Winter running is not for the faint of heart.
Snow, ice, uneven terrain.
If you are lucky the trail has been groomed, the sidewalks plowed. If you are unlucky, you become the trail blazer as your feet kick up snow and slip out from under you on the slippery surface, making you realize the absolute futility in trying to run with any semblance of speed in fresh powder.
If you are extremely unlucky, then the giant street plow has just come by, swept the street, and effectively blasted all the snow, ice and debris from the road into giant frozen, rocky chunks of winter that litter the bike path you have to run through to access the trails.
Running will quickly turn into an obstacle course when this occurs, as you lift your knees in a fashion akin to a football player doing a tire drill and try not to think about how much you detest running this very second or how stupid you look.
Then there’s the thermometer which dictates how many layers to wear, if the balaclava needs to make an appearance, and whether or not your lungs are going to be feeling the balmy brush of 20 degrees or the sharp scrape of below zero.
At present? It’s -6.
I will still run today. Somebody told me that I must be either very tough or extremely crazy running outside on days like today. Perhaps a bit of both I suppose, but mostly I just want to feel the freedom of running.
So I run.
When I venture outside in extreme temperatures, I swear some primal part of myself wakens. Like this Bear Gryllis alter ego who knows that subzero poses a Man vs. Nature risk. My survival instincts kick in. I am no longer just running, now I am surviving.
Never mind the fact that unless I’ve ventured onto a far off trail, I’m usually pretty close to town and only within 2-10 minutes of asking for help via passing car, nearby house or other trail user- if on some random chance I really needed it which I never have. In my mind, it is me against the elements.
Run or Die.
I’m convinced if you stop you will pretty much freeze in about 30 seconds, becoming a permanent ice sculpture that decorates the trail. Other crazy trail users will pass by and pay homage to the little runner girl who turned into a block of ice, as they shake their scarf wrapped heads over the shame of it all and read the words inscribed on the tiny tear stained plaque somebody placed by the statue.
She shouldn’t have stopped. Run or Die.
One might wonder if it would simply be easier to stay indoors on days like today. The thing about being a trail runner though, is that it’s not just the running you love, it is the trails. The Great Outdoors. Mother Nature. Pine trees. Bubbling creeks. Mountains. Quiet. Solitude. The feel of peace in your heart. The feel of fresh air on your face.
Granted that fresh air feels extra fresh when it is below 0, but I will take my fresh air over a warm gym and boring treadmill any day.
I do poorly with being confined. It’s one thing to curl up in a giant ski sweater and wool socks with a stack of good books on a chilly day, from my perspective books and a warm reading spot go hand in hand. A reading marathon makes for a fantastic indoor sport. But it is quite another thing to take something that was inherently meant to be done outdoors and confine it to the inside, which is why I abhor treadmills and gyms.
The don’t fence me in wild horses, galloping around in my heart, just shuddered at the thought.
To me, running is the gift of traveling on my feet. Seeing life from a vantage point that I wouldn’t otherwise. Every run, no matter how small, is a new journey.
A pink sky, early morning sounds, a happy dog, a particularly beautiful snow laden tree, an odd shaped puddle, that certain scent on the breeze that tells you change is in the air… these are the gifts I receive along my journey.
You can’t find those in a gym.
So I venture out. In search of gifts. No matter how bad the elements.
I will admit that at times this requires a bit of giving oneself an internal pep talk, drawing inspiration from one’s wild horses, and simply ponying up despite the outdoor situation. Which leads me to my initial statement, winter running is not for the faint of heart. But I have found that it comes with gifts that restore and fill your heart.
How else am I going to bask in a sky so beautiful it almost makes you weep? Or listen to what the trees are trying to whisper to a culture who forgot how to listen long ago?
Or appreciate the pink hue that softly falls on the winter world this time of year? Or get charged by an irate moose and spend the next 10 minutes picking my way through the alders?
Mostly, how else am I going to be with just myself, my thoughts, my heart, my spirit as I step away from the usual fray and chatter of life, find new perspective and pause long enough to listen to what I have to say.
Just don’t pause too long when it’s -6 out.
Because, well, you know what will happen then. Run. Or die.