A Change in the Weather

How to face the winter running season.

When I moved to Bozeman five or so years ago, the thought of donning running tights had never crossed my young impressionable mind. During my sophomore year I transferred from a small, Midwestern college to MSU for the English program. The opportunities for snowboarding and fly fishing were inconsequential and barely factored in when I made my decision.

At this point in my life exercise for the sake of exercise (i.e., running) was for balding midlife-crisis types. My first run came at a party where there was loud music, recreational drugs, half-dressed freshmen girls fresh off the boat from Billings, and Jaeger bombs. Suddenly there were cops, so I ran (as best as one can in flip-flops and a gut full of keg beer.) And, cue inspirational music, a runner was born.

In all actuality, my transition from the occasional chaser or chasee into runner came from the overwhelming desire to fit in, to immerse myself in my new town. My first apartment was near the big hill on Kagy, and it didn’t take me long to notice that day or night, rain or shine (or snow), there was some poor sucker slogging up or down the steep sidewalk incline. It soon became apparent that they existed solely to shame me, to expose the true slothlike nature of my existence.

During the week, I would drive home from school in the evening and they would be there. On the weekends they were there. Just after dawn, heading out to go fish the Madison, working on a cup of coffee and a muffin, they would be there. Coming back from the bar in a taxi at two in the morning, in February, in a driving blizzard, and Jesus Christ you have got to be kidding me. It wasn’t long before I broke down and found myself out there with them.

Flash forward five years. This fall I ran my first race, a marathon—26.2 miles with no one chasing me. I upgraded my old Midwestern girlfriend to the new, sportier, Bozeman model (a veteran runner training for her first full marathon in the spring) and of course, prompted by the chill in the air, I purchased my first pair of tights.

I thought about putting my running on hold for the winter, content with my climactic Lewis and Clark marathon experience (and the thought of days spent at Bridger Bowl). I lasted about a week. But then I came across a notice for the annual “Snow Joke” half-marathon.

This particular race is held in late February in Seeley Lake, just a short drive away from Roger’s Pass, where once a thermometer registered an unbelievable 70 degrees below zero. I picture myself breaking trail though knee-deep snow, the cold sun frozen overhead, glistening icicles forming off the tips of the full mustache and beard I will grow specifically for this event. There may be wolves howling in the background. This will be positively Jack London-esque and I can’t wait.

This winter, as Montana runners stubbornly refuse the concept of “off-season,” I will slog up hills in rain and wind. I will go for early morning training sessions in the snow, and wave as I pass others doing the same. I will run an Oktoberfest 5k in a near blizzard with 130 or so likeminded individuals and there is nothing else I'd rather do. I make these tights look good.