I’m not entirely sure it was sixteen degrees, but it had to be close. Old Man Winter finally arrived this week and in his wake he left a bit of the white and a weeklong kiss of low teens for sunrise. The bike is out, too much ice, so during these periods I turn to the run as my primary sweat vehicle. I won’t lie, if you haven’t run in a while or maybe even for years, the first ten times are gonna suck. No two ways about it, especially when you add seven thousand feet of elevation and temps hovering dangerously near the single-digits. But then something miraculous happens. It starts to feel good, really good.
When it comes to short duration, high intensity workouts, it is hard to beat running. I know what you are thinking “Fu^% that, I haven’t run in years and I’m not about to start now.” I get it. I really do. I took thirty years off. Yep, no joke. Thirty years. I was something of a track star when I was younger. I set the school record for the mile and ran cross country with no training. My family did live at 8000 feet during the summers, so when I would return to Texas for the school year I was coming in loaded for bear.
Now as I creep past my fifty-fourth year, running takes on new meaning. I love it once again. Did I mention the first ten times are gonna suck? They will, even when you set the table beforehand. If you read this post and find yourself looking for your short shorts and headband do yourself a favor and just sit down. There are a few things you need to get in order first. Namely your fascia and your feet. I do a thirty minute yoga, body-weight strength routine on average six days a week. Thirty minutes exactly. No need to drive to a gym, no need for fancy equipment. This routine will crush some and bore others, but it works for me. This routine is my foundation for all other physical activity and for my overall health. Think 120 pushups, core, flexibility, resistance bands and an elevated heart rate. (I wear tights if you must know.)
But let me state here that I am by no means a gifted athlete. Far from it. On a scale of one to ten I would place myself at a five. And even doing that makes me feel a little creepy, like maybe I’m closer to a four. I don’t go far or fast or up sheer cliff faces. I still have ins and outs with Lyme which can make the most innocent outing into something more, and there are legions of sports I suck at. Ice dancing, judo, slapping, water polo, korfball, muggle quidditch among many more.
Getting back to my morning routine, perhaps the most important aspect of this thirty minute miracle is the foam roller. I have two. The first is a giant, white, horrible looking thing that is crushed in the middle but still remains firm at the edges. It needs to be retired. I use this roller for my entire back starting low and going high. Each day my entire spine snaps into place as I slowly roll this up and down. It feels better than my morning coffee. I then switch to a very small, very hard roller with studs across the surface. I do NOT recommend this roller, but it’s the only one I have. What I do recommend is the black roller that is full size and hard but not masochistic hard and the one that has a smooth surface. You have to be careful you don’t damage your fascia in the process of loosening it up.
I spend copious time with the roller and can tell you without hesitation it has changed how my entire body feels. The roller works to loosen the fascia so that your parts move the way they are supposed to move. It’s that simple, but you have to commit. And baby, if you haven’t used one of these, guess what? The first ten times are gonna suck. It will hurt. You might feel a bit ill after as the toxins that live in your clumped up fascia will all go on spring break at the same time. Trust me, totally worth it. You will begin to feel differently as you walk, sit, and just move around.
Speaking of moving around, let’s get down to ground level. Your feet. I don’t want to know. Feet are hideous on a good day. Most mens feet are something far worse. I try to avoid feet but I’ve still managed to see a range of feet in my life that nearly made me convert to Satanism. Your feet need to be part of the conversation. The more you prepare your feet the better your running life will be. I use a tiny foam roller just for my feet, and man does it suck. It does. It hurts. It always hurts but the benefit outweighs me holding back tears of shame.
Did you know that your toes are supposed to have space between them? Know any yogi types? Ask to look at their feet. You might get a hook kick to the head but you might not. Yogi’s tend to have feet that look like how feet are supposed to look. Space between the toes. This makes a huge difference when it comes to running or walking. If you don’t have space between your toes you can purchase toe spreaders which you can wear over short periods to begin to retrain your feet to act like responsible members of society. Think pedicure without the visit to the nail salon.
I happen to have acceptable feet. My wife tells me all the time while reminding me of how truly awful most men’s feet are. But my feet are narrow and delicate, just like your favorite shorebird. Spindly legs attach on top. When it comes to keeping my feet perfect, I have to actually THINK about my feet which means I need to also think about my shoes especially when it comes to running. I do mostly trail running and avoid the pavement as much as humanly possible. I find the dirt is more welcoming. Just like when you die.
When it comes to shoes, I’m Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I use both minimalist shoes, the style that became all the rage after “Born to Run” was released, and I also use the polar opposite of minimal. (The shoes in the images.) When it comes to minimal I use Altra Superior 5’s. These are super light, have an amazing rock guard in the sole and also fit well in my suitcase, which happens to be a big deal for me. When it comes to non-minimal I use Hoka Speedgoat GTX2 which are mid-level and also waterproof, which as you can see, comes in very handy in the snow. The Hoka’s do not play well with my suitcase, and strapping them on feels a lot like strapping a sofa to your feet, but trust me when I say this can be just the thing you need. (There is a reason why so many of the best ultrarunners wear Hoka.) Trails are uneven, rocky and slippery in spots. Add snow and you often don’t know what you are landing on, so the wide, cushioned base of the Hoka’s are like a security blanket.
I was the only runner out this morning, at least in my area. I broke fresh trail the entire run. The snow crunched under my feet. Birds sounded off with song asking “Why didn’t I fly south for the winter?” I noticed coyote tracks following those of the rabbit. Each breath shot before me through the icy wind and biting cold. My heart rate leveled off and the fresh snow provided a magical buffer to the Earth below. I literally asked myself, quite surprised, “Why do I feel so good?” For the rest of the day I was energized, required little caloric intake and my mind felt crystal clear. This, my friends, is why we run. It doesn’t matter how far, how fast. You don’t need to track your runs or post your findings. You just need to start. Fifty yards, a hundred, a quarter mile, whatever you can do. Focus on form and focus on the preparation.
When running becomes part of the process it begins to change your life. Things like alcohol intake, quality of food, quality of sleep, etc. all become something more than they were before. You begin to notice, to plan and to consider your actions in a new way. This won’t make you a great person, nor is bragging about running something you should do. If you are a terrible person you will continue to be whether you run a sub five minute mile or not. What I’m saying is that running can have a positive impact in a variety of ways. As you know, I ride more than run, but there is no doubt my running helps my cycling and requires less time and less stuff.
It will suck. But my belief is that once the suck threshold has been surpassed, you might surprise yourself. I’m always amazed by the stories of the least likely people becoming runners. A risk is taken. That first plunge into the icy water. And what emerges reminds us all that life is a funny thing, turned and coined and minted with hope even the darkness pit of midlife despair. See you out there.