If you live where there are 4 real seasons then you already know that there are 4 absolutely must run days of the year. These are the cut school, skip work, and get a sitter for the kids runs. It’s the run in the cool, gentle rain in the summer, the crisp fall morning, the first winter snow. And if you live in Chicago where winter starts before Halloween, the best of those days is the first day in spring when you get to run in shorts.

It’s opening day. As a boy, a group of us cut school and figured out how to take the bus to Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ opening day. Now, as a runner, I wait just as enthusiastically for my own, private, opening day.

This is the day when my legs and ankles are still the same color. This is before the summer tan line sets in and everyone at the beach knows that I’m either a runner or biker. Even though I’m still wearing my winter skin this is the first day that I break out my summer wardrobe.

The process starts in the clearing fog of the morning coffee. The weather guy seems especially chipper on that day. There’s a lilt is his voice. The normal drone of gloom and doom is gone. Absent too, all the warnings of everything horrible that might happen if you step outside.

You hear him say that temperatures will SOAR into the 50’s. The 50’s. And once it sinks in that today is opening day, you just know you’ve got to get out and run.

If you’re like me the process of getting ready for that first spring run begins with digging around in drawers and closets trying to remember where you put your favorite running shorts. And, if you’re like me, you’re hoping that you can fit into those shorts that you put away last fall!!

The excitement builds as you start to put together your running gear. You know you’re not going to wear tights, but you’re not sure about whether it’s really warm enough for a short sleeve shirt. Sure it is. No it’s not. The debate rages until you just give in, grab a shirt off the bottom of the pile, throw it on and head out the door.

My first reaction is that I’m afraid people will be blinded by the glare off my legs. I know that in a few months these giant white posts sticking out of my running shorts will be transformed into awesome, tanned appendages [OK, they’ll be tanned] but on opening day they’ve got all the color of a cue tip. 

But I don’t care. The sense of escape and freedom overrides any embarrassment I feel. I’m going for a run. I’m going for a run outside in shorts. For today, at least, I want nothing more. 

The first few steps are tentative. I’ve managed, it seems, to forget what chub rub feels like. It doesn’t take long before I remember the sound and sensation of a pair of inner thighs battling each other. But even the rhythmic scraping of skin can’t dampen my spirits. I’m running in shorts.

I may be wearing my summer clothes, but the world is still wearing its winter look. The trees are still bare, the ground is brown and barren, the flowers, except for the crocus, are still weeks or months away from blooming, and the squirrels are still fat in their winter fur. 

The city is still dirty with the residue of the winter months. The streets are still covered with grime. The sidewalks are still damp and cool, and the late winter darkness closes in too early in the day. Knowing that this day is only a reprieve from the harshness of the winter and not the end of the season adds to the angst. If you let this day get away without a run, there’s no telling when you’ll get another one like it. 

Even as I run I know that the shorts will be going back into the drawer for another month or six weeks. The day is bittersweet because I know that this is not the final escape from winter. This day is an enticement. It is a flirtation that promises me another spring and summer of freedom. 

It doesn’t matter how far I am supposed to run on my personal opening day. I ignore my log. To be honest, I ignore my body. I know that I will run today and ask for forgiveness tomorrow. On opening day, all that matters is feeling the air rushing over my legs. I run on opening day because not running would be a crime against my soul. To not run on this day would be to miss, for an entire year, the chance to be unfettered for the first time. 

I’m always glad to be a runner. But, on opening day I am particularly glad. I’m glad because I am aware enough to know that the day is special. I’m glad because I know that there are thousands of other runners feeling exactly the same thing. And I am glad because I know that the strength I gain on this one day will sustain me until the spring arrives for real. 

For me, at least, the most genuine pleasure from running comes in these quiet moments of recognition. It is in these most solitary events that the real gift of being a runner is most clear. And all it takes to experience the joy is getting out and running. 

Waddle on, friends.

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