“Are we doing this,” I texted my friend Christine in the dark hours of the morning. “It’s 18 degrees below zero.”
I waited. Watched the grey ellipses on my phone and hoped she would say sleeping in sounded better, or coffee and pajamas, or anything sounded better than slipping out from under a warm blanket and putting on layer after layer of running clothes.
“Yep, see you in a bit,” she replied.
I sighed, dipped a toe out from beneath the blanket, heard the coffeemaker beep downstairs and followed the sound. Standing there in the kitchen, I checked the weather and saw there was little wind. A snowstorm the day before had dumped inches all over the city, and it was still and clear and beautiful outside
I had been struggling with winter running. It always takes me a few runs to remember that the joy in winter running is not caring about pace, instead just running for time and laughing as you high-step over every snowbank at every corner.
“Wearing cleats?” she texted.
“Ugh, if I have to find them, it will take me another 10 minutes,” I replied, and began digging through a bin of random running gear, thankful to stall a few more minutes. I found an entire case of chemical handwarmers that Santa leaves for me under the tree every year, and ripped one open to warm up while I kept looking.
I found my cleats, put them on my shoes, and then shrugged on a dirty fleece I had run in earlier in the week, a windbreaker, balaclava, fleece hat, cheap stretchy gloves with holes in the fingertips and giant windproof mittens.
And then I began.
The worst was the first stretch, as I headed north into the wind and remembered that I usually put Vaseline on my face in the winter to keep it from freezing. I have a spot on my cheek that I think once had frostbite, and it always goes a little numb when I run in the cold. I waved to the people snowblowing, thanked them for clearing the sidewalks as I made my way down the middle of the unplowed street.
I met up with Christine a half mile later, and we turned west, out of the wind, each choosing a tire rut as our path on a side street, and the day opened up to us. We went down to the bike path, realized it hadn’t been plowed yet and chose to go back through the neighborhood, turning a loop into an out-and-back.
We saw other runners, only recognizable from their stride, every other part of them covered in gear. Followed the path of someone who had been out with a dog earlier in the day, the pawprints loping alongside the shoe tracks.
She ran me back to my house, and we stood in the driveway and talked about the miles. We wiped our noses with the backs of frozen mittens, dipped our chins into our balaclavas and breathed warm air for a minute. My glasses fogged over, and her eyelashes were frosty and white.
“I knew you’d be OK once you got going,” she said.
She was right. We’ve run together for more than 12 years, having met during a race and connecting immediately. We’ve logged hundreds of bitter cold miles, through blizzards and ice pellets and every possible bad idea weather you can set out in.
Coffee and a library book in my picture window, the blinding white of the outdoors illuminating the pages as I read, would have been a fine way to start my Saturday. I know that.
But a better way was to be held accountable by a friend, to just open the door, let someone else make a plan for you sometimes and just go along with it, knowing that sometimes they know what you need more than you do. And that Saturday morning what I needed were a few mindless miles, conversation stopping as we turned into the wind, picking up again as we came down a hill and looked at a few new houses being built.
The reminder that the true love is being outside.
That the weather only matters if you let it, matters more on race day than in training, and not at all on a snowy Saturday when the whole point is just to go.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged
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