Humiliations of Winter Training

When I was about four or five years old, I used to watch a television program called Romper Room.  The teacher, I think her name was Miss Jean, had a Magic Mirror in which she could see me at home, crouched in front of our black and white screen, watching the romper room kids play games with her.  She invited me to play, too, and I did the best I could, given that there was a snowy television screen between me and all the kids on the show.  The kids had these crazy shoes called Romper Stompers. They were small yellow plastic cups, turned upside down, to which were attached long stretchy plastic cords.  To use them, you stepped onto the cups, held the cords, and with each step, lifted your foot while simultaneously pulling the cords with your arms to move the plastic cups as you went along.  The kids on the show made it look so fun!  I begged my mother for a pair and she eventually succumbed, taking me to Child World and forking over what was probably some of her cigarette money for the toy.  Once I got them, I practiced marching around the house, clomping and stomping my way through the kitchen and down the hall, making tiny scrape marks on the surface of my mother’s highly polished hardwood floors.  I used them for a while, but by the time I was seven, the Romper Stompers had made their way to the very back of the toy closet, and Romper Room had been replaced by Leave It To Beaver.

Today I am running on Granite Street.  It’s barely light out; I rely on a flashing light fob attached to the zipper-pull of my running jacket so that I am visible to the drivers of oncoming cars.  The sidewalks have disappeared into snowbanks.  The streets are mostly clear, except for a few patches of ice and compressed snow.  Because the soles of my Nike Free shoes function like tiny snowboards on snow and ice, I wear a pair of winter trainers to keep from slipping and falling into the middle of the street.  The trainers are warm— made from Gortex— and weigh in at almost a pound.  They do not flex, so I must completely lift each foot off of the surface with each step I take.  In order to lift my stiff, heavy feet to run, I have to pump my arms hard and fast, up and down, like the thin pistons of a small engine.  I jump to the side and into a snowbank each time I see a truck coming down the street, or each time I hear a car coming around the corner, afraid I will be unseen and so splattered all over the road.  When I jump, I have to consciously shift my body weight, torquing my pistons to the side, twisting my upper body to secure myself in the top crust of the snow.

My body remembers the long-ago motion of using the Romper Stompers, the hard work it took to remember to lift my foot and pull the cord at the same time, the rhythm foreign and unfamiliar.  I feel my face flush as I think of the clumsiness in my gait, the awkward motion of my arms, the struggle to lift my feet against the weight of the shoes.  I think of one of the Rocky movies, where Sly Stallone is trying to sprint in thigh-high snow, looking like a worn out sled dog on its hind legs, with Burgess Meredith screaming at him to keep going, not to quit.  I wonder what the early morning drivers think of me, running in the road at dawn, jumping into snow banks, wildly pumping my arms and sweating through my fleece cap and thick, over-sized Ragg wool mittens.

My second toe on my left foot aches.  The toenail seems to be banging against the head of the shoe and the throbbing makes me even slower.  My cheeks are numb, which only becomes noticeable when I try to smile at the oncoming cars.  Unable to actually turn my lips up, I imagine the strange snarl my face must form for all those who pass by me on these freezing cold, post-storm mornings.

Despite feeling the sluggishness of my run each of these mornings, of knowing in my heart and mind that I am slow in the cold, in these Gortex Romper Stomper shoes, I still feel compelled to keep track of my time.  It takes me 55 minutes to run 6 miles, almost a full mile less for my usual time.  I read in a running magazine recently that during winter training, one mile is more like two.  My body certainly agrees with that, but I am unable to convince my mind to concur.  Despite many rigorous workouts with clients and on my own, strength training like a fiend, intense core work, and my wildly successful return to the regular practice of Svaroopa  style yoga, a rich and complex feeling of disappointment creeps into each run near the end.  It’s a feeling of having lost something precious, of losing a strong accomplishment that had been taken for granted up until now.  There is a flame of fear burning behind the loss, a fear of never regaining what I had.  I guess it might come, in part, from taking a hard look at the calendar and noticing what number I will turn on my next birthday, and wondering how long my body will let me keep running.

I know that when spring comes and the roads are clear, when my legs are bare and my feet are free, I will be grateful for having worked this hard through the winter.  I will forget my age, open my shoulders and my heart, and just run.  I will check my time and smile, maybe even pump my piston fist high in the air with pride and accomplishment.  But for now, I would like to leave the Romper Stompers in the closet and move on.

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2 Comments on “Humiliations of Winter Training”

  1. Craig Says:

    That was the most wonderful piece I have read in a long while, anywhere. I love the back story and the part about trying to smile from the snowbank very much.

    Great work. Loved it.


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