To all my running teammates in New England – Run happy. Run smart. You’re awesome.
Since January 23, the Boston area has received 90.2 inches of snow – that’s more than 7 ½ feet! February 2015 is only halfway done and it’s already the snowiest month in Boston’s history, at least since record-keeping began back in 1872.
To say that training for a marathon or half-marathon in this weather has been difficult is an understatement. During my long run on Saturday, I found myself getting so frustrated at this winter, reciting mental diatribes against the paths covered in too much snow and ice to get sufficient traction, against the pedestrians who refused to let me pass by on narrow sidewalks lined with waist-high snowbanks, and against the intersections piled so high with snow that I had no idea if cars were coming or if I could keep on running.
I wanted today’s run to be different. Another 16 inches of snow had fallen since my run on Saturday, and Boston was under a severe wind chill advisory, so I knew that the paths and weather wouldn’t be any better. But I decided I would do whatever it took mentally to remain in good spirits and to make wise choices. “Run happy, run smart” was my mantra and only goal for today.
I believe most of us are attracted to long distance running because we love the feeling of overcoming. We love finding something deep within ourselves that inspires us to keep pushing even when we have every reason to stop. This winter is providing many opportunities to find that inspiration, overcome the mental challenges that accompany endurance sports, and “run happy.”
On recent runs, I’ve found inspiration through writing Running4Rare blog posts in my head, imagining myself as an Arctic explorer sent as a scout to find the best paths and then report back to the rest of the team (and then coming home and texting other runners about the current state of Boston running paths), and thinking of all of you pressing on in your training despite the challenging weather.
Shortly before a run about a week ago, I read Colleen Rice’s blog post about her son Andrew. In this post, Colleen explained that childhood excitement – such as that induced by the chance to build an awesome snow castle after a blizzard – can cause Andrew to throw up so frequently and violently that he has to go to the hospital. As I started to get annoyed by having to run/trudge through several feet of snow on an unplowed path, I recalled that post, as well as my own childhood excitement over massive snowfalls. In that moment, I resurrected my childhood self and began enjoying this trudge-running as a form of playing in the snow…playing in the snow for someone who can’t. Because all children should be able to experience the joy of building a snow castle without getting sick.
I’m sure you all find your own sources of inspiration on challenging runs, but I thought I’d share mine in case it triggers some new inspiration for you.
And as for running smart, here is some advice I keep giving myself and at least sometimes heed:
- Dress for the weather. This winter, I’ve discovered the wonders of a Merino wool base layer, a balaclava face mask, and ski mittens for those bitterly cold days. (The most pain I’ve ever experienced while running is unthawing my frostbitten hands in a sink filled with cool water that felt as hot as molten lava.)
- Be mindful of other people, realizing that drivers, walkers, and other runners are just as frustrated and browbeaten by this winter as we are – and they may not have the benefit of a “drive/walk/run happy” mantra. There was a Boston Globe article about how the series of blizzards are pushing drivers to the breaking point. “The shoveling is breaking our backs, and the cold is breaking our spirits,” says the article. “We were perfectly reasonable people not so long ago…It took us only three weeks to snap.” Running smart means having compassion and empathy for everyone else braving the elements, and it also means expecting drivers and walkers to be less accommodating of our fiendish marathon training than usual. They might not be as apt to stop for us – even if we are crossing at a crosswalk that’s buried under eight inches of snow!
- Listen to your body, not your Garmin. Running miles upon miles in this type of snow is tough on our bodies. For me, I can tell the muscles in my calves that I’ve been using to “stabilize” myself on ice and to jump and clamber over snowbanks are really sore. That’s why, on my run today, I chose to run back and forth on the few reasonably plowed paths I could find, rather than press on through snow drifts just so I didn’t have to backtrack multiple times. It’s important to notice if you feel an injury coming on, and know when to back off even if you haven’t hit the miles or paces that were in your running plan.
- Find an indoor alternative for at least some of your runs, whether it’s a treadmill or a track. I hate gyms the way I hate cabs – why spend the money for something that seems unnecessary? This winter, I am declaring it’s necessary!
The marathon doesn’t begin on April 20 or May 3. It begins now. Although there is no glory in the day-to-day training, these months are crucial to the final victory of crossing that finish line in the spring. And the mental toughness gained through this winter will certainly come to our aid on race day.
Stick with it; keep running; we’ll get to the finish line together as a team. If it helps, picture me and the rest of the Running for Rare Diseases team on the sidelines of all your training runs with a sign saying, “You’re awesome.” Because you are.
Or if you prefer a humorous alternative, the sign could say, “No matter how slowly you’re going, you’re still running better than the T.”
Here’s to overcoming the Winter of 2015!