Montreal’s fresh snow and bracing cold have been positively glorious this winter. Every run is a tonic.
The Coach says it’s not about distance or time; it’s about effort. So last week I went to great effort to dress for the occasion: Merino-blend long johns under insulated running tights, a long-sleeve running shirt under a zip-up mock turtleneck, and over all that a medium-weight blue fleece topped by the red Running Club windbreaker. On my hands, dollar-store knit gloves and Thinsulate-lined mittens. And on my head a balaclava capped with a running hat.
Running with a balaclava is a challenge because I’m not entirely sure how to pronounce it. I’m tempted to say baklava, which I know is wrong on several levels. Most people pronounce it with the accent on the third syllable. But I like to hedge my bets, so as I run I chant the word balaclava, once unaccented and then progressively favouring each of its four syllables. As a running mantra it works very well in winter, transporting me to a sleek Barcelona chair in a book-lined room filled with classical music, where I sit before an open fire holding a ham sandwich…
Where were we? Oh, and on my feet I wore my regular running shoes and socks.
The temperature was –24° Centigrade with a wind chill that brought things down to –32°. But once you get going it’s fine for several minutes and then gets too hot. Suddenly you’re a salmon being poached, and despite the internal heat the moisture in your breath, trapped by the balaclava, freezes into icy shards that press against your cheeks and eventually join up with the encroaching ice from your frozen eyebrows to form one continuous layer.
Did I mention the sidewalks? There are no sidewalks. The sidewalks are under four feet of snow, so you run on the road and the drivers, careening helplessly because they have no traction, honk and stare daggers at you. You stare daggers back, but they can’t see you doing it because your glasses are fogged from your breath, causing you to miss the turn that would have taken you home an hour ago and you’re now standing in front of a concrete building you’ve never seen before. Although, helpfully, it is a hospital.