The only thing I hate more than running hills is running in the cold. I really, really don’t do cold. I’m a southern gal who believes that if we have to put up with triple digit heat and humidity that makes you feel like you’re drowning in a warm, wet blanket in the summer, we shouldn’t have to put up with freezing cold winters. I know, most runners love running in the cold and rhapsodize about the beauty of running on a still, snowy morning. For now, I’ll have to take their word for that. I also know that what passes for cold in south Mississippi is a far cry from real cold. Still, it’s cold to me.
The thing about running hills and running in the cold, though, is this. They make you a better runner, strengthening you physically and mentally. They build character in ways nothing else does, as I was reminded by a friend yesterday. Making your body do something it doesn’t want to do in order to improve it requires a mental discipline that far exceeds anything I’ve ever encountered before. That bleeds over into my life in ways that ease the burdens on my heart.
This morning dawned bright, clear, and beautiful, except that it was 31 degrees and windy. And, my running schedule called for a six and a half miler. I won’t pretend I didn’t complain, but I also didn’t try to beg off. Gary and I are running together these days, training for a half marathon in just a couple of weeks (yikes!). We’re finding our way back to endurance together, easing our mileage up slowly, running a slow, easy pace with no hill training and no speed work. I’m not looking to set a record at this half, it’ll be a victory for me to cross the finish line of this one. So, the hills and speed work can wait until my foundation has rebuilt.
The thing is, I’m a solitary runner. I have always enjoyed running by myself, no one to keep up with or slow down for, no one talking when I want to just breathe, or am struggling to breathe. So, when Gary committed to training with me, I was probably a little less enthusiastic than he would have liked. Usually not a big talker, he has sometimes annoyed me in the past by wanting to chat while we were running. (Those of you who know him know how funny that is.) Anyway, after some tactful and not so tactful responses from me, he’s learned the only voices I listen to when I run are the voices in my head. We’ve had many satisfying runs over the last few weeks, the quiet of the trail broken only by the slap of our feet and our synchronized breathing. (He can’t hear the voices in my head.) Don’t tell him, but I’m really going to miss running with him beside me when he picks the pace up after our race. Maybe I can make him slow down for the occasional workout with me. When it comes to running partners, I may have hit pay dirt.
This morning’s cold run was brilliant. I felt strong and solid the entire way, the sun felt good when it poured through the trees, and the wind wasn’t blowing too much down the trace. We both needed this head clearing run. I hope it cleared his head as much as it did mine.
Any experienced runner will tell you, never judge a run or race by the first mile. It takes at least that far to set your pace, develop a breathing cadence, find your stride. That’s always true for me, in running and in life. The first mile hurts, just as bad news hurts when it’s first delivered. But, running hills, running in the cold (or heat), making your body move when it really doesn’t want to, build your foundation so that you understand in that first mile that by the time you hit the second mile and all the following ones, you’ll be okay, one with the world, and able to move forward til the end. Life is like that. Getting up, dusting off, and moving forward when events knock you down makes the next set back a little easier to recover from.
So, if you need me on one of these cold, blustery mornings, I’ll probably be running, . Building my character by finding my stride.