Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Winter Runner's Land

It’s winter here in the Midwest – in fact, the winter this year is rather insistent and vehement about its wintry-ness, and it has taken to reminding us of its icy influence with blizzards and lightning storms and runs of single-digit temperature days.

So it may surprise you when I tell you that I’ve taken up running again. I’ve sought sanctuary under the summer skies for years now, but I’ve always believed that the joy of running was seasonally confined to half the calendar. And then Christmas came and went, I was feeling more emotionally energetic and I was antsy. No amount of yoga was going to satisfy my need to move my body. So, I called my older brother.

“Hey, Big Brother! I need advice. What does your girlfriend wear when she goes running in the winter?” My older brother’s partner of three years is a die-hard runner. She runs in the summer, the winter, the rain, snow, sleet, hail…she’s like the Post Office but without those unattractive uniforms. But what is her uniform for winter wanderings? My brother listed the items she wears to face the Michigan cold, and I dutifully purchased those I did not own and set out on December 31st for my first ever winter run.

After donning running tights, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, running shoes, sports bra, t-shirt, two long sleeved-shirts, a white hoodie, two pairs of gloves, an insulated head band, a winter hat, and a hood/cowl with a drawstring that closes over my face so that just my eyes peek out, I looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and I felt like the kid from A Christmas Story (“I can’t put my arms down!”). But those layers of cloth and good advice protected me from the bitter cold, and I was able to enjoy a refreshing evening pounding the pavement of my favorite route. And I found, much to my surprise, that there are some uniquely wonderful advantages to running in the winter, which warm-weather excursions cannot provide. So, without further ado, I give you The Ten Best Things About Running In Winter:

10. Fewer Runners: unsurprisingly there are fewer people out on the sidewalks of suburbia when it’s single-syllables outside. This means more leeway for me to make the path my own.

9. Earlier Sunset: I like to run at night, in the darkness, because I love the silence and the anonymity of the shadows. And whereas in June I have to wait til 9:00 before it’s suitable dark, in January I can set out at 6:00.

8. Increased Anonymity: And since being anonymous is one of the advantages of running at night, my cowl/hat/hoodie ensemble only serves to increase the feelings of security I gain from facelessness.

7. Christmas Lights: I know the season for festive decorations has ended and soon my running route will be dim again, but this last week I have really enjoyed seeing all the creative lighting displays around the neighborhood – enough to put them on this list despite their limited longevity.

6. Soup is Satisfying: Whenever I go to the grocery store I prowl the soup aisle and purchase all kinds of delicious concoctions that sound appetizing – but then I get home and it sits in my cupboard because I’m never in the mood for soup. Well, it turns out that after you’ve spent an hour outside in negative wind-chill, soup sounds pretty darn good.

5. No Smoking: I confess, I’m a former full-time smoker turned occasional smoker, and one of those occasions is post-workout. Sometimes I reward myself with a cigarette after exercise, but that’s virtually impossible in the winter. By the time my run is near its end my lighter is frozen and my gloved fingers are too clumsy for matches.

4. No Bugs: Every summer I swallow at least a dozen bugs, and I bat away many more from my face and body while I plod through the humid night. But the bugs don’t venture out in the winter, and even if they did they’d have a hard time finding me under all my clothes.

3. Clothes Weigh a Lot: My eight layers of protective gear actually add up to quite a few extra pounds on my frame. And that extra weight I’m lugging around means my body has to work that much harder to move itself, which means I’m getting an even better workout than I would in the summer.

2. Shorter Walking Breaks: I confess, when I say “run” what I mean is “jog and occasionally walk” but “run” just sounds so much more ambitious, you know? But the thing about winter “running” is that those occasional walking breaks are shorter by necessity. If I slow down too much for too long I’ll freeze, so the cold keeps me moving.

And…the number one advantage to running in the winter is…

1. NO SKUNKS! I cannot tell you how the neighborhood Mephitidae have plagued me over the years. I have mapped route after route trying to find streets or parks not riddled with skunks and it is impossible. They are everywhere at night in the summer, and they are not eager to share their domain. I’ve even had skunks stalk me and chase me down the street! But apparently they go into a period of semi-hibernation during the winter, which means that right now, the streets belong to me! Take that, Pepé Le Pew!

So, if you’ve been feeling listless these past few weeks but had ruled out any outdoor exercising as a cure on account of the cold, I hope this list encourages you to reexamine those conclusions. You may find that the activities you love in the summer are just as enjoyable, or even more so, when the north wind blows.

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