The Three A’s of Braving Deep Winter

AJW’s thoughts about what winter running can teach you.

By on February 1, 2019 | 15 comments

AJW's TaproomAlong with thousands of other North American runners, I have been forced to brave near-record cold over the past week in order to get in my daily runs. While other perhaps more sensible people have taken their exercise indoors, I have remained stubborn and have laced them up each day to run outside. I can’t exactly say the running has been pleasurable but something about the process of braving the extreme cold this winter has been oddly motivating and energizing.

Earlier this week, I awoke before dawn and began the 20-minute process of gearing up for my little, morning five miler. There really is truth in the saying, “there is no bad weather, only bad gear,” and I have certainly appreciated good gear this week with beefy socks, two layers of tights, a thick base-layer top, a breathable softshell jacket, and of course the essential hat, gloves, buff, and ‘heavy-duty’ underwear. Properly clad, I headed out into the pre-dawn dark in a state of relative comfort but also with a bit of trepidation.

While on my run, I found myself thinking back to all my years of braving deep winter on the run. From Pennsylvania to New York, and from Idaho to Virginia, I have come face-to-face with some tough winters. On this particular day, I found myself reflecting on what it has taken for me to get out the door and how those experiences, repeated on an annual cycle, have informed other parts of my life.

First, there is the acceptance that I just have to get out there. It is not optional. The temperature is not going to warm up and the wind is not going to stop. Therefore, you must go into every winter run knowing that it is nonnegotiable. It has to happen. Once you’ve done that, and established a mindset which provides no escape, the run becomes the process and, ultimately, in that moment, all that matters.

Then, there is the adjustment period. The first five minutes of a sub-freezing winter run are filled with a bunch of micro-adjustments. Pulling the hat down a little farther, cinching down the hood a little tighter, and monitoring the breathing to be just a little less deep so as to ward off the inevitable coughing fit are all part of that critical five-minute period necessary to get through the winter wall. Through that series of physical adjustments, the mind adjusts as well: This isn’t so bad; The wind is less cold than yesterday; and That moon is awesome. Before you know it you are clipping along already into your second mile and the familiar rhythm of the daily run takes over.

Finally, there is the awareness. Winter running seems to strip away any extras. Maybe it’s because the landscape is more barren or perhaps it’s because the light is fleeting but whatever it is, the ephemeral nature of the winter run puts my senses on edge. The sights and sounds are a bit more acute on these winter mornings. After overcoming the urge to not run and then beating down the desire to turn around early and head home, the revelation of the fact that the simple act of running is the reward makes it all worthwhile. And that, in turn, impels me to eagerly anticipate tomorrow, and all the acceptance, adjustment, and awareness it too will provide.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia. They make what I think is the perfect winter beer, called, appropriately enough, Christmas Morning. They take their award-winning Gingerbread Stout and mix in some Christmas spices and a touch of coffee and chocolate to make a beer that will warm even the most frigid heart.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Polar-vortex runners, do you care to share your stories of running outside this week? Or perhaps you have a story from winter running in general?
  • What does winter running teach you? Anything a little different from your regular everyday running?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.