A long, subzero run is different from other runs. Challenging for different reasons. Instead of focusing on the stitch in your side, you focus on the way your eyelashes are freezing shut so that you can’t see the road or cars approaching. You try to breathe less so that your breath doesn’t add icicles to your lashes, so that your face warmer doesn’t condense and harden. Your nose runs like a faucet, but you only notice when it starts to slick the fabric in front of your mouth. Then you can taste it. It tastes like hard work, like sweat.
You’re running in goose down. No, seriously. You have so many layers on that you shouldn’t be able to move, yet they’re thin layers, and you can’t just move–you can run. And it feels good. It feels like freedom, like nothing can keep you down, nothing can stop you. Because instead of being curled up under a blanket, on a couch, like others who let the weather win, you’re out there running.
The snow crunches underneath your winter running shoes. You wear two pairs of socks, three shirts, three pairs of pants, plus a down jacket, two neck warmers, a hat, and thick down mittens. You want to be prepared. You can always take layers off, but can’t put them on once you start. Once you’re five miles from home, there’s nothing you can do.
And once you start, it’s cold. Once you start to sweat, a chill sets in. Your body isn’t used to this. It’s not natural, it’s not expected. How do you train for this? But still, you run. You trick yourself into completing the entire run, running out away from home to as close a halfway point as possible so that you can’t cheat and end before it’s time.
It works. That technique always works. You can’t stop or else you’re stranded. But today the temptation to call for a rescue ride runs through your mind. Today’s run is uncomfortable.
So you put one foot in front of the other, pausing only to step into the soft shoulder for lines of cars to pass you safely. You run because you’re an Alaskan. And Alaskans don’t let the weather stop them from doing much.