Category Archives: outdoors

Let’s Run Away Every Day

Or, How I Stopped Running 5ks and Learned to Love to Run Again

A month ago, two things happened in my life.

First, I started having some problems breathing. I don’t have health insurance and haven’t gone to a doctor because, well, see earlier part of sentence. I have no idea what caused it, although I am attributing it to the allergies that I’ve started being affected by that get worse as I grow older. I have been treating it with common asthma medications – a nasal spray and an inhaler that a friend from an asthmatic family gave to me. I’ve done some productive coughing over the last day, making me feel less like there’s a small elephant sitting on my lungs, so it could just be the springtime allergy season is coming to a close.

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Oh, the drama of not being able to breathe or whatever.

Maybe it’s related to allergies, or the uber-high humidity in the southern US since late spring started, or the construction dust I inhaled two years ago that seemed to trigger my exercise-induced asthma, or living with smokers for many years of my life. Whatever it is, I’m alleviating the symptoms as I can and toughing it out until something changes for better or worse.

Second, I traded 5ks for 2 miles. I lowered my miles per running workout to save time on workouts, not get discouraged by how I feel at the end of a workout, best utilize my new regular running path, and work on my speed over stamina, especially given that my stamina is affected by the weather. But I also increased the other exercise I was doing from almost none to almost daily, so I’m no longer doing 3 days of workouts a week at max – I’m doing different kinds of workouts all week long, staying consistently fairly active instead of pretty active every other day/every three days.

The short running distances came before the breathing issues, to be honest. After I recovered from my foot injury this spring and had some run-ins with growling, chasing dogs† in my rural neighborhood, I changed my regular running path to the relatively flat road to the left (stopping naturally at the one-mile mark where the flat dives suddenly to a 100-foot incline over a quarter mile, which is a pain in the ass to climb) away from the rolling hills to the right that have been my regular running ground for the last two years.

(†Yes, I’m sad to stop running that way because of fear for my physical safety, but it’s the country, people dump dogs and let their aggressive pets run free and pack up with other dogs. Both our next door neighbors have lost pets to wild dogs. I’d rather run a shorter distance on a shorter path than be bitten. I know what I’m talking about; I was bitten on the face and arm as a kid by my grandma’s dog. The recovery was long, I still have scars, and I was afraid of dogs for decades. For a while, when I went that way, I ran while carrying a large stick. That did make me feel somewhat better when I ran across one dog that crossed a field to bark at and stalk me, as I waved the stick around myself to make myself look bigger, ignored it as much as I dared, and prayed for a pack of cars down the winding country highway to put a scary physical barrier between us. But the stick is heavy, doesn’t improve my time, doesn’t alleviate my paranoia and slight fear, and probably wound’t do that much good.)

A shorter run meant that if something else went wrong with my foot, I would be a mile max away from home. I started just walking on it, adding short sprints of running (20 to 50 to 100 steps) to test my recovery and pain threshold.

I’d also try to get in a short run so that I could be home in time for dinner or cook dinner at a reasonable time when the last of the sun and most tolerable running weather of the day was near the evening meal. A half hour instead of 45 minutes to nearly an hour (depending on how far I went, of course) was preferable, and it’s something I could squeeze in much more easily. Plus, the last mile of my 5k was always my worst, because I was usually pretty dog tired.

One day, I went for a 5k that turned quickly from a run into a walk, and I walked the entire way home. “I’m so out of shape!” I said to myself on my second or third run that week. That was the last 5k I’ve done all at once in a single day.

I have expanded my exercise types according to my spring/summer schedule, the tools at my disposal, and the goals I have set for myself.

My goals are currently to exercise nearly every day (and give myself important rest days) in order to…

  • get limber
  • strengthen my legs
  • burn fat
  • eventually strengthen my upper body
  • avoid injury
  • deal with my anxiety
  • give myself goals for speed, distance, etc.
  • work on my respiratory system strength.

The tools I’ve been using:

TOSfitbitFitbit and a group of friends-of-a-friend who have daily challenges in which I still participate. I was first last Saturday, and I was last yesterday. It’s a lot of fun to get that social encouragement in a small group setting without the anonymity of an online forum and the negativity that a large online forum can engender.

