It began to snow on Saturday afternoon, almost imperceptibly at first, and then with increasing intensity as the wind picked up and more and more flecks of white materialized out of the gray sky. I was six miles into an eight-mile run when the first tiny darts started hitting me in the face. As I pulled up in front of my house fifteen minutes later, snow was dancing and swirling in the air, and I wondered, along with everyone else in the city, what the storm had in store for us, and how it would disrupt what had been a fairly mild winter to that point.
We’d all been following the forecast closely. In addition to the usual warnings about the size of the storm, the meteorologists had been eager to explain the potential for ice, sleet, freezing rain, and a “wintry mix” whose severity would depend crucially on the path the system decided to take as it swept across New England. Hearing those forecasts, many institutions around Boston declared snow emergencies well in advance of those first flakes falling, and many Sunday events were cancelled. Among them, the ever-popular GBTC Invitational indoor track & field meet was scrapped for only the second time in 40 years. Indeed, the potential for nasty weather and a lot of snow on Sunday was the main reason I had ventured out on a perfectly good Saturday to get in most of my weekend mileage a day earlier than planned.
But notwithstanding that adjustment and others motivated by the impending blizzard, one thing that I was NOT going to change was my plan for having SOMETHING to enter in the running log for the next day. I made that decision before I went to bed Saturday night, and I didn’t care if it meant venturing out on slippery roads for twenty minutes of slapstick, climbing into snowbanks every time a plow came into view. Foolish or not, I was determined to get a run in. It would be cold, sloppy, and utterly lacking in any training value whatsoever. It would, I felt, be progress.
Although I’m not really into running streaks, it would be pointless to deny that I had run every day of 2019 to that point, so maybe my mini-streak made me more determined not to miss a day. Or maybe I resented being inconvenienced by the weather, and wanted to assert my right to a run whenever I pleased. However, I suspect the real reason for insisting on a run when it made more sense to stay inside had more to do with a shift in how I wanted to see myself these days. Since I no longer felt fast, I needed some other quality to embrace, and it turns out that stubbornness was still available.
I’m not one for dramatic New Year’s resolutions. But January brings time for reflecting on things, and maybe making a few changes. In the first few weeks of 2019, I thought a lot about how I spent my time last year, and how I wanted to spend my time in the year ahead, assuming I had any say in it. Running has always been there, but at the outset of 2018, it had been inconsistent, to say the least, and I had let that inconsistency set the tone for the next 12 months. A year ago, January, I was trying to recover from a calf injury that kept flaring up and consigning me to sessions on the stationary bike at school. I was taking time off in large chunks, occasionally doing some weights, but mostly acting as though it were perfectly reasonable to skip a day (or two or three) if I didn’t feel like exercising. I always believed that I’d get back to the daily routine at some point, but when you’re not running every day, or most days, it’s really easy to check the thermometer, look out at the snow, and decide not to do a damn thing.
Eventually, the calf injury healed, winter grudgingly yielded to spring, and after a long season of coaching, spring finally gave way to summer. But having more time to run wasn’t enough to bring consistency back into my training. There were too many days when I didn’t feel like running, or did feel like it but failed to carve out the time and let the opportunity slip away. I wasn’t keeping up with my log, but I’m pretty sure that I ran fewer miles in 2018 than in any year since 1982, the year I started up again. I kept telling myself that I’d get back into a regular routine as soon as the crisis of the moment passed, but that wasn’t how it worked (it never is). If you plan your running around your life, you’ll always have reasons to miss runs. And having missed runs, you’ll rationalize those misses by telling yourself that you’re putting running in the proper perspective.
There is another option, a selfish choice that is annoying to everyone around you, and that is to plan your life around your running. As a responsible adult, you should not make this choice. There are dozens of claims on your time that ought to have higher priority than running. There are dozens of reasons — health, safety, not wanting to seem pathetic — that argue for a more moderate approach that allows for NOT doing stupid, stubborn, three-mile runs in a snow emergency after a morning of shoveling out the driveway.
I’m not sure when I started noticing the signs of stubbornness creeping back into my running life. After the end of the cross-country season, I made the decision to run the Mt. Hood race, fit or not, and that encouraged me to see what other foolhardy things I could do. All through the dark days of December, I told myself I needed to run just to experience natural light, and snuck out in the early afternoons to escape screens and holiday music. I ran a few miles on Christmas Day, and even got up early to run on New Year’s Day so that I could go to a party in the afternoon and not worry about running in the evening. I started a new spreadsheet to record data about my runs, and didn’t want to spoil it with blank rows. Slowly, I was building up the old habits of stubbornness again.
Is this a good thing? I doubt it. If the goal is to achieve better training, it would be smarter, I think, to put more emphasis on weight training, core strength, mobility, and injury prevention. If the goal is to lead a healthier life (the object of so many new year’s resolutions), it would make more sense to be flexible about when and where I ran, avoiding risks of injury, frostbite, and run-ins with inattentive motorists.
But stubbornness serves other psychological needs. Among other things, it makes enduring a New England winter an active contest of wills, rather than a three-month question about why we live here in the first place. It also allows every day to include what feels like a small triumph, duly recorded as one more day that did NOT end up as a blank row. I wish every run felt good, but even the runs that suck take their place in the larger picture of what it means to be a runner at all. And finally, I have this hunch that stubbornness is a muscle that becomes more important as you get older and begin to lose the strength in your actual muscles.
As I was writing this, I wasn’t sure whether to mention my birthday, but it kind of fits in with the theme, so here goes. In a grand gesture of stubbornness, I had planned to celebrate my 61st birthday by running 61 laps of an outdoor track — 24,400 meters — but that was before the snow storm covered every track within 100 miles with several inches of frozen muck. So yesterday I went indoors and ran 61 laps of an indoor track, instead.
It was slow, tedious, and arbitrary making those 61 sluggish circuits around that stupid track. Meanwhile, Patrick and Amory were there running a few fast reps, and the BU Track team showed up at some point, every one of the athletes looking fast and fit and smooth as they did their drills and strides. Not me. I just felt old and in the way. And after approximately an hour and 11 minutes I finished my final lap, I felt no sense of elation, just an asymmetric tiredness that I hoped wouldn’t lead to some new injury and another round of time off.
Oh well, got it done. Gonna run again today, maybe on the Comm Ave. access road. The temperature is supposed to soar into the 20’s, so it should be a piece of cake. Hardly any stubbornness needed.