Building Character

Character. Heart. Determination.

I believe each of us is born with character, heart, and determination. Some of us simply choose not to sharpen those tools. So far this winter I have done a fair bit of character building. This week has been no exception.

The drought has left the weather here in Colorado pretty mild this winter. Since I can’t control it and can’t change it, I choose to embrace it. That means my running this winter has been generally pleasant including several days of running in shorts or t-shirts. (But not both shorts and t-shirts. It hasn’t been that warm.) And being winter I’m not actually training for anything. I am simply running to stay in shape.

No. Round is not a shape. At least not in this context.

So the miles have been pretty easy. And this does nothing for character. But sometimes the weather moves in. This week is a prime example. Yesterday was chilly at about 30 degrees. But the wind was fierce. If the windchill wasn’t actually in the low teens or high single digits it sure felt like it. But hey, I have new cross country ski gear that doubles great for winter running. So I ran. I got an hour in. I didn’t push too hard, but I did manage to attack the uphill sections. This was a road run. Usually this means I have to worry about how close the cars come to me. On this day, the drivers were all giving the crazy running guy a wide berth. Even the snow plow driver was crossing over the center line in case my crazy was contagious.

Two days before it had just finished snowing a little bit – less than an inch. The sun was out. It was brisk. And I ran. I ran hills. On trails. With snow covering the loose rocks, roots, and near-permanent winter ice on the north side of the hill. And I ran it. Up wasn’t so bad. Down was only a little sketchy. I guess the loose junk on the trail had frozen into place or I just got lucky.

Today we’re getting more snow. And I ran. I had intended to run before the snow hit. It was bright and mostly clear a couple hours ago. The plan was for an intense 5k on a mix of trails and dirt road. At the end of my driveway that plan changed as I played human zamboni and cleared an impressive area of snow off the ice underneath. That moment mid-fall is interesting. The body tries really hard to stay upright. And the mind just pauses a moment and goes WTF!?!?!? 9.8m/s/s later there is a thud and I’m laying there covered in snow.

The inventory of possible injuries goes pretty quick. If I’m hurt it’s on the left side, so that eliminates 50% of the checks. My head didn’t hit. Left arm is going to be sore, but not injured. Same for left hip. Knees seem unscathed and feet… Well they were up in the air. I don’t think they were hit by any passing aircraft or flocks of migratory birds. I’d remember that.

And almost as quickly I’m up. Because it’s cold down there in the snow and I’m not dressed as warm as yesterday. I gingerly trot into the road and turn down the hill. In about 30 seconds I have completely reworked my workout. Today is suddenly a casual 5k day. It’s simply too dangerous to be pushing all out. I could probably still manage to attack the uphills.

This is so much the opposite of my business trip to Sacramento. This is not a 5k treadmill workout in the hotel. This is not a 10k on a 1 mile loop at sunset when it’s 65 degrees in January.

This is character building. This is learning to adapt. When I’m 4.5 miles into a 10k and things start going poorly I will have my winter training deep in my heart to fall back on. I will have the 17k cross country ski race. I will have snowy hills. I will have wind. I will have snowy falls down the driveway.

It doesn’t have to be winter to build character. In fact, by June most of this should be erased by something more recent. But those early season races will benefit from today. Summer character usually involves mid-day heat of lunch runs, dodging tourists who can’t be bothered to watch where they are going, hitting the wall 9 miles from the car and pushing through because there’s a meeting you have to catch.

It doesn’t matter how you build character, but that you do build character. If you wait for everything to be right before starting you will never start. Attitude goes a long way. Embrace the challenges and the changes to the plan that are out of your control. Get out there. Do something. Push yourself in a new way.

What are you going to do during this “off season” to help build yourself up for summer? Me? I’m going to keep enjoying my winter runs. I’m not going to let the weather stop me. I’m going to continue to ski and enhance my cardio base that way. And I’m going to smile every time my beard freezes. But you might not see that because with a frozen beard I often have to smile on the inside to avoid the real pain of facial hair being pulled out.

Until next time, don’t let the fat man catch you.

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