Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:47:16 -0400

Winter Is Cool

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each week, this one from January 1996.)

My winters arenít what they used to be. Now that Iíve pulled up my Midwest roots and replanted them near the Pacific, only a few days each year dip just below freezing. This passes as winter in Oregon.

I donít miss true winters and canít call this my favorite season. But no other has served me better, longer.

Winter first made me a runner. Without it I might not be running in any season now.

After failing at basketball one January in high school, my track training started early. Remember, this was Iowa in the late 1950s, when hardly anyone ran before spring broke out.

That track season, my mile PR dropped by more than 20 seconds. I placed in the state meet for the first time.

Nothing hooks a kid quicker on a sport than some low-grade success. This was my first taste of it as a runner.

I imagined then that hard training and a talent for the sport had led to this breakthrough. Now I know that it was neither.

My training load was laughable by todayís standards. I averaged less than 10 miles a week that first winter.

My talent was nothing special. In any random group of 10 teenagers at the time, seven would have been stronger and the others faster. My edge Ė my only one Ė was winter running.

Any U.S. runner not living on the southern and western fringes of the country still deals with real winters. If you do, you might be asking the same questions I did in 1959.

Youíre between racing seasons and thinking about what to do this winter to hold onto some of your running fitness, if not improve upon it. Youíd like to keep running but wonder about the wisdom of going out in the cold.

Runners still harbor unnatural fears of winter, thinking their lungs might turn to popsicles if they breathe the icy air. So I sneak up on the subject of going outdoors by talking of indoor substitutes.

Run, hamster-like, on an indoor track or treadmill if you can find one. Swim, play basketball, lift weights. Almost anything you do will be better than hibernating for the next several months.

But donít just accept substitutes. The best training for running is running, and running at its best is an outdoor sport.

Most days you can get out and do something. Few winter days are so deep-frozen that running is foolishly risky.

In fact, the cold air is the least of a runnerís problems this time of year. The running body quickly makes the temperature feel 20 degrees warmer than the true reading.

What starts as a sub-freezing run soon seems like the cozy 40s to 50s. You plan the running Ė and dress for it Ė with this warming effect in mind, not by how the day feels when you first poke your nose out the door.

Your main winter threat isnít the air around you but the ground beneath you. Sidewalks and shoulders are often snow-drifted, streets ice-crusted.

You compete more directly with drivers for space on the cleared roads, and in more hours of darkness. This confrontation is by far your greatest wintertime risk.

Winter forces flexibility into your routine. You run whenever, whatever and wherever you can.

You canít expect to run normally every day. Instead you hope to for three or four good runs a week, however the conditions let you take them.

Plant the seeds of warm-weather success in the cold. You donít need to do much running then to get a jump on people who arenít moving at all.

UPDATE FROM 2014

This year started with a rare taste of real winter in Oregon. First came heavy, wet snow, followed by sub-zero cold that turned every exposed surface into an ice rink.

On the far side of age 70, I no longer trust my feet to keep me upright on icy streets. I surrendered to indoor running for the first time since moving to the warm coast in 1967.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Latest released was Learning to Walk. Other titles: Home Runs, Joeís Journal, Joeís Team, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehartís book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only).

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