If you run all year round, you'll know that a run on a wintery morning is a totally different kind of beast. The ideal conditions are cold and crisp, but dry. The obstacles are one thing - icy ground is a challenge, making the ground slightly slippery underfoot, meaning you have to take a little more care with your stride. The tends to be slightly worse if you run in rural areas like I do.
Other obstacles? Piles of decomposing leaves for one thing. If it's been raining, these seem to coat footpaths in a slippery residue that makes can be dangerous if you land on it the wrong way. And in the countryside, there's a lot more thick muck on the roads, falling from the wheels of tractors and making it more complicated to run on.
But honestly, it's the sensory experiences that make running in winter so much fun. You head out the door with an extra layer on, to fend off that initial frosty pinch. Later on, there's so much blood pumping that it doesn't make a difference, but having an extra layer just helps get you out the door. It's psychological.
Then there's the tingling in the fingers. For me, that's where the cold hits first. As I run, they tingle a little, then eventually turn numb from the cold. I make a mental note to buy a pair of running gloves, which I'll have totally forgotten about until the next time I decide to run.
And as you huff and puff along the country roads, what's more exhilerating that watching your breath turn to steam in front of you?
As you head into the later stages of the run, cold drops of water hit your face, neck and shoulders. Except it's not rain, it's freezing cold drops of sweat shaking loose from your hair. That's when you know you're working hard!
You push hard on that last mile home. My last mile is usually an uphill struggle, but ends on a flat as I come back toward the house. And when you stop for the cool down, a cloud of steam starts to rise from your body as perspiration turns into condensation! Sure, it's disgusting, but after a good run, it feels amazing to be stretching out your muscles as your sweat literally drifts off into the atmosphere.
I've had a few cold morning runs recently, with a particularly nice run last Saturday down the Lagan towpath in Belfast. This path runs all the way from Belfast to Lisburn, which is a good long run that I fully intend to do one day, but on this occassion, I ran to Belfast from Shaw's Bridge and back again, which was slightly over 5 miles, but excellent fun as I took a diversion up a woodland track and came back covered in mud.
There's just something about those cold winter mornings. It's the feel-good factor of having even gone out the front door in the first place. And it's the incredible high of coming back home, lungs burning with crisp, cold air. I can't wait to try running in the snow!