Fair-weather Runner

I’ve been on the mend. Someone (read: me) didn’t get the memo about how he shouldn’t, in his third ColdRunnerFinaldecade of this fair life, run like he’s still on the Twinsburg High School Cross Country team. The injury occurred in late fall when I ran a local 5K. Adrenaline and healthy competition got the best of me, and I really turned it on during the last mile, going against the not-so-subtle suggestion of my already-burning legs. I was awarded with second place (for my age group) and a gimpy hip.

Since the injury, I’ve spent my days in reclusion, cursing all you crazy subzero Columbus joggers from my living room window as you sprint past in flamboyantly colored synthetic materials looking like runners of a not-too-distant future.

“I hope you freeze your neon-colored tuckus off!” I yell, like some curmudgeonly old man spewing bile at children playing on my impeccably manicured lawn.

I’m being a bit melodramatic; my hip injury isn’t that bad. I have been seeing a sports therapist, which at first I misconstrued as a safe zone to vent my deep-seated emotional issues involving Cleveland Sport failures, but it turns out it’s painful in a much different way.

Truth is, I’m a fair-weather runner. I hate the cold. One would think this bearded Eastern European mutt is impervious to icy temps, but really, I’m a complete wuss when it comes to running in climates below 50 degrees. Like a lizard, or a geriatric Floridian, I crave warmth.

Emerging from the cozy clutches of the warm womb that is my pillow top bed every morning just to go to work has been a chore, so the mere thought of running outside— inconceivable.

And it’s been depressingly cold this winter in Central Ohio. It’s a soul-leeching gazpacho out there, a cold gray soup du jour. People say the Pacific Northwest is a dreary place; Ohio isn’t far behind.

Emerging from the cozy clutches of the warm womb that is my pillow-top bed every morning just to go to work has been a chore, so the mere thought of running outside – inconceivable. And if you’ve been following along with my articles, I despise the monotony of dreadmills, so my rehabilitation options are limited.

Thankfully, Jack Frost provided a respite from nose-nipping last weekend with balmy 45-degree weather and rays of sweet, sweet sunlight. After ocular-acclimation to the anomalous phenomenon that is the wintertime Ohio sun, I applied 30 SPF to my pasty skin and schlepped over to Columbus’ natural playground, Highbanks Metro Park.

Highbanks has quickly become one of my favorite places to run, not just in Ohio, but the world. I’ve run some amazing trails abroad, but there’s just something alluring about Highbanks; maybe it’s the feeling of home-field advantage, or the peacefulness or the beautiful solitude. It’s like a wild Central Park: one second you’re on a busy street, the next you’re in a quiet, heterogeneous space.

To beat the winter blues, I ran my normal loop starting in the back of the park, toward the Big Meadows Picnic Area, where you can get some heavy hill work in on Dripping Rock Trail, the main vein offering an awesome 2.5-mile loop connecting all the other trails for a longer, more diverse run (aesthetically and physically).

The best parts of Highbanks are the history-laden tributaries branching off the main trails. For instance, Dripping Trail has a little arm in its southern course leading to a Native American Adena Mound.

Overlook Trail adds another 2.3 miles to the workout and snakes south to the Wetland Spur Trail (an extra 0.4 miles), and the namesake view of the high-banked bluffs, where you can, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of bald eagles returning to their nests overlooking the Olentangy River.

A half-mile north, fenced-in gravestones of the Pool family reside in a slightly hidden offshoot of the Overlook Trail. The bodies of the family aren’t actually buried here (supposedly), but it’s a macabre spot that serves as a subtle reminder to keep working out…or else.

As I made my way around the park, completely alone, running away from the long shadows with the orange sunlight filtering through the naked trees, I started feeling better physically and mentally; the woes of the cold lifted by warmed muscles and the spirits of the Highbanks. Winter: what an incredible time of year to run.