By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
It was just another cold winter morning in Central New York. I woke up at 5:30am. It was dark outside. The sky was clear and the stars were bright. The dogs were reluctant to leave the house for their morning chore. The thermometer hovered near zero degree. The bare tree branches swayed in a light breeze that sent the wind chill factor a dozen degrees lower. A layer of fresh snow covered the land.
In the warmth of the kitchen I ate a cinnamon raisin bagel, a banana and a hot cup of skim chocolate milk for breakfast. I listened to the morning news, and checked my email as I waited for sunrise.
I dressed in layers to face the frigid cold. Thermal underwear supplied the first line of defense. Sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt added weight. Nylon wind pants and a wind jacket provided insulation. A thin layer of Vaseline protected my face from frostbite. A pair of snow mittens covered my hands.
The starry night soon gave way to a glorious sunrise. The first rays of sunlight revealed a sleepy countryside. There was no sign of life. I drank a large glass of fresh water for the road, and ventured out for my daily run. I started quietly on the tip of my toes to avoid disturbing nature out of its sleep.
The dry, virgin snow under my feet felt like sand and squeaked like foam. The north wind blew in my face. My cross-country shoes provided just enough traction to keep me moving forward. I put my head down to shield my face.
When the wind rested, the calm grew deafening. I could only hear my footsteps and my gasping breath. I raised my head to look farther. Turkey footmarks imprinted the snow beside me. Ahead, deer hoofs crossed the road erratically.
As I got closer to the park, the smell of burning hardwoods gave away the first sign of civilization. Tire treads marked the entrance to the falls. The lights were still on inside the park office. I stopped for some warmth and to catch my breath. Tom and Steve greeted me cheerfully. On a nearby table, a game of chess begged to be played.
After a cup of water and a quick game of chess, I regained feeling in my frozen limbs and resumed running. I glanced at the frozen falls to make sure they were still there, but saw no sign of life. I turned around and headed back home.
The wind blew at my back as I ran towards home. The drifting and blowing snow erased my early footprints. The deer hoofs were barely visible. The turkey marks were all but gone. A few birds ventured out looking for breakfast.
The neighbor's dog came out to greet me. A proud mother of a recent litter of seven puppies, the normally protective dog had become openly aggressive. I felt too cold to ignore her, yet too proud to avoid her. Since our recent encounters had gone my way, I proceeded with caution. With a firm voice, I convinced her to return to the warmth of her home.
An hour after I left home, I returned invigorated and refreshed. The runner's high finally kicked in and gave me a sense of euphoria and achievement. Frozen icicles formed on my eyelids. My toes felt numb. My fingers were stiff. My cotton innerwear, soaked with sweat, provided little insulation. I shivered my way to the bathroom. I peeled off the sticky layers of clothing, and jumped under a hot shower.
Daily mileage: 4 miles. Weekly total to date: 17 miles.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes near Pratts Falls Park in Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.