Winter hasn't been a season of long runs for me. I have big plans - 15 miles on Sunday, or even just 11 miles on a Friday when I don't have much going on at work - but somehow, no matter how good the cold air feels to me, my body seems more inclined to slow speeds and long, gradual halt-grindings. I do more walking during winter runs than I ever do in any other season.
In summer, except for on the hottest days, walking is part of a "failed run". It doesn't matter if I run 14 great, energetic miles; if I walk the final 0.5, it's a "failed run" and I feel diminished by it for the remainder of the day. Summer, spring and fall are times for beating my best speed or distance and coming home covered in sweat and salt-caked clothes. But winter seems to be the season of 6 mile runs. 3 mile runs. "just around the lake" runs. "At least I got out there" runs.
I put off my Christmas run until 330pm. This is dangerous for me, as by 330pm I've generally found other things to do with my day, or I've eaten something that a jarring cadence will make me regret, or I've negotiated myself into an early morning run the following day and rationalize that an afternoon run would verge on a dangerous two-a-day, and to avoid injury I'm actually WISE to stay at home at this point.. an hour before sunset at any rate... etc. It goes like that.
However guilt over my consumption of 5 toaster waffles over the course of the day, covered with Chocolate flavored Whipped Jiff peanut butter, got me into my running clothes and out the door. It was 28 degrees and I managed to totally nail the running wardrobe choice. Even last winter - 2 years into my running career - I was overdressing. This year I finally wised up and realized that if I wasn't a bit uncomfortably cold when I walked out my front door I'd overheat by mile 3 and hate myself, and I wore running tights, warm ankle socks, compression undershirt, long sleeved t and a fleece vest. It was PERFECT. A quick win for me as I trotted down my street.
My biggest challenge lately, besides winter laziness, is my lack of anything good to listen to while I run. At some point I've gotten addicted to audio books, but in the course of becoming an aficionado (one f? really?) I've also become something of a narrator-snob. Finding a good story with an excellent narrator that is high energy and absorbing enough to carry me through a long run? Well, that's a sweet and rare thing. I have some old favorites, but they are all in danger of becoming memorized as I've relied upon them between new discoveries - which are few and far between. Today, for Christmas, I cued up the second half of Ready Player One - an old favorite that has an exciting late-half action sequence that lasts several hours, and a narrator that has gotten me through many a long run without noticing the miles slipping past. I've tried to forget the book as a treat for a day like today - make it brand new again. As I ran down my road I turned on the familiar story, and while it wasn't brand new, it was a nice backdrop to my other thoughts about my life and the day.
I ran through the park across the street from my house. This was the first path I'd ever run on during my "couch 2 5 K" days. It is paved, not very traveled except by dog walkers in the off-season, it smells like pine, has gentle hills and beautiful woods and passes the world's most perfect swimming lake with a rope swing Ky has cannot resist swinging on - even when the lake is ice and any rope-swinger risks a polar bear plunge if they lose their grip on the rope. (So far, no calamities - in fact, Ky's high school senior picture was taken mid-swing on that very rope, apparently floating effortlessly over the red and orange tree-reflecting lake).
As I ran, memories flowed in and right back out of my head. One of the joys of running is what people always urge during meditation: thoughts come, are noticed, and then keep going, leaving only a faint emotional impression and requiring nothing more. I breathe in winter air, icy in my nose, chilly in my throat, warm in my lungs where it circulates, filling me with oxygen, before flowing out in clouds into the air. It's refreshing. I feel like the inside air I've been breathing can finally be displaced by something healthier and fresher. I feel like I'm cleaning out the cobwebs in my lungs and in my mind.
My shoulders drop. My mind relaxes. My neck releases its hold on the back of my scalp and I grow a few inches in height. My stride changes, my feet making more (and less) contact with the ground. My breathing deepens and slows, absorbing more oxygen with every breath, as if I'm diving underwater and letting each oxygen molecule diffuse before surfacing to take another breath. I become a nicer person. Smarter. Happier. More efficient.
I go easier on myself. I forgive myself for all the small mistakes I made that day that I tend to beat myself up over. I remember why I love running. I remember why I spent $100 on running shoes that will last 6 months but dither over $70 boots that will last 3 years.
I live in a town where people smile hugely and genuinely when they see you on the bike path in the off-season. In our tourist town, seeing other people enjoy themselves after September is a great thing because we know that everyone we see is local, compadres, fellow weatherers of storms, entitled to enjoy each pleasure that happens outside the summer season - our hidden treasure, the Fall, the odd Winter day when it's 50 and sunny, hehehe this is all ours! - and on Christmas it's doubly that. There are smiles, hellos, "happy holidays!!!" and "oh, it's beautiful out today!" and "looking good!!" (this last only from the old men, who can get away with saying this to a woman in spandex, in sunlight, in the holiday season, clutching their little old wife's hand, a celebration of "young folks" doing athletic things with a smile, in the off-season...).
Today's run was wonderful. Town bonding, the most gorgeous sunset I have ever beheld - over the icy cold bay water, as seen past the orange and gold salt marsh - a little red fox I initially mistook for someone's off-leash dog trotting ahead of me for so long that I felt it was trying to lead me somewhere.
Without even trying, small bubbles of gratitude rose up in me.
I was thankful for my perfect running shoes and expensive, warm and cushioned socks.
For the icy cold but clear air, the shingled houses on the beach front, the red fox and the two little kids being pulled by a furiously energetic Christmas puppy on a new leash.
For the fact that nothing on my body hurt. I didn't have to go to the bathroom. I remembered to wear my head light and my reflective vest. I had Swedish Fish in my pocket if I got hungry. I had two Wollaver's organic ales in my fridge when I got home.
For the teenage boy in a deer-stalker cap resignedly humoring his elderly grandparents who were wrapped to the ears in scarves, each clutching one of his arms as they surged excitedly into the cold wind toward the salt marsh and sunset. (I loved seeing that)
I used to think a runner's high was like an actual "high" -whatever I thought that was. (In truth, my only experience with drugs was in the hospital when I was in hour 24 of labor with little Ky and the nurse gave me a shot of Demerol to sleep, but instead I chose to stay awake through it and watch Frasier, enjoying the unexpected experience of being drugged, and finding it MUCH to my liking) But I always thought of being "high" as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or like someone whose brain is senselessly going a mile a minute. And what I feel while running is more of the Demerol feeling - finding something interesting and worthy of attention in each mundane moment. I'll take it.