Right now, I am sitting in my neighborhood coffee shop, enjoying an incredibly beautiful late fall day…the kind where I walk out my front door and take a deep happy breath. It is in the 70s in the middle of November! I did get up this morning and run in the cold, but it was the kind of cold that I knew would shortly morph into this amazing day.
I know what will be coming soon though. The deep, dark winter. When many people seem to disappear from the outside. Where is everyone? This disappearance is universal apparently, in places that have real seasons. In my past life in Chicago, before I embraced running as an essential part of my life, I wondered the same thing when I would trek to the local bar in a real live Chicago snowstorm. Where is everyone? And then of course, spring would come, and everyone would come out of the woodwork. Back then, I would walk ten blocks to the EL every day of every brutal winter to get to work – I did not think much about it as that was just what I had to do. I certainly did not appreciate it.
But now, in my life as an ultra-runner, there is a choice. Why do I choose to run in the snow, in the sleet, in the rain, in the ten degree temperatures? And why do I appreciate it? Just to train for a race or to stay in shape during the wintertime? Those are important reasons, although I think it really is more than that. I think it comes down to the importance of braving the elements. I actually want to brave the elements.
There are so many things in our lives that we can let limit or control us. Tradition, structure, time of day, time constraints, personal and societal expectations, the dark and the light, and the list goes on. And of course nature and the weather…the elements.
Yet, braving the elements opens an entirely new perspective. It goes along with something I aspire to as a person – which is to put myself in situations that I would not otherwise be in, to see things that I would not otherwise see. To become more resilient. To gain more freedom of movement and experience. To have one less thing to hold me back. I like to call it “freedom via Mother Nature.”
It all started when I signed up for my first ultra marathon on New Year’s Day in 2015, which meant my training started immediately…and I had never even run on a trail before! Here is a scene from my very first run on a trail:
Who doesn’t want to run around in the snow and feel like a child again? I think I was excited overall but training in the winter still seemed daunting to me. However, it quickly became a lesson in organization and preparation, both of which are key to many things in life. I also quickly realized that it will be difficult to have a bad day in nature when I am excited about it, no matter what the circumstances of nature. We cannot control the elements of course, but we can control our approach towards braving the elements. Organization, preparation, excitement.
Now, I rarely even think twice about the weather, whether I am walking or riding to my office in the city, or spending time in the woods on the weekends. Learning how to brave and appreciate the elements really has made it second nature to be outside…which in turn really lets me feel more alive. I often feel like I can go anywhere and do anything outside at any time in any weather.
Now that is freedom…
Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultra runner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. She also knows how to knit warm scarves to brave the elements in. She does have her limits, though–at about ten degrees- and she feels differently about driving in the winter. If you have any questions or thoughts about this article, Ilene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.