TOSmmr MapMyRun, which tells me how poorly or how well my splits are looking. I run for about two days in a row, then take a rest day or do some other exercise in between.

TOScmCharityMiles, which recently updated its sharing user interface and looks even more amazing than ever as well as being a great tool for generating donations to charities through corporate sponsorship of workouts.

yogastudioYogaStudio, which I got for free several on International Yoga Day (June 21) several years ago. It used to be a one-time fee service, but it recently changed to a subscription service. I have declined to update the app to get access to new classes that a subscription service would provide; I’m such a newb and an infrequent yogi that I’m fine doing the same several classes over and over.

TOSwaterMy knockoff Yeti Cup for replacing diet soda with ice water. I got hooked back on diet soda during my main job’s busy time and at my part-time office job – it’s easy to sit at a desk and drink down soda after soda to keep you going or because you want a sweet taste in your mouth all the time. About 3 weeks ago, I stopped buying the big packs of soda and have switched to filling my cup up with ice and adding water throughout the day instead. At my day job, which is cut down much per week at the moment, I bought a large pack of water to keep in the fridge since the building’s plumbing is so old and the faucet water is therefore a little on the iffy side of potable.

TOSbikeThe exercise bike my friend so generously gave me last year. I have used it a few times while watching movies or TV shows. Frankly, it’s kinda torturous to use indoor equipment, but it gets the heart rate up and works my legs. The only way to get through it is to do it with a video, I have found.

TOS-hikeatparkA local park with a hiking trail. Torrential rains damaged alternate paths several weeks ago, and roping off those sections led me to actually find the correct trail that encircles the park. I’ve gone hiking there alone a few times and with my dogs twice in the last month. They love it, and last time we were there, we ran into a camp of children that descended on them with oohs and ahhs and awwwws. My people-friendly dogs were on cloud nine.

Ok, so what else? Something ridiculous and great I’ve been doing: putting my legs up on a wall.

YES. This is stupid as hell. Yes, it feels great. Yes, it seems to be helping me to ward off injury. It’s a great stretch. Full disclaimer: everyone who sees you doing this will make fun of you if they know you well, unless they’re a workout nut who tries it and also likes it for the benefits it gives you.

Results from so far

My weight loss is slow, but it’s coming along. My legs look better. Although I still feel like I’m drowning when I run sometimes and even like I’m gasping for breath while I’m biking at a fairly normal speed in my air-conditioned house, my times are faster, and I’m getting stronger, even if my body isn’t working quite right.

I’m getting to an age where I can’t neglect regular maintenance anymore – I have to do things for myself to keep active, be fitter, and try to be as healthy as I can be. Until I can work something out about my health insurance situation or live in a country where we have insurance covering everybody and the taxes to pay for it, I’m just going to try my hardest to work toward a better self, remember to take rest days, and never give up trying, even if I sometimes give up blogging.

Follow me on Instagram!

Click on the link to see my fitness Instagram page. It’s not all motivational posts and carefully lit, carefully culled, carefully carefuled images – a lot of it is post-workout selfies, animals lusting after my food, and my lovely lunch choices.

Slip and Tread

It’s been a terribly long time since I posted on my fitness blog, and I’ve got ground to cover.

For several years, I was a moderator and an active member of a Reddit fitness and health subgroup, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t make close friends, but it was nice seeing the same familiar screennames. I was friendly with a few people whom I followed to other apps, including the food photo journal YouFood, and encouraging others to explore the feelings that led them on their journeys was rewarding in a lot of ways.

However, my crappy at-home internet situation discouraged me from spending a lot of time online, and eventually, the demands of work became too great for me to continue to moderate as well. There was a lot of emotional output without much reciprocation, i.e. there are only so many times you can pour out encouragement to a stream of strangers without any meaningful feedback before it starts to feel useless. I’m a loner anyway, but it made me feel lonelier than ever.

2015 was a great fitness year – I ran for a lot of the summer and competed in my hometown’s 5k for the first time ever, something that I had always wanted to do. Was I fast? No. Do I believe I will ever be fast? I’m not sure. But I was active a lot of the time and even walked with my coworkers some mornings.

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Feeling pretty super after a cool morning and a fun 5k.

