I stood staring at my cupboard for about ten minutes, wondering how many layers and what kind I would need. Short-sleeve first layer or long-sleeved one? Double gloves, or would just one be okay? Jacket on top of it all or no jacket? These are always the questions when the weather turns serious and you need to do that trial-and-error assessment of how cold you’ll be on the run and how much you’ll warm up. It always takes a while at the beginning of a new season. And along with the thought of what can you get away with clothing-wise, comes the thought of, “how exactly did I used to pull this off again?”
This is my third winter running in the cold in NYC. Before I was a runner I would never run outside, let alone run outside in the cold. But having trained for a Spring marathon during the sub-0 Celcius temps, as I did last year, I know I need to keep it going to stay ready for the next marathon I want to tackle, and continue to chase down that Boston-Qualifying time I really, really want. And actually, once you get going, it’s quite an exhilarating feeling not to be able to feel your face while you’re running down the cold, oh-so-cold, streets of NYC.
It all starts to come back about the first mile into the run. The body starts to send energy to the legs and your mind just needs to take a back-seat while the things you’ve learnt in the past about running in the cold – keep moving, cover your head and fingers, just breathe – come back to the forefront of your memory.
It’s the anticipation of the run, the build-up that can get to you. On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I made my way Uptown to Coogans, to join the We Run Uptown crew on an MLK route they run as part of their Monday night get-togethers. I’ve done a few runs with this crew, which is mostly made up of guys, who, even if you’ve only met them once, make you feel like they’ve got your back. On the trip up to 164th St, the wind was a-howlin’ and the temperature kept dropping (-6 C for this South African is the stuff of bad dreams). “I don’t know if I can do this,” I thought. “Maybe I really should be at home like everyone else, sipping hot chocolate and snuggling under covers.”
It didn’t take too long into the run to realise, naaaaah, that option would have been way less fun. There’s nothing quite like running down (or up) the streets of Harlem to make you feel alive. We ran to a bust of Martin Luther King Jr in Washington Heights, erected by Stan Sawyer two years after MLK was assassinated. The words of his I Have a Dream speech that reverberated around the world in 1963 are emblazoned on the plaque. They may have been read again in haste on this winter’s eve run, but they still echo today. The freedom to run with friends from all backgrounds is something I’m never going to stop celebrating. Minus temperatures, and all.