01 February 2014

running through the woods on a snowy morning

As part of February Fun, I've set up a personal challenge: Run every day. Because what could be more fun than a physical challenge? And doesn't running during the coldest, snowiest winter I can remember just exude fun?

Of course I run a lot, but I don't run every day—and certainly not during February, when the gym has lost its luster and it's been so long since I've been able to consistently run outside that I'm starting to forget that I ever liked running in the first place.

To get through February, exercise-wise, I decided I needed to jump-start my love of running with a personal challenge {one of my most effective ways to motivate myself—that and any gold star-based award system}.

It doesn't hurt that this re-sets my definition of exercise success, just at the moment that I'm starting to beat up on myself for wimping out on going to the gym when it's -35 out with the wind chill and just when the idea of getting on the elliptical, treadmill, or bike makes me angry. I can't imagine being on that machine for a minute, let alone the 30 that I'm supposed to get 5 times a week, according to every doctor ever.

But run every day, even if it's just a mile? That re-sets the goal. That re-sets the joy.

I got this idea from Runner's World, which had a challenge in the November issue to run every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It was inspired by a guy who ran every day for something like 42 years, which highlights the problem I have with Runner's World {or really, running in general}: No matter how great of a runner you are, there is always someone who is {often literally} steps ahead of you.

In truth, this is more a problem with my competitive nature, but I spend most of my time while reading Runner's World thinking: You people are crazy...no, wait, I think I could do that.

For a competitive perfectionist like me, the running community is the right place to be. It is more about just getting out there, no matter your ability or time, and that's why you often see race winners giving high fives to the joggers stumbling over the finish line of their first 5k.

"You can do it," we all say to each other, and if there's one thing that running teaches you, it's that your definition of success is the one that matters—and that that definition can change.

Right now, my definition of running success is making it through the winter one step at a time. This isn't the time to chastise myself for not running 5 miles every day, nor is it the time to compare myself to people who do run outside, come snow or come ice. This is the time to be happy I'm out there, no matter the distance or if it's on a treadmill or if it's an ugly run.

So, the run-every-day challenge began today, when I am at a retreat center in Plano, IL. This place is a log cabin lodge built in the 1930s; there is no exercise room with treadmills, exercise balls, and a full-wall mirror you want to avoid looking at. If I wanted to run, it would have to be outside.

There is a nature trail around a lake, a wooded path that goes past cornfields and gives the impression of being somewhere you could run into Jo March and her sisters. I was enthralled with this idea: We've had quite a bit of snow and just think of running through the woods on a snowy morning!

I remained enthralled by this idea when I opened the curtains this morning and saw it was snowing more, just as the weatherman had said it would.

I remained enthralled as I layered up and pulled on my gloves and headband, laughing a little when I realized I'd forgotten my neckwarmer and would need to wear the very pretty scarf my dad had knit me for Christmas.

In fact, I remained enthralled until about halfway around the lake, when I had yet to run into Jo March and I realized that running through fresh snow is akin to running on a beach {leg muscle tiredness-wise} without the benefit of being on a beach.

Here's the thing about running: If you get tired halfway through, that doesn't magically transport you back inside, curled up on the couch with coffee. Only your legs can get you home, and crabbiness is not a power source for going faster.

Running teaches you to make the most of where you are, so this morning, I stopped running for a just a minute and really looked at where I was.

I was so far out in the country that there was no traffic noise. The only sound was the falling snow; it's easy to forget that snow does have a sound, light as it may be, when you live in a place of train whistles, sirens, and the persistent hum of cars.

The snowflakes hitting my face—I could feel them melting as soon as they touched my skin, and I stood in marvelling solemnity for a moment that I live in a world that can be snow covered one day but sprouting new life just a few weeks later. This world really is full of surprises.

Looking to the lake, I imagined ice skating and suddenly remembered ice skating with my sister at our dad's hunting club, Crystal Lake. The ice was rough, but the caretaker had cleaned a patch, and we were zooming around in circles, laughing when we fell. One of us—I don't remember who—discovered a fish frozen in the ice, his eyes wide open as if the ice had descended on him all at once and caught him by surprise. How does that happen, we wondered aloud to each other as we skated away from that frozen life.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, I thought. Robert Frost easily slips into a moment like this morning, and I had another half-mile to go before I—well, not before I sleep, but before I finished my run.

Reinvigorated, steeped in the quiet joy of a morning run, I kept going. It was just a little run, but I did it. I was out there in the snow, and I ran today, on this first day of February.

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