Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Seasons of Running

Through the miracle of the internet I’m connected with runners all over the world. Runners live in places that collectively span the full range of climate options this planet Earth has to offer. Each year, as the seasons change, we connect with each other and variously brag and complain about the new weather we are faced with as we pursue our passion for putting one foot in front of the other.

No one lives in a better place for running than I do. How strange that I can know that for a fact at the same time that I understand it is probably not true. Some truths – not all, but some – are where you find them, and what you want them to be.

The place where I live has many features that make it the best place in the world to run. It has roads. It has trails. It has hills and it has great flat expanses. It has lonely, solitary places to run and it has busy, bustling places to run. Lakeshores, glens, vast, sometimes dense forests full of deer, squirrels, raccoons, porcupines – even the occasional more rarely seen creature, like a bear, a bobcat,  a mink, or a fisher.

Most of all, the place where I live has seasons!

It is fall now – my favorite season for running. The air gets crisp and dry, and temperatures drop to a range where I can truly run without breaking a sweat. Nothing beats a cold October morning with bright sunshine and frost on the ground! The sun lights the hillsides on fire – a blazing mix of oranges, yellows and reds. The leaves that have burned themselves out and settled on the trail like a layer of ash crunch underfoot as I move untouched through the flames – the condensation from my breath providing the only ‘smoke’ to be seen. I feel like I can run forever!

Yes, fall is my favorite season for running here – unless it is winter.

No other season offers the variety of extremes that winter does. I can run in utter silence as last night’s undisturbed snow muffles my footsteps while this morning’s gently falling new snow fills the air around me, creating a moving sound-proof room for me to run in - or I can run with the howl of a winter storm constantly in my ears as the wind alternately resists me, pushes me along, or simply buffets me unpredictably, driven crystals of ice stinging my face from time to time. I can run in a darkness almost like that of a mine,  my headlamp lighting the only apparent tunnel through the world whichever direction I look, or I can run in a brightness that exists no other time of the year, as noonday sun reflecting off clean, white new-fallen powder fills my eyes wherever I look. I can run on bone dry pavement, sheets of ice, mixes of slush and mud, or in deep powder or mashed potato snow over my ankles. Often, I can feel like this wonderland belongs to me alone, as so many others shrink from such extremes and hibernate in their homes. No other season makes me feel so alive as winter does!

Yes, winter is my favorite season for running here – unless it is spring.

I love the promise of spring – the sun’s renewed strength hinting of warm days to come, the flow of rushing streams announcing with certainty that winter’s hold on the land will be broken once again. The swelling buds on the trees hint of the green canopy that I will soon be running under, the heads of the hardier perennials breaking surface where the ground has already thawed of the carpet of green that will soon cover the forest floor. I’ve watched as the drops of a cold early spring rain were turned into swarms of bright golden fireflies around me in the rays of a setting sun that had slipped under the cloud cover to the west. Soon those rains will be warm, and I will run in them in just shorts and a t-shirt as I used to as a child whenever I could talk Mom into letting me.

I love the promise of spring; it is my favorite season for running here – unless it is summer.

How can you beat the summers here? It is always warm – but usually not too warm. Spring’s promise has indeed become a green canopy that shades me as I run under it for miles, free of the encumbrances of the colder months. It is always light. The dark nights of winter have become the golden lights of a late-summer evening. Movement is as unrestrained as it will ever be. The air flows freely over me, usually whisking away the sweat of my labor – although sometimes the air is heavy, and dense, and the sweat pools on my skin and drips from the brim of my visor. At first, this is hard, but within a few weeks it feels good – like a daily cleansing, rinsing away my weakness. The days are endless in the summer, and there is always time to run.

Yes, summer is my favorite season for running here, but now summer is gone.

Good thing fall is my favorite season for running here too.

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