I ran for the first time in over a week last night. After pausing for a confluence of Halloween and an out-of-country vacation, it added up an 8-day-break. I feel a bit guilty. I also feel a bit frosty: it snowed during that 8 days, I we went from mildly chilly to bitter-cold with icy sidewalks. To get back into things: four days of consecutive running to fractionally-simulate my goal races. 5 last night, 10 tonight, 14 on Saturday morning, and 29 on Sunday morning. How about a big sarcastic huzzah for the weekend, huh?
We live in a winter city and I figure if we residents are not just going to up and embrace the snow… well… we may as well move. Pack up now. Sell our meager belongings and relinquish our winter-dweller badges of honor as we slink off to more tropical climes.
This is not out of the ordinary, of course, but it is wrapped neatly within a span of time each year where snow is not necessarily inevitable. It’s optional. Or, it seems like it should be. It has that feeling of looming spring, as if the clouds could part at any moment revealing a warm March sun that melts away the frozen slush of winter and leaves a fresh hint of green in its wake.
It rarely does that. But again, it seems like it should be that way.
And yet the running training continues.
This winter city awoke this morning to one more fresh blanket of the white stuff, and the weather and the streets and the crisp air hanging with a gruff frost were all indifferent to the fact that my crew and I had a sixteen kilometer slog on our docket for half-nine in the morning, now encumbered.
Running in the snow is a beast.
Running in the snow, some will equate, is like running in sand. I’ve never really run in sand, not run-run in sand. I’ve walked in sand. But never run. Run-run. As in, never purposefully and with intention run. Not that way. I’ve trod in many-a-variety of sand on beaches and in near-deserts, coarse seaside sand and silky beach sand on a tropical island. I’ve plodded through dunes. I’ve hiked through the wet-muddy kind of sand that slurps at your feet. But, no. I’ve never run in sand.
Near twenty of us ran in snow this morning. And it was a beast.
Running in snow may be like running in sand, I don’t really know. But I am nearly certain that no matter the sampling of sand one is polling, it will ne’er be quite as cold as running in a fresh blanket of white, crisp, powdery snow, snow that has drifted through the sub-zero chill of a March winter freeze and swirled in haphazard gusts until it settles itself into an unmarked remarkably unremarkable surface of contrast-less white, layered evenly across uneven ground. For this is the kind of snow that does not seem to hold any kind of weight, in itself or as surface. Feet slip into it and through it, stirring it as though the slightest gust could whisk it into a newly reformed flurry of particular particulates and as if a brownian slurry trail in the frozen air behind as if a wake. This is the kind of snow that slips between the toes and gnaws at the grips of the shoes. This is the kind of snow that casts illusions of doubt upon nearly every step, daring to blur-if-not-hide the texture of the usually-trusted terrain.
It is a place I go and a thing I choose to do, that is all.
We run. We just run.
We run and occasionally it takes us from the standard paths of asphalt and concrete and into an adventure of sorts that draws us into the unusual worlds of the very fabric of this winter city.
None of us were quite ready to pack up and move this morning. We ran. We dashed through snow that had been all but undisturbed, fresh and still falling, virgin footprints on a fresh white blanket both cold and crystalline.
If it seems poetic then perhaps that is what it truly was.
There is a truth to be found in the slurry of frozen whisps of blowing ice, snow, snow and more snow blinding each of us in ways both literal and figurative, lost in a frozen city and stepping through individual moments of achievement as another drift swept by in a blur underfoot. There is a truth in moment and the purpose and also the self. There is a truth to be embraced within the winter freeze and swirled in haphazard gusts, and maybe packed under those layers of polymer fibres, too.
Or maybe we just run.
Another installment from my third week of lists, a clinging-to-the-trees, back-to-school-special, dreading-impending-winter edition all about words, words words, words, more words, and getting those words out of your brain in time for next year’s words: because they want out… they really do.
I will admit here: I kinda bailed on my big writing project already. Two things happened: first, I discovered that there was a new dramatic television series on the tubes this season with the same title as my working title. (Guess I need to watch more advertising, or something.) That’s not a project killer in itself, but it threw me off balance a little bit. Second, and slightly more ruinously, I discovered an indie book in the Kindle store — recommended to me, in fact, by the algorithm that recommends such books — and said book had the exact same plot as the story I was writing. I read the synopsis and thought: “hey, that sounds…. ah, crap!”
