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For the uninitiated, winters in Boston are brutally harsh.

Temperatures hang in the single digits even at high noon. The cold air feels thin and sharp as it fills the lungs. Each breath scrapes against the throat going in, before being released again in a plume of visible exhaust. Those brave or stupid enough to crawl out of warm beds to run become little locomotives of commitment.

In these winter conditions, nothing is taken for granted.

Holding warmth in the extremities is a challenge, to say nothing of holding a pace. The cold air and unrelenting wind binds muscles. Exposed skin stings and becomes numb. Ice forms on beards and mustaches. The natural instinct is to push early and get the blood pumping, but the seasoned winter runners know better. Push too early and you’ll be cooked later on. Pour sweat and it will freeze your skin on the way home.

In these months, watching the weather becomes its own exercise. Every storm front or cold weather pattern is monitored - each calendar day is counted. December 22 is the shortest day of the year, and each day after provides a few more seconds of light and warmth. But it will be months before the sun sets after 5pm and rises before 7am. So we embrace the dark and the opportunity to watch the sun come up through Boston's centuries old brick.

The harsh conditions underscore the beauty of this sport - it’s ability to simplify life, carry our troubles away, and sharpen our focus. The mission is simple - to put one foot in front of the other, to breathe in and out, to keep the pace.

Words by Bo Tang. Photography by Julie Ciollo.

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