Winter Reprise Surprise Run

Sunday Runday, and yesterday morning I did some work in the yard, took the dog for a lovely spring walk, sat in the grass, cleaned up some flower beds, and generally enjoyed the spring.

This morning we met for a run on icy sidewalks and through ankle-deep snow.

These woodpecker winter days are nothing too surprising for anyone who has lived here very long. The gentle-jabbing joke that quickly circulates on text threads between local friends is “ok, who put their snow shovels away for the winter! It must be your fault!”

So, surprise… no.

But it is still very much a shock to the system when one is expecting something slightly warmer when planning a spring run.

I’d already cleaned up and packed away all my winter running gear. The mitts, hats, heavy jackets all tucked into the closets once again. The shoe spikes hidden away for next winter.

Maybe it was my fault the snow came back for a reprise.

We immediately made for the trees and escaped the icy city streets dropping into the river valley trails. The snow was deeper there but the ice was far less dangerous.

The snow storm had blown in quickly and aggressively, dropping a near-horizontal storm on the whole region. Somewhere between five and ten centimeters of fresh white powder covered the ground and then also the west side of everything. Wind. Horizontal snow. It sticks in unexpected places. The fluffy white kiss of winter’s last gasp clung to the trunks of trees and every branch of every tree creating a magical scene along the trails.

I spent almost as much time snapping photos as I did running.

As much as we’re used to a fresh snowfall here, it never ceases to be a breathtakingly beautiful opportunity to inhabit these familiar spaces as they are temporarily dressed in an all-encompassing snowy veil.

And temporary is the key word.

Even on the loop back I could see the melt begin.

Have you ever felt that sensation of momentary awe when you witness some bit of slow-motion nature happen in real time. Like, when you walk through the woods and a branch tumbles to the ground from high up in a tree. It has been growing there for years attached to the trunk of an even older tree, and then in that one moment as you pass by it happens to reach a critical tipping point between gravity and connection, and it falls down to the ground.

This morning was like that, except in high speed clumps of snow were loosing from their grip on the woods, tumbling through the lower branches and releasing a puff of snow as they crashed to the ground, here, there, here, over there, and there too.

Even the slippery city walks had mostly thawed as we returned to our vehicles and stopped our GPS watches for another successful Sunday run.

And by next Sunday, likely as not we will be back to treading through familiar spring trails and snowy paths will be just another week gone by.

Virtual Race Season, Take Two. Maybe.

Sunday Runday, and on our morning ten kilometer trail run everyone seem to want to talk racing season.

Except there is no racing season.

Twenty-twenty-one is a racing write off.

Or… it would be if it wasn’t for virtual races.

Virtual racing. Oh, those virtual races. And why?

Last year as the pandemic picked up its pace, another one of those little oh-yeah-and-that-too inconveniences was the cancellation of a bunch of running races. I was registered to run at least four big races, including the 2020 Chicago Marathon.

None of them happened.

Well, none of them happened as planned.

Over the course of the summer, as the clock ticked onward, each race in turn became a virtual race instead of a real one. No, we can’t bring five thousand athletes together on a crowded street, so, here’s what we’re gonna do instead…

Keep the spirit. Run the distance. Submit your time. Get a shirt and a medal in the mail. Virtual racing was the consolation prize for a lost season.

And I too ran a few virtual runs. A trio of half marathons. A few ten-k socially distant weekend excuses to meet up with my friends and celebrate… something. I don’t know exactly what or why, but hanging onto something seemed important.

Winter came and went.

Then the emails started appearing…

“Such and such is going virtual this year.”

“Join us for a virtual race.”

“We can’t run together but we can race virtually!”

The dissonance rings in my heart something like this: I want to race and support the races but I’m finding it tough to reconcile another season of pretending. I want to be motivated to train for long races, but paying a hundred dollars or often more to run through my own neighbourhood and get a t-shirt and a medal through the mail doesn’t seem like the way. Not this year. I want back that feeling of participating but I’m done settling for participating from afar. And I would rather delay bigger gratification for a while if the only other option is a virtual one.

On our morning ten kilometer trail run everyone seem to want to talk racing season because a bunch of them have been signing up for local and international virtual races. I’m going to keep running with them, but unless something dramatically changes I think my next race season will be 2022.

How should you dress to run in spring thaw conditions?

Here in the western prairies of Canada winter is usually a deep, frozen trio of months shouldered by an unpredictable autumn at the front end and a sloppy, scattered mess of thawing weather on the tail.

It’s Sunday, Runday, and this morning we ran a ten kilometer spring run through that some of that scattered mess of weather.

