Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is it cold enough?

This has been some winter. I’ve had to field the question: “what do you do in this weather?” many times. We’ve had several snows, ample cold, and frigid wind. We’ve had many days of just-shy-of-freezing rain. My students find walking to class uncomfortable, and they know that I run regularly, so they ask me thequestion. My coworkers, many of whom exercise for health reasons, have moved their fitness regimes indoors. So they ask me the question. There may even be ultrarunners who enjoy a break from running during the harsh winter, who would ask me the question.

Here’s the thing. I laid off last fall because of injury. I’m my own doctor, and I had not prescribed a time to start back running. I was ambivalent about starting back. Then the bad weather hit. I remember the afternoon well. The temperature dropped steadily into the middle thirties while the rain was driven nearly horizontal by the wind. My first thought? Time to go for a run.

Finishing the aptly named Frozen Sasquatch 50K on January 2. Next up: Love'n the Hills on February 6.

I’m not a mutant amphibian. I dislike running in cold wet weather as much as anyone. My hands get cold easily – and they are impossible to keep warm in those conditions. So why would I choose to start running when the weather is at its worst? Well - supposing instead that I started back on a sunny “Indian summer” afternoon. What caused me to run? Was it the best time to resume training? Or did I start back because the weather was good? The problem should be clear: if the weather determines my running schedule, then good reasons (like actually being ready to start back) don’t. So I needed truly unappealing weather to prove to myself that I really was ready to start back.

I lived and trained in Louisville, Kentucky for many years. The Olmstead Parks there are truly a blessing for outdoor activity, and many runners take advantage of them. I always relished the onset of cold weather, though. The number of runners and cyclists would drop precipitously around mid-November. And on the nastiest days only a very few -- the hardcore -- remained. I enjoyed having the roads and trails to myself. You might jump to the conclusion that I enjoyed proving myself tougher than those who stayed home. I think something else was at work. My family will say that I’m stubborn. I say that I place a high value on my autonomy. When I am alone (or nearly alone), doing something difficult or uncomfortable, I have reason to feel that I’m not being swayed by outside forces. Outside forces are, by definition, outside of my control. Many of these are contingent and variable – especially the weather! I do not want to make myself subject to those forces. When the forces of the world seem to have conspired to prevent my run – pull back your window shade and I’ll be hunkered over on the horizon.


  1. I like your post and photo. I can certainly relate! My hands are the worst...you are a tough guy and I whooped for you when I learned of Froz Sasqut. Great photo by-the way...I am contemplating either the same run as you in KY or an 8hr in Va on the 6th....Hmmmmmmm.....

  2. I always love running when it's miserable out, especially when you see someone coming down the trail in the opposite direction. It's like an instant bond, realizing that even though the conditions suck, you both love the training too much to stay in.

  3. Hey man, good post. These cold weather runs are certainly something to value. I will be making the trek to Lovin' the Hills, but running the shorter race once again. See you soon

  4. Hi Eric, Much of your writing brings back many days of reminescing during injury. In health I am not a cold weather runner - part of it being brought up in the tropics of Okinawa, Japan, and perhaps a bit of Cherokee in the blood (paternal side). I crave the sense of trees fleeting by and the scent of decay in deciduous leaves and ask, where does it come? Learned? Innate? Running in a desolate land is quite appealing at the most - no breaks in thought to greet oncoming souls yet, welcome the interruption of root, rock, and trickling obstacles. Why then, are we drawn to challenges? Perhaps to know that we are up for the call both within and without...

    Thanks for the wonderful blog!


  5. Running this time of year toughens a runner and certainly makes me appreciate the warmth of spring and summer. On days that I feel sluggish in the warmer months, I always think, "If I could run in the snow and cold all winter, surely I can suck it up and get another one in today!"

  6. great post... while southern TN doesn't have many "extreme" winter days, we've definitely had some testing times this season. what do you do to keep your hands warm? I've been testing out a few diff gloves to no avail. curious to have any recommendations! thx.