The best thing about year round running…is year round running. By that, I mean actually being outside, all year, in every season, all types of weather, ALL types. That means the water boarding humidity of summertime to the face biting cold of the winter air. There is something uniquely awesome about not just knowing when the seasons change, but actually FEELING them. Don’t bother with reports from the weather man, just talk to your local runners. We’re up before you, out the door while you’re still in bed, and can tell you exactly what’s going on before the radars beam back their projections for the day.
And I can tell you, from experience, the seasons are in an abrupt shift, from the beautiful lung opening air of fall to the almost dangerously cold sting of winter…and this is awesome, because last year I COULDN’T tell you this. Last year, I missed winter. I missed it emotionally and I missed it physically, not because I couldn’t sum up the will to get on the other side of the door for a run, but because I physically wasn’t able to endure cold temperatures. Honestly, I physically couldn’t endure tepid temperatures. I couldn’t endure anything under 72 degrees. I wish I was exaggerating.
Last year, I was being filled again and again with chemotherapy, every third week with infusions and every two weeks straight with pills. One of those drugs I took was Oxaliplatin, of which a side effect happens to be “cold sensitivity”. The description sounds a little benign to be honest, like, “Oh, I’m a little more chilled than usual…sometimes I wear a sweatshirt to bed.” But no. It’s not like that. The first time I REALLY felt the side effect was during a drive, in the summertime, when I turned the air conditioning on to help cool off and placed my hand up to the vent. Two seconds later I jerked it back in surprise, as a very weird sensation filled my fingers, something between a mild electric shock and a rapid freeze entered my fingertips. It felt like my fingers were flash frozen, as if I dipped them in liquid nitrogen. I had been getting Oxaliplatin infusions for a bit leading up to this point, but the accumulation had suddenly hit a point that I would start feeling the effects, and it was still hot. I was sufficiently worried for the coming winter cold.
Each infusion brought an increase in side effect sensation. At first I felt it in my throat, when trying to eat or drink anything from the fridge. The liquid would go down my throat and I felt that same flash freeze sensation fill my esophagus, a scraping feeling would accompany the swallowing of any food. It was awful and almost immediately I stopped eating or drinking from the fridge. I left water out on the counter to reach room temperature before ingesting or just stuck to hot tea and coffee. For months I think I went without straight water completely.
Then as the temperatures dropped, just being out in public became increasingly difficult. Coffee shops that blew air less than 70 degrees had me almost running in panic for the safety of my warming car. I would be typing on my computer and start to feel my fingertips respond with small shocks as I hit the keys, then the flash freeze sensation creep into my hands. I started wearing gloves, coats and winter beanies indoor to fend off the side effects as long as possible. Ultimately though, I would also pack up and leave in frustration, unable to handle customers dropping the overall temperature when the doors opened and closed as they came and left. I didn’t want to stay home, but I feared going out in public too. I would go to Whole Foods for lunch, for the hot bar, looking for innards warming comfort food like samosas, but I would have to grab them with tongs while wearing my running mittens. I would buy the hot food and literally run to my car, crank up the heat to it’s highest setting and sit there, rather pathetically, stuffing myself with samosas and soaking up an environment-killing level of fabricated heat as the car idled in the parking lot. I may have looked ridiculous, but I had no other choice. The interior of my car was the only temperature I could effectively control without inconveniencing another person and actually remain comfortable. I feel like, all last winter, I was miserable….in part because I was.
For the first time, I was afraid of the weather, of the changing season I once welcomed with excitement.
And yet, I still managed to run through it all, well, when my hand and foot syndrome wasn’t out of control or my blisters had subsided enough to get in a few miles. I did this indoors, of course, on the treadmill at the Y, but even there I was relegated to wearing arm warmers and gloves as my sweat cooled on my body and brought the painful sensations back into my hands. At some point, however, running on the treadmill got me past the suffering, through either a bearable warming of my core or a distraction from the misery with a more rewarding sort of pain. Being outside, let alone RUNNING outside, was completely out of the question, but that was no hindrance to getting some miles in whenever I could. My appreciation for the treadmill has grown immeasurably.
It is now the end of November, and in typical Hoosier-state fashion, the seasons are changing. This time, however, this winter, I saw it. I saw it and I FELT it. And it was AWESOME…my excitement heightened by completely missing out on it last year, this time it was like being reborn in an entirely new way. I watched the leaves change colors with the dropping temperatures, then watched them blow to the ground like over-sized snowflakes, and ran over the trail painted with their small deaths. Despite the hardiest species still hanging on, the trees are now all bare and with a quick blast from the north, the leaves are now covered in a softened layer of freezing snow. The air now threatens to bite any skin left exposed to the elements, but the lungs are free to breathe with abandon, supplying oxygen to the systems that keep us going with speed and control. I know this, because I get to run in it once again. I have been patient, just waiting it out, and to describe how it feels to be out there again, to experience living, well…will always be inadequate.
Still, it’s not easy. But it’s the GOOD kind of not easy. I’m still adjusting to the drop in temperature and having to relearn how to properly dress for the various temperature changes. To put it simply, I’m out of practice. I forget what I wear in the 30′s, the 20′s and the teens. I forget what layers to put on, which gloves to wear, how long I can get away without wearing tights. Dressing for the weather becomes more of an art than it does a survival mechanism, and I need to brush up. During last Tuesday’s speed workout I thought I could get away with mittens over gloves, not realizing the evening temperature had dipped into the low teens with a windchill around 1 degree…and I paid for it. The pain that filled my hands as they thawed out in the car had me almost wanting to cry, waiting for the warmth to come coursing back in and masking the pain. Of course, I made it through. Then this morning, heading out for another speed workout in the cold, I brought my turtle fur (it’s vegan..duh) neck warmer and boxing glove type mittens, thinking I was ready to go, but quickly I realized I should have put on a warmer base layer as my chest struggled against the wall of cold air trying to force it’s way in.
But you know what, I don’t mind this problem. This is the GOOD type of struggling against the cold, the kind that just takes a little getting used to. I don’t mind, not only because I know this adjustment is temporary, but because I actually get the opportunity to struggle, to adjust, to experience the amazing power of the winter season, of air that stings the face, of a beauty that rivals summer sunsets, of a secluded quiet only the runners get to hear as they gently flow over snow covered pathways.
Last year I feared the winter, legitimately, and felt too close to those who constantly whine and cry about the natural world’s necessary shift in temperature and adversity, but not this year. This year I get to embrace the shift again, to not fear the change, but rather to be a part of it, to take my place among the creatures struggling for warmth against the cold and feel the joy of living through a dying season.
Go ahead and complain about the winter if you want, but keep perspective that you are CHOOSING to do so, that you have the opportunity to embrace the seasonal shift and be a part of it, while others in less fortunate circumstances have no other option but to cower in cold and fear. Maybe, in recognition of this privilege, we can choose to enjoy the experience, to be a part of it, to live against the dying.
I know I’ll be out there, salvaging every missed opportunity taken from me last year. Come join me.