Plan B? Back to the blog, and wait for further inspirations. More writing drivel? Well, at the very least start the only-forward, sun-in-my-eyes, never-pausing-for-anything trot towards something new and fresh, most of which includes the six writing-related projects that I’m just in time to start seriously considering for the winter months, such as…
[ 1 ] Clearing Out the Summer Vacation Backlog
I clear out my clutter by writing snarky essays about “how I spent my summer vacation”…
If you write anything like me, and hopefully for your own sake that is not the case, you will have accumulated a seasonal backlog of writing to get done. You might not even know it. In fact, unless you are a navel-gazing, introspective dork like me you probably have not given much thought to the mental clutter that has piled up over the summer months… but it’s there. It’s waiting for you to pen it out, key it into the ether, or otherwise find ways to convert it into something besides the mental harvest bounty that awaits. And you just know that you’re not going to be able to get any serious new projects started until you address this issue: it’s not going away on it’s own, either. These are those projects you dreamed up while out on long summer walks (or runs), while sitting on the beach, cooking hot dogs over the campfire, tending your vegetable garden, driving down the long stretches of open road while on the family summer road trip, while sipping a beer in a slouching lawn chair as you tried to avoid eye contact with your relatives. I clear out my clutter by writing blogs like this, taking stabs at chaotic plots, and otherwise writing snarky essays about “how I spent my summer vacation” — and you don’t realize how useful this is as a fall cleaning until you give it a go.
[ 2 ] Updating Your Reading Wish List
It is a truth universally acknowledged single writer in possession of free time, must be in want of a good book to read. Writers read. Writers read lots. Fall is a great time to update your wish list: not only is it leading into that important gift-giving season when all sorts of new novels appear waiting to be bought up and put under the festivus pole in December, but having a actual, physical, read-able list will get you away from all those other distractions — like the new fall television season line-up — before you get yourself hooked on someone else’s plot-line and ignore both your reading homework and your own blossoming plots.
[ 3 ] Re-Examining Your Habits & Tools
…there is something primal about hunkering down for the winter…
We don’t think about renewal and refreshing our attitudes in Autumn. We’re usually pre-occupied with the dwindling of the summer months and the looming retreat of the greens into browns to make way for the winter snow. But Autumn is also a time for back to school… back to serious… new starts, new grades, new teachers. I’ve been out of school for so many years I barely remember this feeling, but even so: there is something primal about hunkering down for the winter, getting the harvest packed up and stored for the long dark nights, and preparing the mind for stretches of waiting out the cold. We are all likely going to have some time on our hands again soon: winter affords us this. And taking stock of our winter writing habits now gets us in the right frame of mind to actually produce something before spring rolls around again in six months. Such as…
And all of this seems somehow appropriate as we move into the first day of October knowing that in precisely one month would-be novelists will be hunkering down over keyboards all over the world (for what must surely be the tenth year by now) in an effort to write a fifty-thousand word NaNoWriMo novel for 2012. Still one of my favourite rants, last year I rebutted an anti-NaNo article and explained that while the result of ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent of those efforts is admittedly bound to be sub-par crap, the effort itself is an admirable feat, akin to the running of a marathon… but with words. NaNoWriMo is a commitment, and every person who thinks they might want to be a writer, but has yet to pen anything noteworthy, should experience this commitment at least once. If nothing else, it is an interesting way to spend November.
[ 5 ] Editing Last Year’s NaNoWriMo
That said, if you wrote a NaNoWriMo novel last year (or *cough, cough* two years ago) and you have yet to run it through the editing process, Autumn is a great a time to get on this: the new year is coming and guess what? You are not only going to have a second unedited NaNoWriMo novel in your hands in about two months but come January first you might start thinking about doing something from the genre of…
Calendar years start just once a year. Sure this seems to be a frequent occurrence, but in reality no. If you miss this chance, you’ve got a whole three-hundred-and-sixty-five days before your next proper chance. There is something about beginning a mega-project, after all, on January One. It just doesn’t have the same ring to say you started on October One… or July sixteenth… you’ll forever need to wast time explaining your choice of date to the uninitiated instead of actually getting writing done. What is a mega project? Think daily or weekly word goals, a chapter-a-month for a year, or some other epic project that will take you one year of focused, concerted effort to get done. It is not for the faint of heart, sorry to say, but it’s autumn… it’s October first today… and you’ve got three months to plan that project out. Now’s the time, eh?
