I step outside, geared for battle. That's what it feels like when you run at temperatures this cold. Today it's about minus ten, the snowy road stretching out ahead of me. I know people who run in temperatures much colder than this, but when I am doing an out and back run in a little-traveled place, far from help, it always feels right on the edge. I don't know that I would run outside in temperatures colder than this.
There are things that only happen below zero. The squeak of my shoes on the ice. Frost painting my eyelashes like white mascara. A cold that slips in like steel and forces me to try to run faster, my breath a pale smoke. Nobody else is out but a truck passes, the occupants staring out at us with curiosity. What makes people this crazy, they seem to be wondering. It's true that there's a heated gym a few miles away where all the treadmills have televisions to keep your mind off each passing minute. When you run outside below zero, the minutes can tick by with a slow regularity unbroken by anything but white snow and heavy-burdened trees.
It makes you tough, this below zero running, in a way that running through a rain forest winter also does. Sometimes I remember the Florida winters, a jog bra and shorts on the beach in January, when your pace can match your heart. It's hard to run fast below zero. Your body struggles to get warm. Your feet slip. It is, instead, survival.
It is also a beautiful bubble, a place many people refuse to go. They retreat instead, dreading the layers and frosty lungs. I don't blame them, because there are days I retreat also. The ice spikes, the scarves, the pushing a sofa feeling--all that is not really necessary when you are only training for life, not for an event.
But then there's the gradual warming of hands and toes, the triumphant feeling as I return to a heated place. The shiver in the core that can only be alleviated by a shower turned up as high as it will go. The silent partnership between me and the road.