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Winter Running

Somehow we’ve developed a President’s Day tradition: we eat a local Chinese lunch buffet with Kaleb. We’ve done this for five years now; sometimes other kids have gone with us but it’s always Kaleb. He doesn’t eat anything but the fried rice and this Asian-flavored chicken wings, but he loves going there.

The older I get, though, the less I enjoy a buffet. I don’t love overeating and I actually can’t eat as much anymore.

So I definitely needed to exercise yesterday.

When we can make it work, Kendell and I like to go out to exercise together. Because of his hip replacements, he can’t run much, but we start on the trail together. We go to a local river parkway, which is a paved trail running right next to a river along the bottom of a canyon. (It’s one of my favorite things about living where we do.) We choose a time and start our watches, and then I run and he walks/jogs. We both go up for the same amount of time and then turn around, so we usually get back to the parking lot at the same time.

Yesterday when we were dressed and ready to go, we looked outside and realized: holy cow, it’s windy. Then we looked at the temp and realized: it’s also cold.

We looked at each other.

Kendell teased, “remember, you don’t like wind? Remember Loch Lake?”

“Well, there’s a difference between four hours in a blizzard and 45 minutes in wind,” I shot back.

(He thinks he’s funny.)

We drove to the trailhead anyway, Kendell pointing out along the way how the flags were all flying straight in the wind. I told him we’d be fine.

(I told myself I would be fine.)

I realized something. Two years ago, before we started hiking in the winter, given those conditions we would’ve just stayed home.

Only over the last few years have I learned that exercising in the cold is a thing you can do. Before that I was definitely a fair-weather friend of running. I’d do most of my winter workouts inside, grudgingly, or, you know: skip exercising for most of the winter, and then have to catch up all spring to get back my fitness levels.

I still exercise less than I should during the winter. Some of that is due to the inversions we get, as I’m unwilling to expose my lungs to deep breathing when the air pollution is high.

Some of it is that, now I know I can exercise outside in the cold, I really, really don’t want to run on the treadmill.

But I definitely go out way more than I used to. Like yesterday. Partly it’s because I figured out this amazing truth: they make clothes for winter workouts!  I dressed just warmly enough: wool long sleeve and headband, warm-ish tights with a skirt on top. It was chilly when we got out of the car, but that’s the other lesson I’ve learned about winter exercsiding. Once you start moving, you get warm quickly. It’s actually surprising how cold it has to be for you to feel really cold—for me, as long as I’m moving I’m warm unless it’s in the teens or colder.

Unless it’s windy.

Wind makes it feel so much colder.

But one other thing I’ve learned, after twenty years of running on this trail, is where the wind is strongest. So we started at a less-windy trailhead (there are several places to park along the trail) and went up higher into the canyon, and the wind was just a breeze up there.

In fact, my run was gorgeous. I was comfortable and felt strong and the blister I’ve been nursing felt OK.

Of course, as soon as I finished my run and started stretching, I started shivering and I required a long, hot bath to warm up again. (So sad.)

View while I stretched winter running

But I just wanted to toss it out into the universe for anyone else who isn’t sure: winter running is not only possible, it is lovely. You don’t overheat. You don’t get salty. You don’t start feeling dehydrated. It is a sere beauty you run through, quiet and calm sometimes, windy others. If there is water it runs blacker in the winter, a quicksilver, silent companion. If you happen to have a snowstorm begin while you’re out there, don’t panic. Running in snow is lovely, too, the flakes tapping your shoulders and hands and nose in friendly hellos.

To get out into the winter takes the right gear, knowledge of the area, and just this belief: believing you can makes you know you can.

(Which must be a truth that is applicable to many of life’s situations.)

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