That was Hawaii, after all. This, right now, is east-central Illinois, in January, in one of the worst winters this part of the world has seen in decades. The temperatures look like wind chills, the wind chills are unspeakable, and the wind itself rips away body heat and rooftop shingles and carries it all into the southern hemisphere. But that’s not the worst of it, at least from a runner’s standpoint. The worst of this winter is the fact that much of the snow we’ve had—and we’ve had a fair amount—is still here, only in a non-fun form. You can run in the cold. No, really, you so totally can. You can run in the wind, though you’ll only enjoy it half of the time. You cannot run over ice. You can slide on it if you’re sure-footed or you can penguin-waddle over it if not. Or you stand before a patch of it on the sidewalk, shaking your fist and cursing—and not doing any running.My ambitious running year has gotten off to a terrible start. The first 50k became a 25k, and a really bad one at that. After nearly two weeks as a phlegm factory, I’m almost back to normal, but the trails and roads are not. Yeah, I know, suck it up and get out there. You have to understand something, though: I have never needed prodding to get out and run. I love running. I do not, however, love slipping on ice and smashing into pavement or frozen ground. Crazy as it sounds, I like my teeth right where they are.
In winter, even when it’s sunny, the light is thin, silvery and chilled. It’s easy to feel depressed in winter. Of course it’s easy for me to feel depressed damn near any time of the year, but it’s especially hard to avoid the down-and-outs when the light is so thin and fleeting. Whenever I step outside these days I have to remind myself, repeatedly and forcefully, that things are going well and I don’t have any reason to feel like I’m sinking into a hole—other than the fact that all outdoors is grim and dreary. It’s the beginning of the calendar year, and beginnings should mean confidence and strength, great strides forward into the future. Instead winter brings the urge to curl up under a pile of warm, fresh-from-the-drier laundry and stay there, preferably with a similarly hibernatory-minded friend, until June.But there is more light every day. And still we go out to run. Afterward we sit together inside and laugh about it, and no matter how awful it was out there we are so glad we did it, glad for the company of like-minded lunatics who fight the awfulness of winter by reveling in it. You can see your breath in winter, even in Hawaii, which means you can see—vividly—that you’re alive.