Winter Chill #2: Green House

The coldest weekend of the winter so far and Ithaca was bright and bleak, the roads bleached white from salt. You could tell, I thought, driving down to Cass Park, just how cold it is by looking at it.

Of course, I wasn’t only looking at but also feeling the cold. Ten minutes into my 12 minute drive to the race, and my car heater was still blowing cold air into my running shoes.

Last Sunday, my strategy for Winter Chill #1, the first in a January-long series of 5Ks, was “try not to kill myself.” My strategy for Winter Chill #2, less icy but much colder, was to start warming up, and keep warming up; get out of the car and simply run, run, run until the race was over. There really was no other choice, at 8 degrees F with a wind chill off the lake.

I jogged past the shivering race organizers and their count-down to race clock and circled the bike path course at a pace calculated to get me as warm as possible without breaking anything.

Sunlight does strange things at low temperatures. It must be a law of physics. The colder it gets, the brighter it gets until your body is one blast of sensation, eyeballs to exposed cheeks to crackling toes. Skimming alongside the inlet to Cayuga Lake, the path carried me straight into a headwind for a mile. The cold air found every crack in my clothing. But I found relief beside a white stone wall, which blocked the wind and reflected the light and warmth from all that sun. Turning out of the wind even felt good. My whole being relaxed—so much that a nagging hip thing, which felt like a small animal bite every time I took a step, diminished.

I’ll run, but not hard, I told Bill.

Starting line? What starting line? I couldn’t wait to get moving again. I relaxed into the waiting arms of the trail, my self-generated heat like a green house bubble around me. I could almost see a bubble around each of the other runners, too. Last week, I’d run scared. This week, I still cared, but something about the cold, about having to move to keep from freezing, about generating my own heat, comforted me.

A bunch of people raising their arms. Harsh sunlight.
Winter Chill #2. Theme color: Black. Author is crouching between #33 and #124.

I passed the Wall of Relief again. Just after it, there were two ice skaters gliding on the inlet, which had frozen perfectly smooth and a deep green. They look like they’re having fun.

The second half of the race was a glide to the finish with the wind at my back. The chatting runners, the ice skaters—I think I’m getting the spirit of this Winter Chill thing.

Last week, a friend asked me and a few others to think about trust. The prompt was a God-send this week, because since going back to work after having a baby I’ve been primed to not trust myself. I’m more anxious than usual about being reliable, creative and insightful, the things I value and want to give to the world. But as I run timed laps at a nearby track, I’ve been using the mantra, “trust your legs, trust your legs.” As in: I don’t have to think my way through this half mile repeat. My legs are strong—I simply have to keep moving forward and I’ll make the time.

I’ve been thinking this week about challenges that really matter, especially those that are time-sensitive. Running fast when it counts matters — for professional athletes. Writing well on assignment and on deadline matters to me because it’s my work; people and projects depend on me doing the good, hard thing. For one other set of people I’ve been thinking about since December, the James Web Space Telescope matters utterly, and not just because of the $10 billion cost. Careers, discoveries and our concept of the universe ride on this piece of delicate origami that launched into space Christmas Day. That’s worth losing sleep over.

This 5K? Not so much.

Nevertheless, my self-generated green house glimmered around me through the race and helped me not just run fast but feel good doing it. I felt strong and finished satisfied with my time. It wasn’t giving up, it was a form of gliding.

I wish I could show you a picture of those two ice skaters, flowing over their sunny, green ice. For now, just imagine them with me: graceful, trusting, finding opportunity in the elements.

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