Why are you reading my blog? Go write something. Or share your own winter-writing maintenance tips in the comments below…
Another installment from my third week of lists, a clinging-to-the-trees, back-to-school-special, dreading-impending-winter edition all about the soon-to-be-slippery streets, the icy winter weather, and a few months of fitness when it seems just too cold to be outside: but you still can be, if you are prepared. Prepared means having the right gear, the right mind-set and treating both with much more care than you treat your junker of a car each fall. This is my six-point pre-winter running inspection checklist…
My crew was out in force this morning. But while my training is mid-stride, a whole group of my fellow runners are off to British Columbia next weekend for the Okanagan Half Marathon: so… we were all in a kind of taper mode today, even my lazy self, which left us doing a short not-quite-eight kilometer run in the brisk Sunday morning air.
Catch that? Brisk. It was nine degrees Celsius this morning. Autumn may just be barely official, but even the meteorologist who runs with us couldn’t deny that the cold was in the air. And I couldn’t help but feel that my shorts, tees, and light socks are going to very quickly get very inadequate for our regular meet ups. Experience tells me that I’m soon going to need to inventory my winter gear and be thinking very seriously about:
[ 1 ] Hats & Heads
I\’m soon going to need to inventory my winter gear…
One of the guys in our group runs all winter without anything on his head. He’s one of those strong-silent type guys, though, who spent most of his life (yes, really) working the railroads. He spent his career outside and told us once that he couldn’t wear headgear because it messed with his ability to hear things and keep safe. I, on the other hand, prefer not to lose a good portion of my body heat from the sweaty mop of hair that would soon be decorated with ice crystals atop my skull, and to accommodate that I’ve got a small collection of toques and balaclavas for all my winter running needs. The thin, breathable toque is adequate for most every run, and one especially cold days I pull on the face covering afforded by the balaclava, my mouth and eyes about all I leave exposed when the temps drop below minus fifteen Celsius.
Often neglected, I so often run with folks who don’t cover their necks. Thinking that their collared running jackets will protect them from the cold air sweeping down on them as they dash through the snow, quickly realize that running with those jackets zipped up as high as they go is usually pretty uncomfortable. A soft, flexible tube-scarf or some other fitness-fabric neck warmer is not only a great running accessory any winter runner shouldn’t be without, it also a lot more comfy than that ice-cold zipper nudging your throat and chin raw for and hour and a half.
[ 3 ] Full Body Core
Layering. What else can be said here? If you haven’t been running in the winter before, get some layers and you will run a long, happy, cozy season of snow-filled plodding goodness. Layers are your friend. I tend to go with three, first pulling out the skin-tight, close-fitting athletic long underwear from where it gets stored all summer. Over top of that, my shirts and other summer top-gear doesn’t get off easy for the winter months, acting as a mid-layer. And then, thanks to years of free-jacket races, I have a fairly awesome collection of fleecy-style running jackets. Something similar goes for the legs, but usually I stick to just the two layers: that’s just me though.
So many winter-inexperienced runners mistakenly believe that because it’s not hot you don’t need water. Wrong. You need to hydrate just as much, maybe more, than on a summer run. If you live in a climate like me, the air is less humid in the winter, you dry out faster, and because you are cold you often don’t notice until you are home, collapsed onto the couch in pain from dehydration. And to make things even more complex, if you are going for a run longer than say thirty minutes… hey, physics lesson: water freezes. I have a couple solutions that work for me: (a) bring hot water; and/or (b) switch to a larger water bottle. Either option gives you a little more time before your hydration turns to a popcicle, and saves you from freezing your paws trying to thaw a few drops from a frozen bottle half-way into your run.
[ 5 ] That Unmentionable Crotch Place
Guys… You’re only going to make this mistake once…
Guys… You’re only going to make this mistake once. And that’s about all I need to say here. This problem has been long noted, solved, and said solution is on sale in the form of wind-proof kit… inner, outer, or wear-ever. Just invest. You won’t regret it.
[ 6 ] Feets, Hands, Gloves, Shoes, Grip & No-Slip
Last of all never forget to think about those bits we call the extremities. Check your inventory for a couple pairs of good running gloves as well as some thick & woolly mittens to pull over top: it’s a tough run with your hands up your sleeves or tucked in your pockets the whole way. On the feet end of things, while some folks swear by winter running shoes, I tend to stick with all-seasons and only upgrade my socks to the thicker variety for the winter. And depending on the freeze-thaw cycle — and particularly one what kind of terrain you are running, icy or whatever — contemplating some pull-on grippies is not a bad idea either: they are hard on the ankles, but I’ve seen too many folks tumble onto their backsides and lose a month or more to recovery from a back ice-fall to know that if you are even slightly clumsy, at least take a pair for a test run.
