January 5, 2016 | 7:10 am.
Understatement. Only one other car is here.
It’s cold this morning, so I get it. It’s been unseasonably warm and the past couple of days Winter took over, as is her right to do. But it’s damn cold. My weather app says 27º. Windchill 19º.
I ran yesterday, similarly dressed in thermals and such. I had to ignore the cold to start. Colder now, but I really want these miles, so here I am. Me and one other brave soul.
It’s daybreak. Sunrise is 30 minutes away. The sky is clear. I see stars and a lovely crescent moon. I try to snap a picture, but the camera on my phone hasn’t cooperated in weeks, and the shots are unusable.
I gather myself and get out the car. I lock the door, slip the key in my pocket, stride to the trailhead. There is no time to dawdle. My stride warms to slow jog as I approach my traditional starting point. It’s a golden rod mile marker a few yards from the entrance. I always begin there. When I reach the slim post, I press Blue’s Garmin. It chirps and buzzes and I’m off.
Immediately I feel the wind. I know if I can make it past the first five minutes, I will be warm enough, encouraged enough to continue. My face is uncovered and the skull cap with my long red locks protruding seems insufficient. I zip up my jacket, which I usually find uncomfortable at the neck, but today it’s fine. I just need to stay warm. And although I don’t appreciate the breeze, I’m not experiencing cold in a truly unpleasant way. It’s just cold.
My feet strike the boardwalk. It creaks, irritated to be touched on this cold morning. It protests, loosening. It will be quieter for the next runner.
And I am around the first bend. The guard rails have frost and I hear the creek rushing under me. I keep running, faster than normal for my first mile, because I just need to get warm. There’s a magic point where your core is warm, and the thermal top and jacket contain that heat so some of it can move to your outer limbs. I’m running for that moment. It’s not far now.
And here I am. It’s a half mile, a little more than five minutes in. I no longer notice the wind. This pace seems sustainable, but I will not push it. I’ll see how long I last. I know I can do three miles; 1.5 out and back, but I’d like to go a litter farther. Hit 3.2 maybe. I’ll decide at the turn around. I was tired by then yesterday.
Now I’m crossing the swamp. It is crusted over with a thin layer of ice. No ducks will be in that water today. I know underneath it is not frozen. It’s not that cold after all.
I’m on the concrete going over another bridge. This one brings me closer to the one mile marker. I like starting at the golden rod mile marker because between here and there it’s one mile. I hear the creek under this bridge, but I don’t look down. I don’t want to break my stride and the sun isn’t up yet anyway.
Sometimes I pass runners coming in as I’m going out. Sometimes they pass me, going faster but in my same direction. Right now I’m still alone. I’m warmer, although my hands have not benefited yet. My thumbs in particular hurt. All of my other fingers just feel cold, but I’m grateful the circulation is going well in my legs. My feet are cold, but only my toes are numb. A vast improvement over the time I could barely feel my feet below my ankles. I know my feet are here and working fine.
Ha. The bunnies are hungry. Three big ones eat breakfast on my right. I speak as I always do when I pass them. One runs closer to the forest. The others remain.
Approaching another bridge now. This one goes up and then under the highway, beside the creek. I hear the first bird of the morning. He’s checking to see who’s awake. In warmer weather, the morning meeting would already be underway. It’s nearly 7:30. Sunrise is imminent. I don’t hear a response and he calls out once again.
I’m under the overpass and running up the slight incline. I’m nearly to the turn around. I believe I am maintaining pace. My energy hasn’t flagged so that’s a good sign.
There’s a kindred spirit – an older woman I think. Thick fluffy hair bounces underneath her hat. She has on black running tights like me. She leans into her run. I wonder if she started from the other side and is on her first stretch, or if she started on my side and is on the way back.
Now my hands are warm. I will go to 1.60 and turn around. There is a green mile marker right around there. When I reach it, I tap it and try not to break stride as I make the u-turn. I’m halfway home already.
I pass underneath a wintered canopy. Is it a canopy if the trees are leafless? And now I’m back at the underpass. I see the creek, but I don’t hear it this time. I tackle the hill back to the straightaway. I spy another bunny. He’s big like the others but he isn’t still. He’s running – or darting is probably more accurate. I’m concentrating because any moment now I’ll hear the chirp-buzz signaling I’ve reached two miles. Then I’ll only have a mile and change left to go.
And there it is. Chirp-buzz.
I still feel good: I’m warm, and my pace feels solid. My toes are slightly numb, but nothing I mind. My hands are sweating now so I pull off my gloves and stuff them in my left pocket. I know they’ll cool off soon so, I’ll don the gloves again then. I unzip my jacket, just a tad. Yes, I’m really that warm. Not hot, but that zipper is getting in the way.
On I run.
Passing frosty trees on my left, I cross the next bridge. Less than a mile to go now. I notice the frost-dusted guard rails saving me from a long tumble into the noisy creek below. I can’t help myself this time. I reach out and brush the top. Some of the frosty snow (snowy frost?) falls to the ground. The rusting rail gives way to wood and then nothing but the boardwalk.
I’m back to the swamp. That layer of ice remains on the water, but now I look down and see newly wet paw prints on the boardwalk. They seem to be heading toward me but cross to the other side. I immediately think these are raccoon prints, although I’ve never seen racoons here. They probably belong to the countless squirrels who live here.
I pass another runner. I’ve seen this man before. I’m pretty sure he’s just starting. We wave. I smile. This is my tribe.
This boardwalk is noisy, resisting as the first one did. It’s cold and does not want to be bothered. It will warm up in a few hours. Maybe it will be in a better mood then.
I am near the home stretch. I speed up, excited to hear the birds. They are nearly a mile away from the early bird’s podium, but the morning meetings are going strong now. Birds are laughing and catching up on the night’s events, or so it sounds to me. I smile wondering how long they will chatter.
I continue to press, knowing the end is near. This pace is a little challenging, but I’m grateful I’m not wheezing. Keeping my chest insulated makes running in the cold a lot more pleasant, numb toes aside.
I approach the last bridge, which was also the first one. I round the corner and stride down to the boardwalk. As I hit the homestretch mile marker, I begin the countdown. When I’m fast, I can make it from here to the first golden rod marker by zero, but today I am not fast.
One hundred, 99, 98… I count while my feel tap tap in cadence.
I’m going faster than I thought. I’m nearly there when I notice wetness around my face. Is my hair wet? I can tell I will get to zero before I get to the final post, but I won’t have much left to go.
When I hit zero, I count down again, this time from ten. That feels ambitious still, but I really am close. Just after the second zero, I cross the finish line and press the button to stop the Garmin. I save the run.
I stretch and right now I am so proud of myself. There’s still only one other car out here. Today, I have won.