My part-time job offers a program that rewards you for taking steps to improve your quality of life and health, and I won two awards through that program in 2015, one of which was a running watch that I traded in for a fitness tracker that I’ve been wearing for a year. As a data aficionado, I am pleased to sync the information with my smartphone app and ponder my step count, my hours asleep, my active minutes, how true the caloric burn count could possibly be.

I took a lead position at my part-time job in the autumn of 2015 and spent a lot of time on my feet to the point that my old broken foot injury started to really bother me, and if I didn’t wear comfortable sneakers, I was in for an evening of elevating my foot.

Right before my day job ate my life for a few months, I applied for and accepted yet another position at my part-time job, this one in the office. I didn’t realize how much this would influence my life for the next year.

2016 started with me tethered to my desk at my main job for crazy hours, which I had expected. When I went back to my part-time job, I found that while I wasn’t working as many hours, I was still overextended. This contributed to one of the most stressful seasons of my life. And when I tried to go back to running to de-stress, almost immediately, I underestimated how sedentary I had been and aggravated my dormant plantar fasciitis. So I showed up to my day job in my professional clothes wearing sneakers for a week or so. Good job.

I was active throughout the year, and a friend gave me a stationary exercise bike. Now, I have found it difficult and painful to attempt to ride a bike outside on the road, because I tend to stand up on the pedals to get me to where I want to go faster. The point of biking outside is exhilarating travel. At least it is to me, but then again, I have always loved biking, and a bike was my car when I lived in my college town after graduation. Years later with a foot that still gets angry if the instep undergoes a lot of pressure, I looked upon this gift with trepidation and skepticism, but it turns out that the point of the exercise bike is to exercise the muscles and raise your heart rate, apparently. As long as I don’t overdo it and keep my heels on or near the pressure points of the bike pedals, I’m OK riding the bike.

My story of fitness, weight loss, and perseverance was featured on Charity Miles affiliate Humana’s Health Star blog. That was a high point for me. Sadly, when I went to look for that post to link to, I find that it has been taken down! Aw man!

I started on a book, doing more writing in several months than I had done in nearly a decade, and more than I’d done since working on ‘zines and newspapers all throughout high school, college, and my younger adulthood.

Unfortunately, working in my part-time office’s environment led to overeating due to stress or want of a break, some bad food decisions, and easy access to candy. I no longer was on my feet very much, as my new job involved a lot of administrative functions that necessitated me sitting at a computer.

I ran several terrible 5k races in 2016. My times were always improvements over the prior race, but my performance and how I felt after the race seemed to deteriorate throughout the year; this is partly attributable to the persistent heat that sat on the southern US state where I live for most of the summer and into the autumn, but some of it was, frankly, due to the weight I put on due to bad eating choices and less outdoor physical activity.

At the end of the year, despite being something of a Pokemon GO fanatic who hatched a ton of eggs while walking and running, I had logged fewer miles than in 2015 by almost two hundred.

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At Mammoth Cave National Park in December 2016. I logged only a mile underground? Seemed like forever!

Here I am in the late, unseasonably warm winter of 2017, pondering my future as I end my annual month-long break from the part-time job to focus on my main job. I usually don’t get time or suitable weather to go outside and run during day light hours until March or April, but the temperatures this coming Sunday, my first day back, will be in the 70s F, and I intend to take a long walk or a short run if my after-work errands don’t keep me out past 5pm.

My weight has increased over the last year, and I have failed in efforts to control my eating. I track my food, I lose five pounds, and then, I throw it all away. I don’t even know why I eat except for stress or the joy of eating, followed immediately by regret. I am nowhere near my highest weight, but I am not reaching my goals and feel as though I’m heading in the opposite direction. For the first time in several years, I feel truly ashamed of my body again, and I don’t like that feeling.

Snoring is always at the front of my mind when I go to bed these days, and the boil-and-bite mouth guard I purchased a month ago is only effective in alleviating my snoring until I take it out, which I usually wake up and do in the middle of the night.

I haven’t had good mental health over the last several months, struggling with deep depression the likes of which I haven’t dealt with since I was in college. I’ve tried to hide it from people, but the loneliness, sadness, and nihilism have been nearly crushing, and at times, I felt like I only kept functioning because of the structure I have in place that propels me from duty to duty every day.