I love winter running. If I had the choice, I’d run winter all year long. You’ve just gotta few more steps to consider before you get out the door. So gear up now… the snow will be here before you know it.
Got your own winter running tips: comment below and help out your fellow winter-loving runners.
I used to firmly hoist my flag inside the I-Love-Winter camp. I’m not so devoted anymore, though I have not quite left some aliegence behind: I love the chill of the air. I love the cozy, claustrophilic feeling of a world wrapped in a blanket of fresh and falling snow. I love the sound of the crunching pack underfoot and the effect of leaving a temporary footprint trail through an untouched expanse of refreshed whiteness.
But as winter turns to spring and the chance of one-last late-season snowfall diminishes with each passing day, I find that more-and-more I’ve come to embrace the summer, though in such an embrace never forgetting that there are a few splendid things left behind with the frozen landscapes of winter. These include:
As an adult it really is tough to rationalize playing video games. I come up with all sorts of excuses to get a few hours of quiet time in front of Skyrim or Minecraft or Left4Dead with the guys. It’s even tougher to justify during the summer: the garden needs weeding, the sun is still out, the days are longer, warmer, and calling out to be enjoyed. Sitting in the basement staring at a pair of screens — after sitting in an office all week staring at a pair of screens — has this sense of time wasted. On the other hand, those dark, cold winter nights, when the snow is still flying outside, it is literally life-endangering to get the car out of the garage, and one’s skin could freeze just taking the dog out for a pee — well — hiding in the basement where it’s warm and dry and the soft glow of a pair of monitors bites into the winter gloom does not seem so regretable.
The problem with modern men’s fashions is that — generally speaking — guys don’t carry handbags. Big deal, you say. What’s your problem, you ask. Get a man-purse, you suggest. I somehow manage to go from home to work each day and the average minimum I find myself wanting to carry is: my wallet, my keys, my work phone, my personal phone, a pair of headphones, a point-and-click camera, and my kindle. (Cluttered, I know, but everything has a purpose.) In the winter each of these objects — save for the kindle which I hold in my hand — has a neat and nearly invisible pocket in my winter jacket. In the summer, I generally go jacket-less which simply means that my hips look like I’m hoarding supplies for the winter — or simply risk dropping one or more expensive electronic devices. That’s worst case scenario, of course, but even just out for a shopping trip at the mall or going to the playground I’ve got my hands full. My pockets are put away for the winter, and summer becomes a few months of juggling — almost literally — my devices and essentials as I go about my business.
Exclusive Membership in the Snow Running Club
Lots of people run. All over the world, thousads — maybe millions — of people are lacing up and going out for a jog right now, dashing around their neighborhoods, through city streets, urban parks, country roads, and magestically along beaches. In Edmonton there are thousands of runners. At least… well, there are thousands of runners in the spring, summer and fall. Come winter many of those folks wimp out and go hide at the gym and play-bouncy on the treadmills. The remaining few of us run outside in the snow and cold and blowing wind. My own cutoff is generally twenty-five degrees Celcius BELOW zero, but I’ve been known to go out when it’s cooler than that. It’s great. You bundle up, exposing nothing but a tiny slit between your scarf and your hat so you can see, and there you are, out pounding the icy pavement in near solitude. Quiet and amazing, and you can brag about it later when everyone is complaining about their cold cars: “I was out for a RUN in THIS earlier.” Summer rolls around and everyone emerges from hibernation, and suddenly the streets are a little more crowded. And gone is my private running track.
I haven’t written much about gaming lately. This is probably because I haven’t been doing much gaming lately. Not much, with the exception of some mobile stuff — because I can play mobile while I am mobile, and I seem to be mobile a lot.
That, and it’s summer, so gaming is kind of a winter sport around here.
So… mobile-wise, I’ve been playing a stupidly addictive little iOS game called Tiny Tower, a time-sucking, resource-farming-style game (yes, in the spirit of Farmville, et al, but with fewer virtual chickens) that takes place in some random rental-property utopia.
