Help. Imprisoned in February
It’s the shortest month, but it lasts forever—at least for me.
January has the hope of the new year, but also harsh conditions. March plays with our feelings, getting warm and cold in turn. Both are 31 days long, marathons of months. February, at three days shorter, should feel like a blip on the radar, a quick box to check on the way to spring.
But February, at least for me, never feels short. It doesn’t even feel normal-length—it feels eternal.
I can’t say for certain why this is. I have suspicions, of course: It might be as simple as the relative scarcity of Vitamin D in your average Indiana winter. It might be Seasonal Affective Disorder. I think it might even have something to do with desperation, with my tendency to spend the month looking forward and pleading for time to pass, for spring to come.
Regardless, I don’t love how hard February hits me as a runner and person.
Often, it’s the time of year I’m trying to ramp up for spring races, logging lots of miles and spending big chunks of time outside. But the days in February are short, and there are weeks when I don’t run under the sun. My headlamp needs recharging daily; if my enthusiasm had a battery, it would often need recharging too. I tend to suffer in February. Mentally, emotionally, physically even.
Listen, if running is anything, it is an exercise in finding silver linings. But I have to look hard to find a silver lining for the month of February, and I’m not entirely convinced that what I find holds water. It is true, maybe, that February more than any other month teaches me to suffer. And maybe it teaches me that asking “why” when life hands me difficult circumstances is futile.
But am I finding those meanings? Or am I assigning them after the fact because the idea of suffering without meaning scares me? I do not honestly know.
At one point in the classic running novel Once a Runner, Quenton Cassidy, the main character, huddles inside a cold cabin, looking outside at a colder landscape, trying to muster the energy to go for yet another run in an endless winter full of soggy, miserable runs.
Writing in reverse script on the window pane so that an outsider might read his message, Quenton traces the following note with his finger: “HELP. IMPRISONED IN FEBRUARY.”
Every February for ten years I’ve thought about this moment in the book. It’s an incredibly beautiful moment—melancholic, sure, but also it’s a testament to Quenton Cassidy’s devotion, to the devotion of every person who does hard things especially when they’re hard, as a matter of principle.
And the moment hasn’t yet lost its power for me—if anything, with each passing year I feel more strongly that this moment speaks for me in a way I don’t yet know how to speak for myself.
This year might be different. There’s a chance. I wouldn’t say I’m confident, but I do have hope.
Hope—something to hold onto during this long, long month.
Ryan Horner is a Roam & Run athlete, as well as a reader, a writer, and an ultrarunner. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and makes running-related videos about his training and his running life on his video blog (ForTheLoveOfRunning) at www.youtube.com/c/ForTheLoveOfRunning. You can also find him on instagram at @ryan_horner_