This is a tough time of year.

For me, it’s worse than the dead of winter. It’s the first few days when you start to feel cold, it’s dark at 4pm, and you don’t quite understand why you suddenly need so many layers. My mind hasn’t yet adjusted to these temperatures and it’s a shock to suddenly realize that my routine has to change if I ever want to run outside during daylight. Whereas before I was heading out at 5 or 6am, it’s now just too dark.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to remind myself why I run each winter, and specifically why I like to run outdoors. I keep remembering and re-reading a post I wrote a while ago about winter running. I’ve read it so many times now that I think it’s worth reposting. And maybe it will encourage others to pull on some extra layers and give it a try for themselves:

Running comes with a sense of ownership.

I have spots in the city that I feel are mine. Like the Toronto Lakeshore in February.

The Lakeshore trail is bustling with activity and tourists throughout the warmer months. Every summer it’s packed with runners and bikers and rollerbladers. But in February it’s nothing more than a long stretch of cold harsh Canadian winter. Nobody walks on it. Nobody picnics there.

I ran the Lakeshore almost every day for an entire winter season and I never saw another soul. Such solitude in the heart of an enormous city is unparalleled. I owned that trail.

There’s not enough said about winter running. Running in the winter is like not giving up when the road gets hard. It’s about willpower and perseverance and being faithful to your sport. Loving your path even when it’s ugly.

Yes, it’s cold. Unforgivably cold. The cold is what makes it good. Like a coach that keeps you moving. You run because if you walk you will freeze. It tests your limits. Makes you a hero. Only the strong can tread here.

There’s an intimacy in winter running brought about by the rawness of the season. Trees stand naked. Every crack on the road lies exposed. Every flaw on the trail is accentuated. Running this trail taught me to see my own flaws in a different light. Not perfect, but beautiful nonetheless.

There’s also a softer side. A sense of reciprocated affection from the elements. Like trust built over time. The winds that once only beat against you in defiance suddenly turn in mercy to push you on when you’re wearing thin. The sun’s glare that once blurred your vision shifts generously to warm your face. You raise your eyes to scenery so motivational in its brilliance that you struggle to later describe it. And then the moment has passed.

The sights you see in the winter don’t exist in other people’s memories. The lake still as glass. The sun’s reflecting hues of orange and red bouncing off intertwining ice sheets. They don’t appear on Flickr. You won’t see them in countless tourist photos or on your co-worker’s computer desktop. There’s a quiet beauty here that nobody else sees. The piercing winds dare you to even look up. It’s nature’s secret.

I imagine that years from now, when I try to remember the reason I run, I will think back on these moments. I imagine that in the last stretch of that race, when my legs are burning and my chest is heaving… I’ll feel those winds on my face.

February has ended. But today I blog in its honour, and to the memories of my lonely lake.