By Jeff Rome
Winter and running are two words that usually stay at least ten yards apart, the one outside driving hibernation and the other being set aside for a return after the equinox, maybe, or reserved for scurrying through crosswalks when the red hand counts down 4, 3, 2, 1, and goes on blinking for the bold and the reckless, or those who need just a little longer. “Running through winter” is how it’s often termed. As in, winter runners realize how sufferable their preoccupation sounds and want to implicitly agree with the notion that we’re all just trudging through this until it gets better again (and it better get better again by March). There is some substance to the “through” if the snow is high enough, but this “through” is more meant to be a, “Have you ever driven through Kansas?” kind of through. Winter running is construed as empty of pleasure, full of the indifferent, indefatigable bitterness of short, snow blown days and digits dipping down below zero Fahrenheit.
But this is why I love it: because winter drives the sun lovers away. The snow teases its way from mountain tops to hill tops to hillsides and announces its impending arrival long before, but the day or two or three before it finally comes town bound it arrives by word of mouth. Everyone suddenly knows the snow is coming to stay (until something better comes along). It is the quiet friend who thinks profound thoughts but keeps them all in their head. Just as silently as the snow arrives, the rest of the world murmurs down, minus kitschy holiday tunes, to the same whispered tones.
Running has always been about solitude. Allan Silitoe’s story turned movie, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” has a title that would be doubly compounded by a Montana winter. The faces on the trails become fewer but more familiar after the first big snow. The same jackets are seen recurring ritually on the trails, and it feels like the mountains have closed their gates to all but family. Most of the time, though, there are no faces. It’s just that long white line of snowed over trail, the friendliest of strangers.
This is November. And the first snow is still all over town, being plowed, salted, dirtied but surviving and getting “through”. Yesterday I had a man ask me, in Frank Zappa voice, “Can I lick your frozen legs?” I was running, in shorts, in a snowstorm. Running in winter is sufferable, but all the layering of mittens upon gloves and socks over socks and in general being several orders of magnitude less comfortable than in summer is made worth it by the reclusiveness and the greater ease of believing, “I am the only one out here.” This is a much more inaccessible feeling in summertime. Come February, this love of winter may be rescinded under pressure of too many days of cold fingers, frost-nipped cheeks and, not always literally, cold feet. But right now, under danger of falling too into a holiday mood, I’m thankful for the cold and quietness of the hills. If I run through anything this winter, it’ll be pairs of socks and jars of Nutella.