The eight-bit-fashioned graphics form the essense of a virtual two-dimensional office, commercial, and apartment tower-in-one. You, the (apparently omniscient) landlord are tasked with four innane tasks that can (literally) fill your days with repetitive micromanagment of your little vitual tennents lives. These include: (1) moving the elevator to correct floor delivering passengers to their desired destinations, (2) keeping the stores stocked with both goods and employees, (3) controlling the rental agreements of your bitizens (and dressing them, too, for some reason I can’t quite figure out), and (4) acquiring enough resources (gold coins, I think) to upgrade the building through the addition of new floors, better and faster elevators, paint jobs, or whatever.
I’ve taken my brother’s strategy to heart — he’s the one who introduced the mind-virus-that-is-tiny-tower into my life — and I drop by my little harmonious utopia as infrequently as possible, letting the game churn away in my absence. This means I click in during my commutes to and from work to restock my stores, shuttle some folks around, and apply any pending upgrades to the building.
I’m sure there must be something more to the game than what I’ve been doing. There is a bright green menu button that I pressed once (or maybe twice) to see what happens: a whole new screen appears with lots of social-looking features. But I haven’t been back to prod around much more with those.
Overall, it’s an evil little game. You should check it out. It gets into your skull, messing with your mind and then tapping into your phone’s notification system to send you constant phone-buzzing reminders (which I do realize I could turn off — but THINK OF THE VIRTUAL CHILDREN!) to stop in, check up on things, and “restock” the damn stores… because apparently the little virtual people can add, decorate, and furnish entirely new floors to an existing skyscraper without my help, but can’t seem to unpack a box of hot-rollers for a virtual barbershop unless I click an icon.
I think I’d better get back to real gaming soon.
I’m not much of a hot weather person. And actually I’d very much rather be a bit on the cool side, a couple of degrees below that standard definition of whatever room temperature happens to be. A little bit of chill in the air is just perfect for me.
But the problem is that I live in a climate that has quite a bit of seasonal temperature fluctuation. At the extremes we dip to the bone-chilling, skin-numbing cold of the mid-minus fourties Celsius in the heart of winter — and then into days of blurring, sweating, sweltering hot with temperatures in the high thirties or occasional low fourties (Celsius again) in the peaks of summer.
I have a rule that I generally follow when I run: the fifteen at fifteen. I take the outside, ambient temperature and add fifteen degrees. The resulting number is an approximation of what my personal temperature feels like after about fifteen minutes of running (though, these days, fifteen minutes is barely a warm-up.) So, as an example: when it is a pleasant ten degrees Celsius outside and I run, then after fifteen minutes it feels like about twenty-five degrees — or just cozy and a bit on the warm side. When it is -20C outside, and sinking towards the lower limits of where I usually stop having fun with running shoes on, then fifteen minutes into things it feels like five below zero: chilly, but pleasantly and even refreshingly so. Now, if you’re still following with the math, when the outside temperature is thirty degrees Celsius (such as it’s been on and off for a few weeks now) then on a summer, Sunday morning, the sun beating down and all that, and we start our long (often ninety-minute-plus) runs you can probably guess where I’m going with this: fifteen minutes into, things suddenly feel like a sweltering forty-five Celsius in the sun. For those still thinking in that other temperature scale, that’s about 115 Fahrenheit. In the sun. Running. For someone who does not like heat.
I tend to get a little punchy.
It is in those heat-stroke-inducing moments of delirium that I dream wishfully of gloved fingers huddled together and wrapped inside my palms for warmth in those first few minutes of a bitterly cold run. It is in those sweat-pouring-from-my-brow moments that I long for the brisk winter air washing over the few square centimeters of exposed forehead peaking from out from between my toque and scarf. It is in those foot-sweating, toe-chafing, blister-inducing moments that I recall the sweet sounds of fresh snow crunching under my feet. I dream of winter. In my mind I sing odes to winter. I curse the summer heat, shake my fist at the sun-heated-asphalt, and take another weary step closer to shade.
And then swear to never run another step in this heat. I swear it every single time, but then a few days later… repeat.
I should run more in the summer. The streets are clear. The grass is green. The flowers fill the air with pleasant aromas that wash over our faces as we trod on by. I really should run more, but my biggest excuse is the hot. Just the hot. Hot. I hate the hot. I loathe the hot. And on those days filled with so many too-hot-to-be-alive moments, I hide in my cool basement trying to forget the guilt of not sweating on the hot streets, and maybe even counting the days until the leaves start to change and the frost… well, I’ll shut up now.