A satisfying winter run…

All is quiet except for the tapping sound of my running shoes as each makes contact with the pavement. After weeks of fluctuating temps, the ground has finally been frozen solid by the recent string of sub-zero temperatures. Aside from the sound of my shoes, the silence is broken only by an occasional twig snapping as it succumbs to the pressure of the freezing sap expanding within. There are no birds chirping or dog’s barking―anything with a heartbeat is confined safely within a shelter. I am the exception.

I’ve planned for this morning’s long run to be somewhere between 10 to 15 miles. Of course, the distance will depend on how my legs are feeling and my endurance is holding up. The pace is leisurely―for me anyway. Some runners would say that I’m running too fast to call this an easy run. Still, a few might consider the pace to be too slow. This sport certainly spans the spectrum of ability and talent. When I’m at the five mile point of this out and back run, I do a quick assessment. I find my body is agreeable to a longer distance on this day. I am somewhat smug at the findings. If this sort of pride is a sin, I figure it’s between me, God, and the road I’m running on.

At this point in my years of running, I think maybe I’ve even earned the right to be pleased at my present fitness level. Day in and day out I’m out here braving the elements, right? From experience, I know that the ability to hone one’s running skills is available to everyone, if they will only put in the requisite miles and time. But, the barren landscape around me, which appears to be devoid of life, reminds me that I am my neighborhood’s lone running emissary on this particular morning. Of course, that’ll all change when the weather breaks, and the world is awash in summer’s warmth. Perhaps I do deserve to feel a bit smug.

Another two and a half miles further, and I perform another self-assessment. I find I’m feeling really good. But, I’m still in the opening half, and each step which takes me further from home will have to be retraced. Then I think, just another mile and a half and I’ll be nine miles from home. When this run’s completed, I could have a rare winter season eighteen miler to add to my running list. It’ll be tough going back, I know, and my legs will feel like they’re made from lead for the next several days, but it’ll be worth it. I continue on. I have no water. This isn’t unusual―it never was―especially during my early years of running. But, in temperatures that are this frigid, cold of this sort can wick dangerous levels of water from the body through one’s respiration.

I reach nine miles and turn around. It is then that I notice I’m feeling a bit tired. Through years of experience, I realize that this feeling is part physical and part psychological. Completing this run won’t be easy. But, success was never intended to be a walk in the park. That’s what makes runs like this so special. Over the years, I developed a philosophy, that the “real run” doesn’t even begin until a person starts to become fatigued. Only then can he push his body to its natural limits. And, only then can he press to expand on his boundaries. The rest of running (in my opinion) is just necessary filler―cursory stuff―yet required if we are to get to this point. In doing so, a person gets lean, mean, and fit. After the feeling settles in, the real run begins. I get a sense that I’m beginning to burn through my remaining reserves and finally building on my endurance.

At twelve miles, I’m feeling remarkably warm. And, beneath my Gore-Tex® running suit, I am drenched. To stop now would be to risk hypothermia. My legs are starting to feel as if they’re made from jelly. I’m almost mentally giddy, though, at the thought of how far I’ve now traveled and how much I have left. My mouth is growing dry, my breath a bit more labored, and the periphery of my vision is starting to swim (as sometimes happens when my reserves are depleted). At fifteen miles, I am growing ever more aware of my surroundings. The sun appears to be shining a bit more brightly. Even as I am struggling to maintain my pace (on all out and back runs, I always strive to maintain at least the same pace, or even better to run the second half faster, regardless of the distance), I am on the verge of euphoria. The final three miles pass without incident. In fact, I barely remember them―a blend of aches, pains, and satisfaction―all rolled up into one. I stumble through my home’s front door and am greeted by the aromas of breakfast. A short hot cleansing shower and I’ll be ready to take on the day.

Yours in Running,

Dennis Gravitt

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