I’m so out of shape at the moment that my last run turned into a walk a little over two miles into my  journey.

I have been going through some shit, y’all.

runwalkwhatever

Run faster. Or… run, period. Maybe. From last weekend.

Every day is a new opportunity to fail. It’s a new opportunity to succeed as well. I know that I’ve been a success story in the past. I just feel like I need a little help to get back to where I need to be.

I am in need of love, encouragement, harsh truths, and reminders to be accountable for my own actions. Yes, you can help me. I would appreciate feedback, encouragement, and even tough love in small doses. I don’t know that I or anyone else really needs platitudes; I want someone to tell me to stay within my calorie goal for the day, to try to walk around a little bit more, to get a glass of water instead of opening the cabinet or the fridge to get a sugar-free but not calorie-free treat, to take better care of myself, to make sure I can still fit in my underpants, to remind me that I will not under any circumstances live forever.

This is my confession. I have been terribly unhappy and not following through on my commitment to myself to be the healthiest that I can be. Things need to change, and change can only come from within. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that a self-motivated person is even more effective when they know they’re not alone.

Also, does anyone know how to get deeply ingrained horse poop out of Nike sneakers? Asking… for a friend. Who runs in an Amish neighborhood. Who is me.

Running On Glass

I’ve been running lately, and so far, it hasn’t killed me or completely destroyed my joints (maybe). Fancy!

With nice end-of-summer weather, I’ve been walking along a quiet, hilly country road that takes me past pastureland and farmland, farm houses, small streams, and churches. I have a sheaf of small stories about the bucolic delights of my exercise, from shutting off my music to better hear Mennonite churchgoers sing hymns in German to collecting red clover for some inquisitive horses to photographing butterflies.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

One day, while walking down a long hill, I tried to pick up the pace a little to get my heart rate up more and to tax my leg muscles more than walking does. That turned into a very light jog. I was surprised, delighted – words you don’t usually use when you talk about working out. “This should stop soon. When is something going to start to hurt?”

I ran for maybe a full minute. As someone who hasn’t tried running since a failed C25K attempt in 2006, a minute felt like a long time to run. I had so much fun that when I caught my breath, I ran again. I didn’t attempt to go up any hills and did a lot of walking, but every time there was a downward slope, I ran a little more. I shaved 15 minutes off my usual 5K walk lap time and soaked in the tub when I got home.

With two jobs, my time is stretched a little thin, so I don’t run more than once or twice a week – which is great for me, as it is probably wise to let my body rest and heal for several days between those workouts.

The ankle brace and knee brace are necessities, of course. I tried running without my ankle brace a little over a week ago, which turned out to be a mistake. I went out on Sunday afternoon, and I had shooting pains in my ankle while I was walking up a hill – to the point where I seriously considered calling my boyfriend to come pick me up. I stopped for a moment and rolled my ankle in circles, tugging on the elastic at the top of my ankle. The pain quickly subsided, and it felt all right enough that I actually ran on it again before the end of my walk. When I got home, I soaked in the warm tub for a while, then propped my ankle up and wrapped it in a cold pack while I watched TV.

Will I keep running if I’ve hurt my ankle? Probably not. I don’t want to do lasting damage. I’ll give it some time to rest, and then, the weather will get really cold, and I won’t want to run or go outside, and I’ll get halfway through winter before I’m bitten by the exercise bug again, and I’ll put on all my braces and my neck gaiter and 14 layers of flannel and go out and run two miles and feel awesome, and then I’ll slip on black ice into some horse poop in the road and break my leg. And my phone.

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an "accident."

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an “accident.”

The constant thought I have as I’m running, besides “Just get to that tree shadow/driveway and then we can stop and walk… JUST KIDDING, go to the end of that driveway! I should REALLY eat breakfast before I run! I don’t know how I’m going to make it home!” is that I’m on borrowed time with this body. I feel like my brain is tricking it into doing things that could break it. It’s easy to be a hypochondriac and easy to be reckless. I’ve got to find the balance between having the gumption to test my limits and having the common sense to know when to stop and how to take care of myself properly when things do go wrong.

