Head Drama

12-noon- lunch time.  Baker’s Dozen (minus one). 12 Days of Christmas.  Jon and Kate (plus Jon’s girlfriend and Kate’s bodyguard) plus eight. These are all relatively harmless ways of thinking about the number 12. Last week, however, I considered 12 in a different way.  As I drove home from school, mentally planning my run route, I checked the temperature on my dash.  12.  That explained why it had been so hard to breathe walking to my car earlier.

12 degrees or not… I really wanted to run that afternoon, having spent the day giving standardized tests to middle schoolers.  I put the freeze out of my mind and focused on getting home quickly so I could run before dark.  Cold is conquered through layers, yet the wintertime 4:30 darkness could be avoided if I used my time well.   If I was going to be cold, I wanted to at least be cold in the light of day.

So… at 3:45… I was clad in a thermal turtleneck; warm running pants, winter run jacket, my specialized runner’s gloves, and a hat. I really thought I was all set.  It turns out, this was similar to my high school math days when I thought I was set for tests because I had a calculator.  Note that I averaged a 70 in algebra.

As I ran past one, two, three houses on my block, I think I was too cold to focus on the fact that I was cold.  Perhaps I was in shock.  Ten blocks later, I started to assess the situation. Yes, I knew it was 12, but I’d run in less than that before and survived in my well-layered clothing.  I expected to be cold, but didn’t think I’d feel hypothermia setting in after four minutes.

I thought back to the Navy Seals documentary I watched a few days earlier. The seal was submerged in a tub of 50-degree ice water for thirty minutes.  Scientists were studying the effects of extreme cold on his body.  I was certain my body was going through the exact same thing.   A sane person would have stopped, but to be honest, I thought if anything, this run would bring some runnerchica revelations.  For this, I continued.

Seven minutes into my run I was officially “freezing my butt off” and unofficially agreeing with my parents who would call me “ridiculous and foolish, needing to get my priorities straight” if they crossed me on my icy venture.  My fingers were numb, actually past numb, and the air was piercing my lungs.

Just at this time of ultimate misery, I passed a side street that could have lead me back to my house in just 2-3 minutes. I thought about my treadmill in my basement with Oprah waiting on the TV.

But I continued on… I didn’t want to throw in the towel.

As I ran, I used various tactics to warm up.  I blew on my hands at stoplights. I tried to control my breathing (like the Navy Seal) and relax, sending warm air to my lungs and extremities.

The absolute truth was…for my parents and parental figures reading… I really was dressed for the weather. I was properly layered in the right fabrics.  Yes, it was 12, but I was the best-dressed, most layered 12-degree runner on the streets.  This business of adjusting to the cold was just that… I needed to adjust.

Fifteen minutes into my run, I was actually a little bit comfortable. This is relative, of course, meaning I didn’t think I’d need to have my digits amputated. I actually could feel them again. Twenty minutes in, I (really)felt fine.  As I finally approached my house, I felt warm enough to stretch outside, instead of racing in like I had planned earlier.

It turned out, I realized, that what had initially sent me into orbit was the shock of the cold. It had jolted my senses, challenged me physically and mentally, and generally just kicked my butt.  Enter the head drama- I’m dying of hypothermia; the worst-case scenario thoughts- Will my hands and feet require amputation?; and the give up now self talk – Go to your warm house now, you fool.

That 12-degree run was actually a lot like life.  From time to time, life throws us punches that are revoltingly cold and harsh.  Whether that punch is directed at our jobs, finances, health, or personal relationships, it hits us like a blast of arctic air.  We feel shocked, panicked, and often don’t know what to do next.  We frantically look for the escape button or easy route that can take us back to the security of our warm houses.  The thing is, even if the escape is readily available, it’s not always the best choice. We have to go through the cold and chills in order to learn and grow.  That way, when we do finally get out of the cold, we appreciate the warmth that awaits us even more.  We arrive; amazed at our strength and reserve that helped us get through the worst.

Just as there will always be cold days on the trails, there will always be challenges in life that chill us to the bone. What we need to remember is that eventually, everything returns again to room temperature.

My wish for you, friends, is that you always stay warm, toasty, and hopeful… even when the weather outside if frightful.

Copyright 2009


by abbey algiers

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