Bienvenido a Milwaukee

Downtown Milwaukee on a chilly Sunday morning
Downtown Milwaukee on a chilly Sunday morning

Running is a such a mind game. You could be in the best shape of your life, and if your head is in the wrong place–figuratively–that training session or critical race may not stand a chance. Conversely, you could be in bad shape, or working through a physical barrier, but your mind is 100 percent focused and determined. That could just as easily be a recipe for success.

I consider myself fortunate to be somewhere right in the middle, depending on the day.

This weekend presented itself with some new running territory. Still in the Midwest, still in the city, and not even a place I haven’t live before, but the ground was new to me. One, I gloss over listening to directions because I can’t seem to keep them straight in my head to actually use them and two, the infrequent times I did go running while at Marquette University for a year mostly covered streets bordering campus. So, let’s say I was…hesitant to venture out too far from our Airbnb Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

Oddly enough, a little dose of *negative* talk sometimes seems helpful to me. For example, listing reasons silently to myself or aloud as to why a a workout is less than desirable–as though it gives me a chance to refute each one and the ultimate response being “JUST GET OUTSIDE!”

View from the Hank Aaron State Trail
Hank Aaron State Trail

I only came up with a couple reasons for delaying Saturday’s run, including “we were just in the car for five hours and I need to sit around a little more” and “where exactly is that state trail I noticed on Google Maps and the Airbnb hostess just mentioned?” There wasn’t too much time to argue with myself as the reason for the trip was happening in a few hours (my sister’s art show opening), so I grabbed half of the contents of my suitcase, tossed on the gear, and headed out down the sidewalk hoping to find this Hank Aaron State Trail. Knowing we weren’t far from downtown, I still had it in my mind that “state trail” must mean “lined with trees and non-cement trails.” That was not quite the case. It snowed, it rained, the trail was a bike path… And yet I finished that run completely satisfied.

“Your face was literally frozen in pain.”
-Jen, upon my return from Sunday’s long run in below zero windchill temps

Sunday’s *long* run was a completely different type of satisfying. It was freezing cold (10 degrees, felt like -6) and slick. Packing a neck gaiter to protect my face slipped my mind (I now know to always pack a neck gaiter even if the weather forecast predicts a comfortable 30 degrees). Speaking of gear though, luckily I opted for trail shoes which compensate for uneven/slippery/snowy surfaces more confidently than standard road shoes. My route replicated Saturday’s and there was no specific plan for how to tack on several extra miles. The Hank Aaron Trail, as far as I could tell, disappointingly ends at the Harley Davidson Museum.

Chilly view from the Lakeshore path in Milwaukee
Chilly view from the Lakeshore path in Milwaukee

So I kept on through the… Third Ward? Fifth Ward? Either way, I continued running on the nearly empty sidewalks, making my way to the Summerfest grounds where I passed one ice fisher person (he was sitting in his car, with several fishing poles propped against a railing). With a beautiful view of Milwaukee Bay to my right, I trudged down the boardwalk, as my shoes continually slipped into the hardened snow. I passed by the art museum and noticed a sign for the Lakeshore path. The bitter wind picked up along the way, my face receiving the brunt of the cold and finding myself a little jealous of the swarm of Canadian geese more annoyed by my presence than these typical winter temps. To my delight, I spotted one other runner as I made my way further down the trail! She was smarter than me, and turned around much sooner than I opted to. I ran until the only direction to head was right into the freezing water or less dramatically, back the way I had just run. I ripped [clumsily pawed] open a pack of Probar chews and tossed a couple in my mouth before accepting the fact it was beyond time to open up a pack of hand warmers. My hands, every bit of them, felt frozen and the little warm packets were hardly even noticeable in my mittens for several minutes. At this point I was content knowing I was en route ‘home’ and that it should feel “warmer” or at least not as cold as I moved away from the water front. I think it ended up getting colder.

Feeling confident that my long run for the day would be calculated in hours rather than miles, I reminded myself of the primary reason for the day’s run–to celebrate my 30th birthday by running 30 miles (on the 30th). Back on the Hank Aaron State Trail and just a few miles from the Airbnb, I started to feel overwhelmed. My face was freezing, the miles were not correlating with the minutes (i.e. I was moving real slow), and my mind wandered into the “what if it’s this miserable on my birthday run?” territory. Closing in on just over 11 miles and finally near my exit from the trail, I kept going. Just a half mile further and back, to make it to 12 miles. Except I turned off the trail, ran past the house and my watch glared at me with a big “11.90 miles” across the face. I took another lap up and down the block. 12 miles, over two hours later, and the run was done. Not even the hot shower five minutes later warmed up my shivering bones. Like I said, a completely different type of satisfying. A small helping of painful, and a huge serving of gratifying.

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