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

Wake Up Your Legs, Woman

I’ve been moved into my new house for two months, and until yesterday, I had never walked farther than almost to the outlet of my cul-de-sac. It’s winter! I’ve been hard at work! Yesterday, I was tired of doing nothing, and even though I was on the threshold of sick, I went for my first serious walk since the move.

I had been used to hour-long walks with 60 pounds of dog dragging me up and down hills. I figured walking by myself for as long as I could take it would be a snap. And for the first part, it was. Beautiful day, gorgeous countryside, picturesque cows and horses – and best of all, the dead opossum had been cleared off the road. The land sloped ever downhill toward the creek, and I kept going.

About halfway into my trek, I thought to myself, “Walking back up this hill is going to be a bad time.”

Descent into a creek valley.
Once I reached a gentle grassy hill that reached the lip of the water, I sat on a rock for a few minutes and watched the stream. I took some pictures. Then, it was time to head back up the hill. My pedometer app on my phone told me I’d walked 1.36 miles. As I squinted at my phone in the sun and looked back at the road winding up the hill, I felt encouraged at how rested I felt. “I feel great for not having done any exercise or walking for two months. This should be ok.”

Two minutes later.

The wrong side of a hill.
I took off my light jacket and made my way around the curve, winded but enjoying the exertion, through the steepest part of the ascent. I think it’s been long enough that I felt the burn, but I was more than capable of accomplishing the walk without having to stop and catch my breath.

The land began to level off a bit after a half mile or so, and I went back to taking photos and inhaling deeply the cool air (this became more shallow breathing when the wind was coming off a well-used horse pasture).

Hay.
Today, my calves are a little sore. Tomorrow, I’ll likely feel that soreness even more. But I had a great time. And if I wasn’t sick today, I’d make plans to walk the same route tomorrow to give my underused calf muscles a chance to stretch out and help me do what I most love to do: enjoy the physicality of being alive.

Later this week, I’m setting up my physical therapy gym in the spare room of my house to get back to work on my shoulder. I stretch every day, but it needs more work. Spring seems like the best time to get back to the business of repairing myself, getting serious about my eating habits, and enjoying some time outdoors.

Inclement Clothing

Northern hemisphere snow party! Whoo!

It’s around the darkest days of the year with the least sunshine, and it’s not so bad, to be honest. Yeah, it’s in the 20s F in the morning with highs rising all the way to the 30s F by the middle of the day, but as long as it doesn’t rain and get all damp and gross outside, that’s not so bad!

Unfortunately, it’s been damp and gross – the wet kind of cold weather that isn’t pretty and doesn’t have the decency to not soak through every layer you have on – for a lot of the last couple of weeks. Snow flurries fell over the weekend, though, and didn’t stick to much, melting and refreezing almost as soon as they hit most earthbound surfaces. This morning, it was cold, clear, and dazzlingly sunny.

As I’ve said several times before, I’ve put together a cold weather wardrobe. It proved to be inadequate the other night when it was just above freezing and started to rain very hard as the dogs stood in the back yard, alternating between finding things to eat in the bushes and pulling away from me toward the house without having used the potty, which was the entire reason we were out there. I have a rain coat, but I wasn’t wearing anything warmer under it than a sweater. I don’t have waterproof boots or pants that resist rain. My flannel pajama pants I’d worn out into the rain got pretty damp, and I let my shoes dry out for a day before I took the dogs out for a long walk again. So basically, those things are next on my list of winter-wear gear. I’ve got being warm enough down, now I just have to stay dry as well.

Rain hasn’t been much of a problem for me for years. Texas doesn’t get a lot of rain, and the last two summers have been phenomenally dry and included a record-breaking drought. Now that I’m in Kentucky at the foothills of Appalachia, it’s a different story. We’re not quite far north enough to get snow, and we’re not quite far south enough to have a warm winter. We get a wet, damp January, leaf-stripped forests for three months, occasional snow. It seemed worse when I was young and didn’t always have adequate protection from the elements. But now, I’ve grown up, accessorized with fleece and a dozen different garments, and I’m good to go when it’s snowing in my face.

This is what I wore last night on a circuit around the neighborhood across the hard gravel road, around frozen puddles, into the murky night lit via light pollution caught by low-hanging clouds. I was so toasty.

