Sunday Run Day and for the first time in two months I took part in a group run with a small cohort of friends.
Our locality has been on pandemic-related lockdown since late November, and all my runs have been solo. But COVID-related hospitalizations have been down. New case numbers have been declining. And the doctors say we can ease gently away from some of the stricter restrictions… like avoiding all non-essential personal contact. In other words, we can run together again.
Of course, it also happens to be that we are in the middle of winter. In the middle of a cold snap. In the middle of temperatures averaging minus twenty and offering up moderate quantities of snow.
Over a series of early morning text messages we pushed our usual eight-thirty meetup time by a couple hours to tempt the sun’s generosity. Also, given that it’s been months since we’ve seen each other in person, it was decided that a location more interesting than the regular high school parking lot was on the table for debate.
Luckily I never take my grips out of the backseat of my truck in the winter, and when we converged in a river valley parking lot to engage the single-track snow-bound trails therein I easily added some necessary traction to my street sneakers.
Some winters I splurge and buy myself winter trainers. They are extra grippy and have a bit more insulation. It makes it necessary to get out into the rough for longer, colder runs for a season or two … y’know, to justify the cost.
But in a pinch, a pair of, wrap-on traction grips will substitute.
Into the trails.
Across a bridge.
Into a meadow.
Up and down, left and right.
Between towering poplar dusted with snow.
Eight kilometers later, twisting and turning through trail packed by a hundred other feets and a few dozen fat-bike tires, threaded between fresh knee-deep snow, we had logged the first group run of 2021.
I missed those.
My watch had just chirped marking thirty minutes into my run, so it must have been about half past six in the morning.
A gust of wind shoved its way through the wooded ravine. The trees responded in a wave. A roar of a hundred million rustling leaves built in crescendo puncutated by the groans and cracks of old tree limbs straining under the percussive bassline. A tiny bird erupted from the undergrowth and startled me. The waxing dawn light filtered through the stand of trees and lit the trail with an ambiant glow that cast shuddering shadows on the rough and twisting path. I was wearing my red shoes and there was a grape-sized splotch of mud on the left toe.
These are my memories.
The mind is funny and selective about the things it recalls.
In fact, I felt the punch of the branch hitting my shoulder and back even before my mind registered the noise of the nearby cracking wood.
Does sound actually travel faster than shattered chunks of wood, or did my mind prioritize the events of that moment?
I tasted the acid bite of mud mixed with my own blood simultaneously to understanding that I was face down on the narrow path.
The moments after that were even more ethereal. These memories of those fleeting seconds before I lost consciousness were a mix of curiosity and frustration. The gust of wind had passed. The trees were creaking as they swayed with residual momentum. My arm seemed to be nailed to the ground by a splintered piece of tree. And I couldn’t seem to reach up to pause the tracker on my GPS watch. The last thing I remember was thinking that the pace on this morning’s run was going to be shit.
(cracking woods - part 01)
Gaige Gildon is a fictional trail runner who lives and trains in Edmonton. After a trail accident, he quit his tech job in 2019 to focus on his recovery and his passion for outdoor adventure. In 2021 he partnered with The Cast Iron Guy blog to write and post about his upcoming pan-Canadian multi-sport trip.
Still locked into my solo routine from an abundance of pandemic lockdown caution, I veered from my planned course yesterday. I left the house thinking of a simple suburban streets run, my typical get-er-done route. Instead, I turned ninety-degrees at the trail access, and trotted into the river valley to tackle a stretch of weaving single track.
I lamented last Sunday at the frustration of solo training. Friends who I usually spend multiple hours with every week, exploring local wilderness and who would have followed me (or vice versa) into a sketchy, frosty route through the wooded miles, are also sticking closer to home and training alone.
Yet I had some company on my single track trek.
A pair of fatbikers appeared and then followed a few dozen meters behind me at and into the trailhead.
The choppy snow was grippy enough for my modest pace, up and down and weaving through the forested valley terrain. We call this type running rollercoasters because its never flat, never straight, and never for the feint-of-heart. My pace always reflects on conditions and how I’m feeling.
But for a pair of fatbikes, I guess, it meant ride just slightly faster than a slow guy in sneakers. They paced me and crept closer and closer up behind, calling out some hellos and convo about the conditions, until about halfway along the kilometer-long route I felt it wise to pull left and let them pass.
Then I kept pace with them for the last three hundred meters, give or take, until we dodged back into the nearby neighbourhood.
In short, training alone is lonely, but temporary training friends are never in short supply if you know where to look.