Winter Running

It’s the best time of the year to run. The colder, the better.

It’s true, it’s fantastic to run during the spring, especially after a long day at work. You get home, throw on a pair of shorts, a tank top, some socks and your running shoes, and off you go. The second you throw open the door and hit the pavement, you want to throw up your arm and scream, “Oh YES.” It’s still light outside, the sun is shining down just the right amount of heat, and nothing but good vibes are streaming in — from the shimmer of the green grass to the breeze flowing through the vibrant leaves to the smiles on every person you encounter, especially other runners. Had a shitty day at work? A run in the park can take it off your mind. Had a great day? A run will make you appreciate it even more.

Summer is for sweating. I like the mindset it takes to get out there on those especially humid days, and the endurance building that goes on as you make your way through the sickly, liquefied heat. There isn’t a glass of water that tastes better after you’ve baked yourself running in the humidity of an overwhelmingly hot summer day. Sure, going out in the morning helps, but not that much. I always worry that I have fried my brain after a run in those conditions, and the fact that I can’t remember that much about them unscientifically confirms my worst fears.

Fall offers up the colors and the beautiful decay, and the hint of the winter chill to come is refreshing. I’m a sucker for a season change, and the shift from summer to fall is the most striking. But there’s a melancholy to it all. Summer is over. Winter is coming. All things must come to pass. It’s a contemplative time, and vibrant colors notwithstanding, my mind tends to go to the darker places, those stored in memories, which seem to resonate in all that may, or may not, unfold in the colder and darker days ahead.

And yet, when winter comes, and the worst of its weather arrives, that’s when I think it is the best time to go for a run. Sure, you’ve got to put on gear — wool socks, running pants, layers of shirts, wool cap, gloves, maybe even a face mask. Yes, you’re feet and hands might get wet, and you’ll end up feeling the freezing cold down to the bone in your sensitive toes and fingertips the entire time you are out there. Your lungs may not forgive you for the frozen air you keep sucking into them, and punish you with some kind of debilitating cold that turns into a cough that lingers on for weeks. Toward the end of the run, your feet may actually turn on you, no longer willing to take the pounding you are giving them, unable to get a good grip for a true forward thrust. Extra effort is required to make less and less progress, and yet, you are still moving forward.

Look, it’s not like climbing Mt. Everest. I run in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. I’m making it sound much more dramatic than it is. The truth is, if you can get past that first smack from the cold air when you open up that door, then you are set. And after putting on all the gear, taking all that time gathering it up and pulling on all those layers, trust me, you are going to go ahead with the plan to head out for a run. One step forward and you are off and running into the cold and the quiet and the emptiness, and frankly, there is nothing quite like it.

Seeing an entire stretch of the park with no one in sight, with an entire expanse of snow without a single footprint in it, the pounding hum of wind across the landscape and through the leafless trees. There’s too much room for your thoughts to coalesce, and it provides a welcome moment of nothingness. There is simply no denying that you are a beacon of beating heart heat, trudging your way along a path that, at least in this singular moment, no one has ever forged before.