Columnist Susan Lacke is experiencing her first winter as a runner—and it’s the worst.
When I signed up for an early spring marathon, I thought it’d be a good way to stay motivated through my first winter living in Salt Lake City. “It’ll be fun!” I reassured my husband when I surprised him with our paired marathon entries last fall. “I’m sure we won’t even notice the cold!”
“Have you ever even run outside in the wintertime?” Neil cast a wary glare. As someone who grew up in the Utah mountains, he was well aware of what was in store for the upcoming season.
“Of course!” I scoffed. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last six winters?”
“Living in Phoenix,” Neil deadpanned, “where you whined and headed to the treadmill every time it dropped below 50 degrees.”
Despite my wet blanket of a husband, I entered winter training with gusto. There would be no treadmill for me! When the temperatures dipped, I enthusiastically pulled out my American Express card to purchase my very first pair of fleece tights. When I woke up to the first snowfall of the season, I giddily shook my husband awake and demanded we go for a run immediately.
That was three months ago. So much was different then. Namely, I could still feel my toes.
“So how do you like it in Salt Lake?” my friends from Phoenix ask. “You must love having a real winter, right?”
When this happens, I smile politely and debate whether I should pull down my pants to show the bruised butt sustained from slipping on an ice patch mid-tempo run.
Winter running, I’ve found, brings its own set of unique challenges to a sport that’s already challenging enough. Daylight is practically nonexistent, neighbors avoid shoveling their sidewalks, and no matter how long and how hot my post-run shower, I’m convinced I won’t fully regain sensation in my fingers and toes until July.
Last week, while in the midst of my long run, a car slid through an intersection and narrowly missed jumping onto my sidewalk. After taking to the trail system nearby, the park rangers warned of avalanche dangers. When I finally plodded into sight of my tantalizingly warm home three hours later, my neighbor stopped me to point out, with fascination, the icicles that had formed in my ponytail.
I’ve punched at freezing headwinds while unleashing a string of expletives. The limits of my groin muscles have been tested by black ice. I’ve hidden in the shelter of a bus stop to awkwardly massage a frozen gel out of its foil package. And I wish I could say I’m kidding about this, but I’ve discovered that running tights make my butt cheeks chafe. I didn’t even know that kind of chafing was possible.
These are the times when, as a runner, I wonder what the hell I’m doing. Is a spring marathon really worth the winter training? Should I maybe just go inside, put on some weight with a gallon of hot cocoa, and hibernate until Memorial Day? Winter running is the worst. The absolute worst.
These are just a few of the things that run through my mind when my friends ask me how I like living in a place with a “real” winter.
And I always say: “I like it.”
This is the absolute truth. I’m not saying it to be polite. I really do like winter running. Sometimes I even love winter running.
Despite the fact that winter is the absolute worst, I’ve laced up every single day. Instead of hitting the snooze button and staying in my nice, warm bed, I’ve consistently gotten up, donned my fleece tights, and ventured into the dark morning for a good old-fashioned butt chafing.
As a result, I’ve grown more as a runner in just a few winter months than I have in any full season. I’m tougher now—hardier, perhaps, is a better word. My list of excuses for skipping a workout has become all but obsolete. I feel more satisfaction for making it through a tough, slow slog through ankle-deep snow than I ever did after any fair-weather session in Phoenix. I’ve proven that—for better or for worse—I’m committed to running.
Is a spring marathon really worth the winter training? I won’t really know for certain until I cross the finish line in a few months. But yes, I think so. I hope so.
After all I’ve put my poor butt through, it damn well better be.
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About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.