I send this salutation to everyone but mostly to my fellow neighbors residing in the hills of the Laurel Highlands nestled in the Appalachian Mountain chain of the Northeastern United States.
Most especially, I send it to my fellow runners who celebrate the coming of spring for several reasons: clean, clear roads free from the enormity of plow, salt and ash trucks that may have sent us diving into snow banks several times this season to avoid being run over; the shedding of the multi-layers of clothes covering everything but our eyes and tripling our dirty laundry piles; and the return to trail running, which I did last weekend.
Even as I delight in the return of spring and melting snow, I’ll miss the winter runs that presented me with some valuable insights and lessons. Here are five things I learned this winter while pounding the ice and snow-covered pavement.
1. Things are more possible and passable than they might first seem. In other words, it was never as cold, snowy, icy or windy as one might have thought by simply peering outside. At first glance out the window or look at the daily forecast, it would have been easy to conclude that running outside was unreasonable. Rather, I took it as a challenge, and with a good warm-up routine and the proper attire, I delved into the adventure that is winter running.
2. Winter running clears the mind, refreshes the soul and uplifts the spirits. Running among a landscape of pristine white offers a quiet, soothing, peaceful stillness that can invoke introspection and serenity simply for the reason that less activity occurs during the days between December 21st and March 20th. Fewer cars are on the roads and fewer people and animals are out (a welcome relief from the dogs who chase runners in warmer temperatures!). I do love animals and people, but a three-month hiatus from the hustle and bustle that we experience during spring, summer and autumn clears the slates of our minds and souls, thus preparing us for the rest of the year.
3. Running outside keeps cabin fever at bay. My deepest thoughts come to me while running, and one day I thought this: I am thankful for the healthy feet I have that allow me to put one in front of the other so that I can experience the joys of nature, the fresh air and a sweaty, heart-pumping run session year round. Then my thoughts were led to feeling grateful for the cozy house awaiting my return, a hot bath and a warm meal, which led me to think about the homeless.
As wonderful as running outside was this winter, I could not fathom having to stay outside all day and all night. I contemplated how we who have roofs over our heads complain about cabin fever when others would give anything for simple shelter. I dedicated many runs after that to the cold, hungry and homeless. Further, I vowed never to bewail that my home was making me feel cooped up and crazy, and if it was, well, then, I would do something about it, like run.
4. Winter running makes upcoming races seem less daunting. Training for one spring race involving a high elevation gain and another involving seven miles of 20-plus obstacles or a summer trail marathon? Yes, yes and yes. With winter training under my belt, I feel confident and prepared as April, May and June, the months of my goal races, approach.
To be specific, here are the miles that I logged this winter: December—115; January—121; February—92.87; and in March, so far, on this 18th day of the month that I’m composing this story, I’ve run 79.2. Yes, I feel ready to race!
5. Winter running proves the simplicity, freedom and flexibility of the sport. By simplicity, I mean this: running requires minimal gear, whereas my three other favorite sports, white water kayaking, mountain biking and rock climbing, require large, man-made, not multifunctional and/or costly pieces of equipment. On the other hand, running requires shoes and clothes, which can be multifunctional, i.e., I can wear them for yoga or other activities. If we go the extreme minimalist route, we don’t even need clothes or shoes to run—our bodies do the work for us! Yet without specific gear, kayaking, mountain biking and rock climbing would not happen, even if we lost our shoes or clothes!
By freedom and flexibility, I mean this: we can take running anywhere and do it at any time. It travels with us, because, essentially, our body is our apparatus. Freedom from gear or the need to get to the right location makes running the ideal sport. Further, we can run on a wide range of surfaces, including dirt, snow, ice, mud, road, track, sidewalk, beach, forest floor, grass, cinder and city street, whereas with kayaking we need water and rock climbing we need rock.
In addition, we can do it in the morning, afternoon, or evening—in fact, some of my favorite winter runs were underneath the moonlight, after the sun set, or early in the morning, before the sun rose. Lastly, we can do it, as this winter has proven, in all weather—scorching hot, bitterly cold, wet and rainy, windy, in hailstorms and blizzards, in sun and snow.
To sum up, I ring in the springtime with a sense of ecstatic elation for my efforts this winter; for the coming race season; for the desire to run through figurative and literal rain, or in this case, snow, or shine; for running’s positive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits; and for my ongoing, ever-evolving, always-deepening relationship with the life-changing sport of running, which is, in fact, more than a sport—it’s a way of life.
Author: Brynn Cunningham
Editor: Travis May
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