Monday, January 16, 2012

Ice-cold lungs

I was born in Winnipeg, in late November. According to the Farmer's Almanac, the temperature on my day of birth was -27C. In case I have any American fans, that is -17F. Freaking cold by any standard of measurement.

Incidentally, this was also the number around which the mercury hovered (give or take a degree or two) this morning when the Beast and I set out for our early run.

Yes. I run in -27C. I have to. I'm from Winnipeg. I'd be banned from ever returning - even for a visit - if I used the "it's too cold to be outside" excuse. I mean, when I grew up, school was never cancelled, even if there was a driving blizzard or if the windchill drove the temperature down towards the -40C mark (neither of which are rare phenomena on the wide open prairie). And Mom and Dad still made us play outside in the cold to burn off our unwanted energy, to the point where snot froze to our faces and we all sustained permanent frost-bite-induced skin damage. There were days when our toes were so cold that we thought they might actually break off of our feet if we removed our boots too quickly. And I'm pretty sure that a small bit of my sister's tongue is still stuck to our childhood swing set, the result of my brother and I daring her to lick the cold metal.

Ahhh... memories... Memories that I relive everytime I lace up for a frigid morning run.

Truthfully, I don't actually mind running in the cold. It's easier to dress up against an ice-cold windchill then it is to dress down against a fiery humidex. The trick is to get a good base (I prefer merino wool, and will give a gratuitous promotional nod to Icebreaker). After that, you just layer according to the temperature, and make sure that you can keep all extremities safe from the biting wind. This morning, all you could see of me were my eyes. And aside from the fact that I am quite sure that my eye lashes froze to my contact lenses which in turn froze to my eyeballs, I was snug as a bug in a very warm rug. Really!

(I know that you still don't believe me, but it's really, really, really, really true).

Whether you believe me or not is incidental to the fact that the Beast shares my stubbornness when it comes to braving the cold to get in his morning run. "Temperature be damned!" is his motto. He is always ready to get out there and tear up the sidewalk. He will brave freezing rain, driving snow, salty sidewalks, and dipping mercury to get a few fast kilometres under his leash. He is my little trooper.

There are some things, however, that he finds a wee bit annoying about winter running. Here they are, in no particular order.

"Why oh why does it take mommy so long to get ready"?
As soon as the Beast sees me make my way upstairs and into the spare bedroom where I keep my running clothes, he knows that he is about to be let loose. And so he follows me, and patiently sits down while I don my running gear. In the summer, it takes approximately 2 minutes to pull on my shorts, sports bra, t-shirt and socks. But in the winter, it takes F-O-R  F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G  E-V-E-R!!!!! And his reservoir of patience is somewhat low. He starts to whine and whimper right about the time when I have my sports bra and base layer on. I still have to put on socks, a second layer, a shell, shoes, a balaclava, an extra tuque, gloves, and mittens. Whereas he, being the all-weather-double-coated-fuzzy-arsed kind of dude that he is, doesn't need to waste precious seconds getting clothed. It annoys him. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm a big wuss.

"You don't really want me to sit in that snowbank, do you?"
Whether we are running or walking together, one of the Beast's rules is that he must sit when we get to a stoplight, and he must wait patiently until we can cross the street. He's gotten really good at this, to the point where we have tricked almost all passers-by into believing that he is actually polite and well-behaved (insert evil laugh here). But in the winter time, he is such a baby about it. I'll have to tug up on his leash three or four times to get him to sit, and even then, he'll only "half-sit". And he'll make his big brown eyes as sad as he possibly can and look up at me as though to say, "Mommy, it's too cold/icy/salty/snowy/messy for me to sit. I know my bum is really fuzzy, but I don't want to get it all cold and messy. So I'll just stand, okay?" Often times, when he finally does sit (I know, I know... I'm a big jerk for making him sit down anyway...), he'll pitifully raise one of his paws up towards me as though to drive home the point that it is so cold/icy/salty/snowy/messy that he couldn't possibly leave his bum and all four legs on the ground. Well, dear Beasty, shall I remind you that I bought you booties for precisely this reason, and that it was your decision to shun them like the plague, not mine? So suck it up, kiddo! (I'm not really that cold hearted. I actually cave every time and warm his too-cold paw in my hand while we sit and wait. But I do so with a touch of bitterness over the failed bootie purchase).

"Pick up the pace already, will you lady?"
I may like to run during the winter, but I don't do so gracefully or quickly. A 7k run in the spring/summer/fall can easily be done in less than 40 minutes. Today, we ran 6.8k in over 45 minutes. Shameful, I know, but I have good reasons for this sub-par performance. Sidewalks that are covered in snow or ice are ridiculously difficult to navigate, making it extremely challenging to maintain the same pace that I would under "normal" conditions. I didn't learn this lesson last year when I was running full out, landed awkwardly on a lump of ice, and tore my hip flexor. But I did learn it when, a month later, I hit black ice and severely twisted my ankle (to the point where I was screaming and swearing like a lunatic) with 2k left to go before I got home. Now I purposely pay less attention to my pace and more attention to the few feet of sidewalk in front of me. The Beast, on the other hand, is used to walking on hardwood floors. So for him, icy sidewalks are a cinch! And a 6cm layer of fresh snow - likely hiding a layer of ice - is no reason to slack off and slow down. In fact, it is much more fun to run full speed through fresh snow, and perhaps try to gobble up a few mouthfuls along the way. How dare I force him to trot alongside of me at this snail's pace when we are both capable of so much more?

But despite all of this, the Beast faithfully braves the elements - and his annoyances - to keep me company three mornings a week on my run. And I am grateful for it. Because I confess, before he arrived, I would occassionally shun my Winnipeg pride and use the "too-cold" excuse, opting to sleep in rather than get up and run in the morning. I can't do that anymore. He needs his morning exercise no matter what, so I might as well run and get it over with faster, right? It's nice to know that he keeps me honest with his joie-de-cold-winter-running, and reminds me how important it is to take care of myself and achieve my goals, even on the coldest/iciest/saltiest/snowiest/messiest day of the year.

A Winnipeg girl really couldn't ask for a better companion.