Let’s call it a classic January mistake: Shorts. The temperature had seemed mild at lunch time, when I was wearing jeans and the sun was out. But waiting for the speed workout to begin in the dark park last Tuesday, regret arrived as the cold was creeping up my legs.
Well, at least I’m running. It’s the best way to counter the winter blues, I learn from the new issue of Runner’s World. We don’t get enough sunlight and vitamin D. Cortisol levels rise and testosterone levels drop. The lure of the couch, the fridge and the warm bed can be powerful.
Resist the lure! ‘When you run, you feel good, and you keep at it,’ the magazine notes. ‘When you don’t run, you feel bad, and it becomes more difficult to start up again.’ Depressed? Go run. ‘Your mood will improve, sometimes drastically, as will your motivation to do more,’ the nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott says. Runners know this — but it’s easy to forget during the coldest, darkest days.
The more I run in the quiet winter wonderland that is Central Park, the more I love running as a way to create a ‘bubble’ of silence inside and around yourself. (A chapter in my book is about this.) As the streets and trails grow quiet in the cold seasons, it becomes easier to create the calm realm. A few tourists, dogs and squirrels, that’s about it. The quiet we crave is attainable — the opposite of the masses of runners who take over the park just before the fall and spring marathons.
Running in the cold my hands get cold despite wearing gloves, but who cares. I am reminded of a very entertaining and informative story by Amby Burfoot, the great marathon champion and writer. (His running book is worth looking at.) He debunks any and all concerns about running in the cold, and pays special attention to a ‘fearsome running malady’.
‘At 7:25, the jogger noted an unpleasant painful burning sensation at the penile tip.’ That is not a sentence any guy wants to write, under any circumstance. It happened to Melvin Hershkowitz, who, according to Burfoot, wrote ‘one of the all time great running essays’. In the New England Journal of Medicine, of all places.
The cold was getting to Hershkowitz’s private parts when he ran in 20 degree, windy weather. So he hurried home and warmed himself. Then his wife walked in on the good runner/doctor, whose pants were on his knees while one hand cupped his cold organ. ‘Spouse’s observation of therapy produced numerous, varied, and severe side effects,’ Dr. Hershkowitz wrote.
Burfoot’s essay is as great as he considered Hershkowitz’s to be. So I needed to quote it here. Even the runner’s most sensitive areas are fine in the extreme cold. It’s just that this week I was reminded to wear running underwear, running pants, all that. To enjoy the unusual silence in the city, without distractions from an ‘unpleasant painful burning sensation’ — anywhere.
Photograph by the excellent Melissa Johnson