” It seems I’ve spent the majority of the past five winters running in 34 degrees and raining.

But this kind of weather is what makes a streak runner, in my opinion. Everyone gets out for a run on a nice spring day. Those of us who “streak” don’t wait for the right conditions – we just go. But to my mind, it’s not really a matter of fortitude as much as simplicity. Committing to running no matter what the weather means freeing up our minds to think about other things, and nothing frees up brain space quite like running perpetual laps up and down a half-mile-long driveway. I don’t need to think about the passing cars (there aren’t any) or the foliage (the trees are bare) or the houses along the way. I just…run, and let my mind fill with whatever it chooses. Anything except the cold damp weather or the icy slush filling my shoes. I try to think about the work I need to attack in the day ahead, or what I should make for dinner, or whether there are any errands I can get done in the afternoon, or how to respond to a complicated email.

The only thing I miss about the days before I became a daily runner was the feeling I’d get after taking the whole winter off from running, when the air was growing warmer and the snow was gone and I’d get a physical and mental craving to go running after not having gone for so many weeks. Now that I don’t take any time off, I never get that feeling, and I miss it. But instead, I get the peace of mind that comes from just plodding along with nothing much to think about. It’s a pretty good payoff, most days.

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