Bumping along a dirt road outside of Anchorage Alaska our tour guide was explaining what life was like far up North. Describing how it is to ride the undulation from summer months of constant sunlight to winter doldrums of complete darkness. This answer about suicide resulted from a question about depression.
How could you not sink into sadness when light doesn’t appear for weeks? A man wondered.
We’ve all felt it.
As days grow darker we feel our energy suppressed by the decline in solar exposure.
But I’ve also felt the inverse.
I can still feel the uneasiness from a particular spring day during my childhood when the sun was shining brightly and I just wasn’t up for it. After a cool gray Pacific Northwest winter, all of this brightness felt like weight of expectation.
Even as I kid I missed the cozy feeling of a drizzly day that didn’t demand much. When you felt free to play outdoors or lay inside. All this sunlight felt like something you should “make the most” of.
Even as we all expressed surprise to how humans act on depression during the late spring vs winter, I somewhat understood.
Though I don’t suppose to know the depths of emotions that result in ending one’s life, I’m reminded of this Alaskan memory each autumn when the days become surprisingly short. Yes, it’s difficult. To rise well before the sun only for it to set well before work is complete. But it can also feel protective, warm, and familiar.
This is why I enjoy winter running.
The footing can be tough, the layers can feel fussy, and the conditions may force you back, but to me, it’s all upside. When the world is dark and dank, little is expected and any accomplishment feels extra satisfying.
“Everyone’s a runner in May!” they say. Because it’s true, it’s easy to stride out the door into a warm breeze. But the expectation to get fit is also strong in spring. The assumption that you’ll prioritize wellness weighs when the sun is bright and flowers burst. Winter miles feel like a multiplier. Blocks passed under darkness feel subtle, personal, and meaningful.
“Don’t overdress!” I scold myself.
“It’s just a cozy beanie.” I negotiate inside myself.
Building my fortress to the world — tucked under a heavy hat, inside a hooded jacket — zipper pulled up to my chin. It may appear to be an absurd hour to run outside to others, but it’s in these moments when the elements are least desirable physically that I’m most at ease mentally.
Yes, it’s always hard to rise before dawn. Every. Damn. Time.
But once the alarm has been hit, the coffee’s been consumed, and the clothes have been layered, I’m able to set off onto silent streets for an hour of the day when all senses and sensations are muted.
Lunch runs may produce better performances, and after work miles may blow off more steam, but miles covered before the sun appears feel like a simple gift.
Offering a quick wave to other shadows striding down the street under darkness, an acknowledgment that they too are stealing away this part of the day for themselves.
An hour for us, before daily responsibility and expectation begin.
An hour to briefly live in between, no longer asleep, not quite yet awake, an existence confined to just solitary footsteps and breaths.
Our hour out in the cold darkness, a time so many despise, to us is the perfect space in which to create a cocoon of effort and peace.
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