The thing is, I know how to dress for cold. And I know how to dress for summer. But this Spring thing is so unpredictable I still almost always get it wrong. So what’s my (modest) advice?

Flexible Headwear. I have this spring hat trick using a buff, one of those thin and multipurpose tubes of fabric. You can make a half-twist in the middle, invert one end over the other, and voila: you have a light touque. And then half way into the run when the touque is too hot, you can untwist it, make it into a single layer tube. Or if the wind picks up, you can pull it down around your neck. If you’re still too hot, you can scrunch or fold it up and stuff it into a pocket. And when you all stop for coffee at the end of the run, you can double it up again and pull it over your face for a makeshift pandemic facemask. The point is, it’s a flexible piece of clothing. The borderline weather of spring requires you to be ready to add, remove, add, then remove again anything and everything you’re wearing.

Waterproof Traction. Today our run wasn’t too wet, but last weekend the temperatures were a just the right temperatures that the paths were about one-third packed snow, one third overnight ice slicks, and one third ankle-deep puddles (in the sunshiny spots). This means if our feet weren’t slipping on slick patches of mirror-finished frozen puddles, we were sloshing through their thawed cousins. The thaw season is too short to buy special shoes for this, but double layer socks help, and it doesn’t hurt to keep the “winter tires” (those shoes with a little extra traction and a little less venting) out for another couple weeks until things dry up.

Light Gloves. No one ever regrets a pair of light gloves this time of year. What else is there to say? Warm hands are the best and no matter hot warmed up you get, the fingers are usually the last to benefit from increased circulation. And more importantly running with your hands in your pockets down icy trails is the quickest way to smacking your face into the still-frozen ground. You’re going to need those hands ready (and warm) to catch you when you inevitably fall.

Vents & Zippers. Long pants or shorts? Long sleeves or jacket? The temperature changed by five degrees during our one hour run this morning, and then between the sunshine and the shade it was another five degrees. Factor in body heat and that’s a lot of temperature variation. Jackets with zippers that can be unzipped and re-zipped are useful. Clothing with breathable air vents are handy. Light coats with big old armpit zipper vents are amazing and were made for mornings like today. It you can find a pair of running pants that somehow become shorts half way through your outing, you’ve struck it rich for a spring run.

Sunglasses. It can be sunny (and thus sunglass season) for much of the year, but there is something about that low spring sun poking between the tree branches that just begs for eye protection. Also, if you’re anything like me, you wear a brimmed hat in the summer which helps with the high sun, or you run mostly in the dark in winter when a headlamp is more useful. In the spring, especially at our latitude, the sun has just poked up out of the east when we’re setting out on the trails, and it takes the better part of the morning to climb out of that annoying band of the horizon where looking forward somehow also means you’re staring at the blinding glare of our nearest star. I could go without shades for ten months of the year, but spring has one of the months when I don’t run without them.

#RunClub : New Season, New Plans

Sunday Runday, and for my #RunClub approaching spring is usually a time of ramping up our training, distances, and intensities for all those summer races.

By mid-March of 2020 we were swimming in a kind of moving goalpost of uncertainty. Races were being cancelled without much warning. There was always a sense of… well, we’ll see how things look in a month or so.

As mid-March of 2021 approaches, nearly a year into the local reaction to the global pandemic, our uncertainty is a lingering aftershock of the past twelve months… mixed with hopeful optimism… sprinkled with a dash of we’re all kinda used to this now, right?

Last summer our “coffee club with a running problem” moved our weekly meetings to the parking lot of the recreation center (closed to general access) where we had been meeting to run for nearly a decade.

A club that was usually twenty to thirty members strong, accustomed to weekly Sunday morning takeovers of the local café, found itself instead quietly gathering in lawn chairs over asphalt drinking take-out coffees near the bumpers of our vehicles while we observed social distancing rules.

Then winter hit.

….and the deep, dark, cold lockdown happened.

Me out there running solo was a thing for at least three months. Coffees were virtual, hugging a mug at home and staring into the familiar glow of my iPad for a visit via screen. It’s only been in the last couple weeks that the weather has cracked through the zero degree barrier and made resuming the coffee club meetings in the local parking lot a real possibility.

Which is the noteworthy thing about today, I guess.

This Sunday last year was normal: races being planned, training being sorted, coffees being shared in close company.

Next Sunday last year was when all that normal-ness shattered.

We sat in our lawn chairs in the parking lot this morning after a ten klick run, wrapped in blankets and huddled in hoodies, sipping take-out coffees. It felt normal… which is the strangest part, because it still is so not normal.

A new season of not normal.

And I don’t know how to plan for that.