Running Against the Cold

By Ana Maria Spagna

No one should have to run in winter. Let’s be clear about that. Skiing should be enough. But. There’s rain on snow and slush and sometimes bare ground on the shoulder seasons. So. There’s the bike trainer in the living room next to the stereo. There are sit-ups and yoga tapes. Hell, there’s the bathtub and the liquor cabinet, the bookshelves and the TV. There’s nothing that says you have to run in winter. But.

There’s also age and lethargy. There are creaky joints and caking arteries. There are missing brain cells scattered haphazard along trails and beside campfires, on interstate highways and in drafty kitchens. There are those glossy magazines that suggest the motivation should be filed under endorphins, desire for when, in fact, it’s the flipside: entropy, fear of.

So. You dress by the fire and repeat: No one should have to run in winter. You sweep the snow from the porch and walk down ice steps chopped into the bank, too steep, in shoes flimsy as slippers, trail runners, they say, as though trails only count in summer, not when shin deep in slush. You wear shoes with chains, or gaiters, and an Ipod despite the threat of predators. (Would you really hear them coming anyway?) You wait past the gloaming, the crepuscular hour when they roam. 

Then you run. 

You run in the tire tracks, the real driven snow, or if the road’s been plowed to ice, along the shoulder where a skiff of snow softens the slip. You run through the dark woods past berms waist-high and out into the open, past a meadow where snow level is true—the plow pushes the other way—and sometimes it’s over your head.

Photo by Jon Jonckers

There were years you ran only in shorts or a thin sweatshirt. Years you ran through orange groves, the smell of blossoms and rotting godknowswhat. And smog. Years you ran with a headlamp on drizzly bark-lined paths, the smell of wood pulp and commercial bakery.  There are no smells now, none discernable, save the woodsmoke inversion, the only sound your shoes, the only tracks the deer. 

This is what you get living here. Stuff you can’t explain. Solitude and silence, more prayer than play, more dark grey, a foothold, a footfall, one after the other, on the same stretch of sometimes-plowed road.  There’s no gear, no training goal, even. Just morning. Coffee, run, shower, life.  Repeat.

At home, you peel off wet socks and hang them by the fire, pull on a dry sweatshirt, put smoothie ingredients in the blender, stream radio from the outer orbits, watch wet flakes feather down, and think about the long novel on the bed stand or the seed catalog in the mail or the soup ingredients in the pantry. 

When the flu hits, you’ll be stuck. Warm and dry with nothing to complain about. So you’ll complain about the fact that you need to run, even in winter, but you can’t. The truth is: You want to.

Ana Maria Spagna has lived and skied in Stehekin, Wash. for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books including most recently “Uplake: Restless Essays of Coming and Going.”

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