A woman's leg clothed in hiking boots, argyle knee-high socks, black tights, and purple pants

Pants layers – long socks, tights, yoga pants, and boots.

A woman in a leather jacket, fleece hat, and two sets of gloves giving the thumbs-up

Gloves and face layers.

A woman in winter clothing wearing four shirts.

Shirt layers – tank, thermal sweater, fleece pullover, and leather jacket.

Next on my shopping list are rainproof pants and boots. I could probably apply some water resistance to the boots I have now, but it might be easier to upgrade to another pair at some point.

The ability to be comfortable as I go out into the world is the only thing that makes it tolerable going out. I went into the cold woefully underdressed a few nights ago and didn’t really get almost comfortable until about 20 minutes in, when I’d warmed up from the exertion. By that time, my hands were frozen, and we were almost back at the house. Lesson learned.

Compelling Cold

What is it about the cold that makes me want to be outside?

I took two accidental hour-long walks with my dogs today. We’ve been strolling through the nearby ballpark (where I spent 7 happy summers on various softball teams as a kid), expanding on our neighborhood exploration, and apparently that’s enough to boost our outdoors time past the 60-minute mark. I took the dogs out on an intentionally long stroll this morning to reward them for being so good during the rain of the last several days.

This evening, I called my sister, wrangling the dogs with one hand, and we probably moved a lot more slowly than usual. I also wore my knee brace, because the walk this morning, plus stumbling in the mud in my work shoes during lunch, made it feel necessary. When I hung up the phone and checked the time, we’d been out for over an hour and 10 minutes.

The temperature this morning was about 32F/0C; this evening, it was 25F/-4C. I guess I’m not a Texas girl anymore if I can put up with that with a smile on my face.

I was super cozy this evening in a new sweater I picked up for $15 at Kohl’s: a Tek Gear 1/4-zip microfleece jacket. Lows in the 20s are about as cold as it regularly gets in this part of the country, so modern fleece is just fine for this climate. I practically live in my performance fleece zip-up jacket from Old Navy, bought for $12 about a month ago. My hiking boots are still amazing performers. My long socks are warm and comfortable. A fleece hat that a friend gave me 13 or 14 years ago still looks good, feels soft, has kept its shape, and is warm and familiar. It’s great to feel so well-bundled, so well-prepared.

A woman in a pink plaid fleece jacket

Me in my new fleece jacket, late November. I wore this zip-up damn near everywhere the first few weeks I bought it.

The only part of me that got remotely cold this evening was the hand in which I was holding my phone, and then only because I took my glove off in order to dial. I don’t think my life has gotten to the point where I need fancy gloves that allow me to use touch-sensitive devices, but I’m sure everyone will offer those in 5 years.

The dogs have weathered the cold very well for being suburban beagles their entire lives, too. When it was chilly and wet out the other day, they actually went chest-deep into standing water in drainage ditches; they got a nice bath when we got home. Today, they dragged me through some red Georgia clay, a subsoil with a lot of iron in it, and came home with their little white feet turned orange. They didn’t seem to mind getting a quick feet and belly rinse-off with warm water. Like me, I suppose, they don’t mind getting cold and gross in the out of doors, as long as there’s warmth and comfort waiting on the other side. I don’t think they’re the kind of dogs that require clothing or protection from this level of cold; they rather enjoy it, from all appearances. And their enjoyment helps feed into my own enjoyment. My girl dog gets mesmerized by wildlife and shatters the peace of whatever time of day we’re out with short yelps or excited whimpering. But seeing her so excited, smelling everything, rapt with attention, studying a tree, solving problems, is such a joy. The only time I’ve ever resented being outside with the dogs is going out at 5:30am with inadequate clothing, sometimes without shoes, and waiting for one or both of them to go potty… without result. But what can you do? They’re my companions and my compulsion to exercise. I’ve built my wardrobe around the activity of taking them outside to enrich their existence. As long as there’s a need for them to go out, I’ll keep outfitting myself to withstand whatever weather I must to be a good steward for my dependent, loyal dogs.

Several dogs on a paved street in late autumn.

Dog walking. Sometimes, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s damp, it’s raining. Most of the time, it’s fine. Every time, it’s worth it.