On the day this was written, the minus-four on my digital thermometer looked menacing in a jump-from-the-screen-and-impale-me kind of way.

I stared at it squinty-eyed, like a Clint Eastwood showdown.

“It’s you or me, four-below,” I sneered. “One of us is going down.”

That day it was me. I went down like a sack of bricks. There may have been some whimpering.

February always kicks my butt, each year seemingly harder than the year before.

It’s a month of celebrations — birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl and such. But it’s also riddled with bone-slicing, eyeball-freezing cold and depressive darkness.

February makes me want to hole-up in a closet with a sheet cake and a fork. It awakens my inner hibernator, complete with bear-like snoring, belly scratches and occasional flatus.

I am a sexy beast in February. Hunka Burnin’ Hubby will testify.

I’ve mentioned a time or a hundred that I’m a runner. Actually I’m more of a foot-dragging shuffler, but still I persist.

Last fall, while drunk on warm temps and balmy breezes, I registered for the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., which takes place in March.

I’m traveling there with my running group — a pack of good-hearted souls with the ability to run me straight into the ground.

They tolerate me hobbling along behind them, cracking jokes about laying down in traffic.

“Can we stop now?” I gasp at mile 10 of a 13-mile run. “Who’s up for donuts?”

They laugh and run on undeterred. Silly fool, there are miles to complete and other things to do with the rest of the day. Suck it up, buttercup. Get it done.

So I do.

When you register in the fall for spring races, it’s easy to overlook Nebraska winters. December, January and my nemesis February serve up huge doses of head-slapping, pants-kicking, eye-gouging reality.

My group runs in stupid-early darkness, through streets lined with sleeping residents in quiet houses. Coffee pots are still cold. Cars are still garaged. Foggy breaths form frosty clouds that swirl about our heads as we knock off the miles.

I manage pretty well until New Year’s resolutions begin to die, when snotsicles and frozen bums become the daily norm.

Winter gear weighs heavier, and shifting winds define our course. We start north of town and run south on north-wind days, and reverse direction when southern gusts blow.

We live by the Weather Channel, gauging wind chill and humidity, precipitation and hourly forecasts. We keep our gear close — gloves and hats, face masks and flashing safety vests that showcase our madness. Group texts keep everyone informed about when and where we’re headed. Chatting over random flotsam makes the discomfort bearable.

These runners form the lifeline that pulls me through winter. Well, almost through winter, anyway.

February fixes me with its dead-eyed stare and issues a soul-crushing challenge.

“Let’s see what you’re made of, puny human,” taunts February. “I’ll freeze and blow and snow and sleet.”

“I’m made of donuts and whine, February,” I reply, “lots of whine. Everyone knows that.”

In years past, I’ve folded like a church-basement chair. February iced me out, snowed me over and blinded my goals with frigid darkness. It blew me off course with gusty ferocity.

This year I’m claiming a semi-victory, even when Polar Vortex paid a call.

I stuck to my training plan as much as possible, and bulled through most of what February offered. There were more victory posts in my journal than sad defeats.

Old Man Winter stole but a handful — OK, maybe an armful — of runs this year. Hallelujah for that.

Here we are at month’s end, with the promise of spring ahead.

So-long, February, I’m not terribly sad to see you go.



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