THE BLOG

The Stark Beauty of Winter Running

23/12/2015 10:30 GMT | Updated 20/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Maybe it's the stoic Englishwoman in me that thrives on cold weather. Maybe it's the joy of being in conditions traditionally seen as unfavourable and finding beauty in them. Maybe it's the wonder of seeing the seasons change.

Who knows? I just know that as the winter kicks in and most people retreat to the comforting safety of indoors, I have a desire to go outside and see what's happening. The ease of summer's beauty is obvious. Everything is greener, flowers nod their heads at us, the sky is blue, we want to skip and sing songs and talk to strangers (actually, what am I talking about? It's only summer, not a social revolution!). Winter, however, is less easy to love. People reminisce about the heyday of summer, when we were all carefree and could go out without a coat. Those were the days.

For me, though, I love the black outline of a leafless tree against the rapidly darkening afternoon sky. I love the bleakness of a winter tundra. I love the chill in your nose as you walk to work. It speaks to my soul, somehow (I'm not sure what this says about the state of my soul, though). Recently, as I was walking to the train station to go to work it started snowing so I ditched the train and began to walk and it was lovely. My face got a little chilly and I had to stop at one point to dig my gloves out of my bag, pulling my coat close around me and revelling in the cold icy gloriousness of it all. Calling a friend to enthuse, I got confused tones in reply. Why I was excited about being cold and needing to wear my gloves was a total mystery to my friend and, I guess, me too. (Actually, I know that part of it is because it makes me feel a little like Jane Eyre on the moors, mourning over the discovery of Bertha in the attic.)

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Thinking about it, there may be something about my dislike of sweatiness in this love of winter running. For a person who dislikes sweating so much, I do an awful lot of it. In the summer, it's all very well and good being able to not wear a coat but if you're a sweater, you may want to but can't! My 90 mile run in June was one long sweatfest, if I'm being honest. It was gross and stinky and, frankly, a bit rashy. The winter provides my body with a way of regulating it's sweatiness with at least some external coldness. I am of course still sweating but not in quite such unattractive quantities.

Running outside is such a fantastic way to discover wintery England because the cold gets right down into your bones, you breathe it in hard through your nose and it takes hold of all your extremities. Your forearm muscles tighten and your fingers don't quite work properly anymore. The air you puff out of your mouth reminds you of the way you used to pretend you were smoking when you were a kid. The coldness of now is all outweighed by the luxurious thought of the hot shower or bath you'll have when you get home. The cup of tea becomes less a drink than a prize you have earned. It takes your frozen fingers and returns them to you as flesh and blood.

Open park spaces benefit most from winter. My first ever 10k, on 1st February last year, was on Wimbledon Common and I was immediately struck by the stark beauty of the landscape. After a few miles, all the runners were spaced out so, for some sections, there was no-one else I could see. I took my mind to far-off lands, the vast uninhabited spaces of Russia mainly, and could completely immerse myself in this illusion for a while. I imagined I lived in a log cabin on a snowy hillside somewhere and was partaking in my daily ritual of a brisk cold run before breakfast. There is something inherently invigorating about a run in the cold first thing in the morning. There's something about being awake and outside and moving while the rest of the world hunkers down and grumbles. On the few occasions I see someone else on winter runs, I feel a camaraderie with them. I feel like we could probably be friends, hugging warming cups of cocoa (so Famous Five!) and chatting while our noses defrost.

While we're on it, it seems like a good time to announce a winter run I'm planning for next year. The plan is to fly to Rome then turn around and run back home, using a pilgrim's route called the Via Francigena. Don't ask too many questions just yet as I have no idea! I'm writing it here mainly as a way to commit myself to doing it. Wish me luck!