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Penguin Chronicles: Season To Taste

For runners, there is no off-season.

For runners, there is no off-season. 

I’m a Chicago area native. West Side. The first suburb due west of North Avenue Beach. Chicago is a four-season city. We have distinct seasons. Winter is brutal. Spring is wet. Summer is hot and humid. And fall is perfect. It’s the same every year.

I lived a fair amount of my middle years in areas, like Northern Virginia and Middle Tennessee with three and a half seasons. There was something that the locals called winter, but no Chicagoan would call it that.

The seasons were abstract realities to me before I became a runner. The whole concept of weather was abstract to me before I became a runner. Little things like temperature and humidity and wind chill meant very little to me other than helping me decide which jacket to throw on.

All that changed when I started running.

MORE PENGUIN: My Body & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

My first real run was in December of 1990 along the coast near Oceanside, Calif. The weather was, as it nearly always is in Southern California, just about perfect. I thought then and there that if this was what running was like, I was going to become a runner. Blue skies. Ocean breezes. Yeah. I liked running.

Unfortunately, when I returned to Northern Ohio, it was winter. Winter, winter. Cold. Wind. Snow. And cold. That first run along a country road in the late afternoon dusk, with the wind whipping across the fields was an eye-opener. Becoming a runner wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

The first thing I had to figure out was how to stay warm. My solution was cotton tube socks, cotton sweat pants, long-sleeved cotton T-shirt and a “Rocky”-style hooded sweatshirt. Oh, and a wool Navy watch cap and ski gloves.

This worked better than you might think until my runs got a little longer and I started to work up a sweat. I discovered all on my own that you sweat from the inside layer out, but that cotton freezes you from the outside layer in. There had to be a better way.

All of a sudden I was looking at apparel with fabrics like Gore-Tex and Coolmax. I learned that there were “wicking” base layers and mid-layers and shells. I also learned that these technical fabrics smelled pretty badly if your weren’t assiduous about keeping them laundered. Gone were the days of leaving my cotton gym shirt in the locker for the entire semester.

I’m still amazed at the kind of weather I used to train in back then. When you’re new to running, when your enthusiasm not only exceeds your ability but also your wisdom and experience, you end up doing things that later don’t seem all that bright.

As that first year of running moved through winter to spring and on to summer, I continued to learn about and experiment with all kinds of seasonal apparel. Gone were the tube socks, replaced by wonderfully cushy technical socks. Gone were the cotton T-shirts, replaced by shirts that kept me dry and comfortable even in the heat and humidity of summer.

Running attire has gotten better and better over the years. Every manufacturer has a line of clothing that will keep you cool or warm or dry. My closet looks like a running specialty store showroom. There are clothes for every season and clothes for any season. There are summer shoes and winter shoes.

I am a well-seasoned runner these days. I will retreat to the treadmill in Coach Jenny’s Gym if I have to, but only because I’ve learned that it’s never smart to do something stupid.

If Princess Summerfall Winterspring on “The Howdy Doody Show” in the 1950s had been a runner, I’m sure that she would agreed that there is no off-season for running.


About The Author:

John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at