If you skip out on winter running you'll miss a chance to go where few tend to tread, and experience what few get to experience.
“I hate the cold,” says a long-time friend and runner. “I hate it.”
Nothing like sugar coating it, eh? And I have to admit, there’s not a lot to like about it. Cold is cold. And then there’s the darkness. Add some snow, wind, sleet or even ice and whatever fun was left has been summarily pitched out the frosty windows.
But skip out on winter running and miss a chance to go where few tend to tread. You’ll experience what few want to experience.
Back in the mid-80s, my college cross country team would end our season with a 5-mile race held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, appropriately entitled “The Frostbite 5.” My senior year, we won every age group award, 15-19 and 20-24. That day it snowed. It snowed a lot. It was so cold and so snowy that the usual field of 600 runners was whittled down to about 350 or so. To say “an experience” is a massive understatement. Those guys bring up that race every time we chat.
Runners tend to fall into two categories. The first are the 365-day-a-year runners who will get out almost no matter what. Many will accept the challenges of extreme weather (very hot, very wet, very cold) with either a “eh” or a “bring it on” approach. The second category, though equally committed, is less accepting of those weather extremes and challenges. Whether it is due to comfort or safety, they don’t head out the door. If they work out at all, it’s at the local gym.
I can espouse a million reasons why the first category of runners heads out the door when the wind chill is 12 degrees below zero, but unless you have experienced it, the concept is really unfathomable. I can also understand why the second category either cuddles up with a hot cocoa and skips it or finds the closest treadmill for their daily 5. That group is probably easier for most to figure out and identify with.
Running is about challenge and accomplishment. If you run, you do so for some intended purpose. I love to race. It is primary to all of my other reasons for running. And training on a snow-swept Route 72 during one of our 17 blizzards a few winters back gave me a sense of strength and resolve that carried me through a very successful year of racing. Think of it as base training on steroids.
Today’s marketplace provides all of the necessary tools to be able to head out the door and run fairly safely and comfortably on “those days.” From hats with lights built into the bills to clamp-ons for snow shoeing, winter running can be invigorating. Winter racing adds an extra challenge that will give you a sense of accomplishment like no other. Add a running partner and you’ll have all sorts of stories to share for years.
The local Icicle 10-miler is a perfect example of a race that carries on one way or another, no matter the conditions. Held in January, this frosty experience in Wilmington brings with it a case of the nasties, like last year’s 12-degree temps and ice-shortened course. So the 10-miler was closer to a 10k-er. If you’ve run it like me, let’s compare horror stories.
Each of us has a comfort level. It’s that point at which we feel both within control and not suffering. Winter running takes away a good deal of both. But stretching your level of comfort can pay big dividends down the road. Missing one run does no one any harm, but by challenging yourself to get out (at LEAST to that treadmill) will add an inner fortitude for your future running, or other “uncomfortable” moments. “Hey, remember that snowstorm three years ago? GREAT 12-miler!”
Of course, safety is always paramount to this insanity. Nothing should override that.
My college coach was a very wise coach. “Everyone runs the same course on the same day in the same conditions. The key is to mind it less than your competitors.” In other words, you don’t have to like it but you have to hate it less than the guy or gal next to you. And as most runners would say, a run on a terrible day is better than no run at all. So, go run in the cold. And snow. And wind. It’ll make you feel warm all over.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.