For the past three weeks, just as winter has taken hold, I’ve been running at lunch. Preparation begins the night before with a packing routine and checklist that’s as meticulous as the preparation the precedes a destination race.
In winter, preparing ahead of time means you have to account for variability. Maybe I’ll go bare legged in shorts, but it’s good to have a base layer just in case. Same goes for up top, where a long sleeve top might work, but a half zip pullover is good to have. For temperatures bordering on extreme cold and heavy winds, I like to have my toque. Of course, the GPS watch better be charged and if not, I better remember the USB cord.
My office doesn’t have a shower, so out of consideration for my colleagues, baby wipes and a towel are perhaps the most essential items along with my shaving kit that’s sure to be stocked with deodorant and a comb.
By the time it’s all done, my bag has enough heft that my destination could be Billy Bishop Airport rather than my office along Front Street.
The practice started, quite honestly, out of a desperate need to maintain my routine throughout the winter. I dread running in the dark and I am honest enough to admit that I just don’t want to brave the cold and the dark in the morning anymore. When the end of the day arrives, I may find that I’m just too fatigued or that my attachment to a desk and monitor has left me a bit stiffer than I’d like.
The time crunch proved a factor too. The evening brings its own responsibilities and sometimes just a need to wind down rather than crank up the adrenaline.
Just before lunch, I head to the bathroom with my giant gym bag. I change and drop my bag back off in the office, where I put in a quick dynamic warmup. In an open concept space, someone is going to see me doing high kicks and lunges, but it doesn’t bother me and it’s likely that no one cares. The same goes for my trip down the elevator in a group of suits.
Every day, my route is the same. A straight shot down Simcoe Street for a few hundred metres before I meet the Martin Goodman Trail. Whatever the distance or workout, the run is an out and back heading west before bringing me back to my office.
My legs move well at this time of day–better than I expected them to, but it makes sense. They’ve had some time to wake up at get moving, but haven’t had the chance to get stiff and sore. The rest of my body is a happy balance of having some fuel in me, but not overfed or regretting that snack I had too late in the afternoon.
I’ve sometimes remarked that running along the MGT in the winter is spiritual, or at least they closest I’ll ever get to spirituality. The mostly uninterrupted running and relative midday quiet, the meditative quality of watching waves crash and hearing wind howl, all creates the space for a body in motion and a mind that’s open.
Quickly enough, I’m doing what I always do on a run, which is enjoying myself and moving with purpose.
It’s not to say that the rest of the day is futile or unfulfilling, but running is a restorative practice and perhaps midday is the perfect time to do it. It’s active in itself, but in a broader context it’s about resets and reminders to appreciate who and where you are. Sometimes the end of the day is too long to wait for that. By that point your mind and body have endured enough and now have to turn to other obligations and labours. I’m privileged to have the midday hour for the activity that represents a pure state of just being.
St. Ambrose and other fathers of the Church regarded the hour as the day’s most divine and therefore favourable to prayer, breaking away from the affairs of the day for contemplation. I don’t pray, but maybe that’s what prayer does for people who make time for it during the day–offers the opportunity to look deeper and find contentment in the present and simply being.
The afternoon sees a boost of energy rather than a wave of lethargy. I’m pleased to have made a productive use of my lunch break. I haven’t neglected the hard work of training and am please with myself.
There is still beauty and light in winter. There is still reward in running even when nature is brutal.