I have always admired those runners who are able to look out the window at the most adverse weather conditions and still be able to pick out the perfect layers of clothing, lace up their shoes and go for a run with a smile on their face. They are my heroes!
I will admit that I tried it for a couple of winters, and when properly dressed for it, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, on a sunny, crisp winter day, a nice run can definitely raise the spirits after long stretches of grey winter skies.
But when Mother Nature delivers long stretches of snowy day after snowy day, and it has been weeks since I have even seen a sidewalk, it is all too easy for my discipline to be hiding on the couch under a pillow and blankie, thumb stuck on the remote, leaving a trail of sodium-reduced potato chip crumbs wherever it goes.
However, when March rolls around, it is no exaggeration to say that I can’t wait to get out of the house. The excitement and desire to return to the running trails builds with each passing day.
But when it comes to those first runs of the season, I have learned that managing one’s expectations is incredibly important.
After being away from it for several months, I tend to over-romanticize the running experience, accentuating the positive, musing about beautiful spring runs on flat, bare sidewalks, the fresh spring air, the sun shining, and the birds cheering me on.
What a work of fiction! No wonder I aspire to become a writer.
Those first few runs can be a minefield of cracked uneven sidewalks, a slalom run of avoiding doggie doo, long jumps over puddles the size of rivers, and coughing like someone who should be hooked up to an oxygen tank.
Plus, in the days that follow, when my body feels like the Tin Man and my sinuses are running faster than the maple sap, I often wonder if this is still my sport of choice.
I know there is often mention of “muscle memory” of previous years’ running habits kicking in at some time, but some years, muscle amnesia seems to run deep. How is it that someone who successfully ran a 21 km half-marathon in 2014 be so out of breath and panting after just a few minutes?
Deep down, I know I am doing something good for body, mind and spirit, and I need to start somewhere, even if those first runs are a bit of a disaster. It’s all about sticking with it, not getting discouraged, and accept that these are the steps for getting back into the sport.
After a few years of false starts, mild injuries and competing with peak allergy season for me, I have come to accept those disastrous first runs. I expect them, embrace them, and laugh them off.
Of course, one of the answers to that would be to continue running through the winter months. I could, but I don’t find it nearly as enjoyable when my mind is on completely focused on the running surface and praying I don’t hit a patch of black ice, slip, fall and break a hip. Then I’d be sidelined much longer than just a winter.
Alternatively, with a few key pieces of exercise equipment in my basement and exercise programs on DVD, I gravitate more to indoor workouts, trying to maintain my cardio, to keep my strength up and to gently stretch the muscles through the winter months. While they may not offer the same intensity as an outdoor run, I’d like to think that they help me from losing too much ground in my absence from the running trails.
Rather than look at the first runs of the season at face value and the disaster that they can be, I have chosen to focus instead on the progress I make, week over week, and the fact that in a couple of months, with slow and steady increases in distance, I should be back at my 10K sweet spot and running for the fun of it.
The best part is that when I get to that point, I will be enjoying flat, bare sidewalks, the fresh spring air, the sun shining, and the birds cheering me on.
NOTE: Before beginning any exercise program, please consult your doctor or health care practitioner.
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