Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The winter runner

Remember running? When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about running. I wrote about my training programs, and my races, and everything I was thinking about as I ran. But after a while, my pace started to plateau and I stopped setting goals for myself, and I realized that reading about someone else's running was pretty boring, so I stopped writing about it. But I still run about 60 miles a week, and most days you can find me at 5am on the streets of Salt Lake, trying to get a run in before the crazy day sets in. But just for a minute, indulge me as I write about running.

The summer runner gets ready in less than five minutes. At five am, all she needs is a tank top, a pair of running shorts, socks and shoes. She pulls her hair into a ponytail, and she's out the door. It's dark most mornings when the summer runner sets up, but she's always rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise. She can't run much past sunrise, because it's too hot by midday, and she picks routes where she knows she'll find water fountains. She also sees people she knows almost every morning, and takes welcome breaks to chat. On mornings when it's not too hot, the summer runner can take the kids out in the jogger if they keep her from getting out the door. The summer runner can also escape to the trails when she's sick of running the same routes week after week.

The summer runner also feels the pressure of speedwork, tempo days, and race training.

The winter runner sets out her gear the night before, but it still takes her 15 minutes to get dressed. A pair or two of tights, a shirt or three, an outer layer, heavy socks (with the tights pulled down so not a millimeter of skin shows), reflective gear, a hat, and gloves. Oh gloves-- the bane of the winter runner. She never knows which gloves to wear, despite checking the weather app on her phone more regularly than her email. If it's over forty, she doesn't need anything on her hands. Between 30-40 and she wears a shirt with foldover cuffs. Between 20-30, she adds a pair of light gloves. Between 10-20, she swaps out the gloves for mittens. Between 0-10, she adds hand warmers. Below 0 and her hands will be cold, no matter what she does. But the science is inexact, and most mornings her hands are either sweaty or freezing.

And chapped. Every inch of the winter runner is chapped. She has cracks in her heels and her fingers. A friendly pat on the back or the butt is liable to elicit a howl of pain, and no amount of exfoliating or shaving will help with her dry, scaly legs. She knows the limitations of every kind of lotion on the market, and super glues herself on a daily basis.

The winter runner often finds herself alone in the dark. I don't mean she's running by herself, I mean that she might not see another runner the entire time she's out, and the beautiful winter sunrises happen long after she's inside and getting started for the day. And in the dark, she has to be careful not to slip on ice or step in puddles of freezing water. She might even fall a few times during a winter, and spend days hobbling around, convinced she broke something in her back or her elbow (she didn't).

If the winter runner can't will herself out of bed before dawn, she could go any other time during the day, providing she has someone to watch her kids. And she feels no pressure to run fast or meet goals or to really do much of anything other than to stay upright when she's out during the mornings.

You might think that the winter runner spends the whole season pining for summer, or at least for spring, but she doesn't. She loves the quiet meditative mornings with no one on the roads. She loves the brisk air and the bragging rights. Her favorite times of the entire year are when there's fresh snow on the roads and she can be the first one to put her footprints in it. Of course, those feet might be a little bit tentative and her heels are certainly full of cracks, but she wouldn't change it, not for a whole year of summer running.

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