As the Hercules storm mounts the eastern seaboard, I am reminded that there once was a time when I loved running in the cold. No, not the piercing cold many around the country are currently experiencing. Rather, anything right around freezing when, after about ten minutes to get the blood flowing and system up to speed, the feeling of well-being begins to spread like a juicy rumor in a closed-minded crowd. Yes, that experience had a very specific charm about it. Even better, with so many other primates remaining indoors to avoid the cold, more of this pristine real estate was left for me to explore at pace.
But like New Year’s Eve drinking, you had to know when to say when, because a sudden change in conditions could lead to real difficulties, as I learned one unfortunate winter’s morn when I took off on an ill-conceived out-and-back twelve miler from my Boston apartment.
Wearing a long sleeve cotton tee shirt under a nylon shell, close-fitting tights accenting the strong curve of my rhythmically churning legs, I generated my own warmth as a thin scrim of sweat encompassed and sealed the machine. Man, that was living at a keening pitch. But as the miles passed, I noticed the temperature dipping rapidly as the wind had shifted, and now came whipping from the east as I concluded my outbound western leg. It was the kind of turn that can (and did) transform supple muscles into rigid stone on marathon day in April.
Though the world around glistened in its refracted refinery, I began to experience a troubling discomfort in my nether-regions as I made a 180 and headed for home. In those halcyon days before the advent of high-tech winter wear, we met the winter in layers, often bundling four or five deep while (immodestly) donning pantyhose beneath nylon sweats on the seriously cold days. But I hadn’t anticipated the sudden dip in temperature and was not so cozily contained.
So there I was about six miles from home, discomfort turning to actual pain, and I realized I had placed myself at the borderland of penile frostbite — or as close to it as you can get without seeking medical attention or causing nursing derision. My choices were limited, and polarized: do I stuff my hand down there to create some warmth, but in so doing surrender land speed (meaning more time in the elements)? Or, do I turn on the jets and get the little fella home as fast as I can while upping the wind-chill in the process?
WHAT, LIKE LAUNDRY?
I opted for speed, but, oh, the pinkling price — didn’t help that my little fella’s turtleneck sweater had been snipped at birth, either. But what eventuated was perhaps best illustrated by the genius of Seinfeld, in the episode where Jerry’s weekend date on Long Island caught George stripping off his swim trunks after he took a dip in the pool.
“Do women know about shrinkage?” George and Jerry finally asked Elaine, vainly trying to explain what cold water does to the delicate dangling thermometer.
“Whataya mean, like laundry?” she queried.
“Nooooo. Like when a man goes swimming…afterwards…”
“Yes, like a frightened turtle.”
“Why does it shrink?”
“It just does.”
And as Elaine walked out of the room she summed up the matter perfectly with, “I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things.”
Because we have no choice, Elaine, that’s why. But having lived through my own winter shrinkage episode — and believe me, coaxing the tiny fella back out is when the real soldiering begins — thus do I currently live in Southern California where such tearful reductions don’t exist (outside a chilly ocean dip). So to all my eastern and mid-western running pals, have a happy (and protected) weekend of running. And don’t forget an extra sock for the single-eyed pocket turtle.