So here’s how it goes down: back in November, some crazy runner friends convinced you to do a half marathon fun run. In January. In Chicago. On the lakefront. Did you stop to think that it might be seven degrees with a wind chill factor of minus ten? Or, worse, that it might be 32 degrees and a driving rainy, wintry mix? No. You just thought: Oh, that sounds like fun and excellent motivation to keep running in bad weather. So, you signed up.
Naturally, you soon regretted it. Running in the spring, when it is warm and sunny and you love to be outside, is one thing. Running in January, when it is cold and gray and icy and windy, is a different experience altogether. You dragged yourself out to run on days when you would rather sit on the couch and watch reruns of Modern Family. Or The Office. Heck, you’d rather stay home and watch Gilligan’s Island. But you forced yourself out there. Somedays, it worked out great and you were delighted you went. Other days – many days – you were miserable. A lot of time you were the only runner around. People would drive by you in their warm cars, and you know they thought you were a crazy runner. Are you? Have you gone over the edge? Have you become one of those people who gets whispered about at cocktail parties? “I saw her running this morning. It was seventeen degrees and snowy! I think there is something wrong with her. Some kind of disorder.”
And so you find yourself, on the last Saturday of January, hauling yourself out of bed in the predawn darkness. You lather on the BodyGlide, then add layer upon layer until you think you can do battle with the elements. Still half asleep, you drive into the city, convinced that maybe it is true. Maybe you are a little crazy. When you get there, however, you meet up with a bunch of the other crazy runners. Runnerds, they call themselves. These are people you barely know, most of whom you have never seen in anything but running gear, some of whom you have never seen before at all. And yet there is this instant camaraderie. Everyone is joking, laughing, posing for pictures. People are dressed in costumes – pirates, ninjas – and bundled up head to toe. You talk about the route, press Start on your Garmin, and you are off.
Everyone settles into their paces and your group thins out. You fall into step with a few other people, only one of whom you have met before. In spite of being virtual strangers, you chat like old friends. You notice that the Lakefront trail is full of other runners. Back on My Feet, a fabulous organization you’ve gladly supported in the past, is doing a group run that morning. You and your running friends make a point to yell lots of encouragement as you pass them. You see some of the CARA running groups out there, including one with your friend Molly. You scream greetings at each other over your shoulders. Kirsten, your running partner for the morning, says “God, I love this sport.” You couldn’t agree more. Not only that, you realize that you love Chicago. Here it is, the end of January, a cold gray morning, and the Lakefront trail is packed with runners – even a few cyclists. You wouldn’t miss this for the world.
You pause after several miles to take a short water break and chat with some friends on the side of the trail. As you talk and stretch, you notice a tent set up on the beach. “What’s going on there?” you ask. A polar plunge, they tell you. A polar plunge? Apparently, 250 completely insane people are planning to jump into Lake Michigan. You see ax-swinging guys chopping up the ice to make a clean entry for the plungers. “That’s crazy,” you tell yourself as you continue on your run. You head south until you get to 6.55, then you turn around and head back north. You stop again for a water break near where the polar plunge will be. Participants are starting to show up. “Presumably they came straight from the asylum,” you mutter to yourself.
Unfortunately, the last few miles are a little painful. You hadn’t trained quite as much as you should have for this run, and what started as minor foot pain is now causing aches up your legs. You think about stopping to walk, but what’s the point? You still have to get all the way back to your car. You might as well keep going. Fortunately, you and Kirsten are still in sync, running the same pace. At this point you are both too tired to talk, but just being next to her helps you pull yourself along. You pass another runner friend, Andie, who is heading the opposite way. Smiles and cheers. The camaraderie gives you a much-needed energy boost. You pass some more Back on My Feet runners, and you are inspired by them. You are no longer tempted to walk. And then finally, you hit 13.1. You and Kirsten high-five each other as you reach the milestone. You walk out some of your aches and pains and the chat for a minute with other runners who finished before you. However, you are freezing, so you are happy to hop in the car and warm up.
You wait for a few other friends to finish and you spend time chatting and laughing about the run. You marvel at how crowded the path was. You all agree that the weather was great, considering the time of year. Finally, you head back home to take a hot shower. It was, you realize, a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning in January. So does that mean you are a crazy runner? Maybe. But at least you are not one of those polar plunge people – they are the real crazies. You’d never do that. Would you?