Long Island lock near Manotick in winter

A recent warm spell which followed a relentless deluge of snow over the past three weeks had me itching to head outside with my runners on, and it got me thinking about the joys of winter running. Since mid-December we’ve received about 76 cm (30 inches) of snow here in the Manotick area, and the banks at the edge of the road are piled higher than my shoulder in places.  My suburban street is designated third priority for plowing, so the surface of it is still quite snowy, making walking or running feel more like you’re on a soft, sandy beach than a road.  But this day launched with a sparkly sunlight, the light almost bright enough to hurt your eyes.  The just-above-freezing temperature, with a light wind, was perfect for a snowy run, not too cold to make it uncomfortable and that wind helping keep things cool after you got going. 

I dressed with indecision – how many layers to wear?  I hate to be cold, so threw on a neck gaiter as an afterthought and my light gloves, and headed out the door.  Navigating the icy hazard that is my driveway currently, I made it to the street and began.  After a few steps of feeling  like I was running in mud, I got my stride and concentrated on breathing and enjoying the view.  The vast snowy white expanse that is my neighbourhood loomed in front; snow dripped into icicles and the spruces so weighed down earlier with the first heavy wet snow were beginning to be relieved of their burden.  Squirrels scampered across the fence rails at the backs of people’s yards and birds twittered happily in the warm sunlight.  True to my usual self, in ten minutes I determined I had on one more layer than I needed, lowered my jacket zipper and resolved to ignore the excess heat as best I could.

I rounded the corner at the end of my street and onto visible pavement – oh, joy.  The rest of the run was on more stable ground, allowing me to get zen with the wintry sights in front of me, barely a car to interrupt my reverie.  Two preschooler attempted to toboggan down the snowbanks at the end of their yards, slowed but not daunted as they kept sinking up to their knees in the soft snow.  In a short twenty-four minutes, I was back at home with a mild euphoria bubbling up as I made my way back down the driveway.  A quick stretch and I was officially finished my first winter run.

A bit later that week, my latest running clinic started and a colourful crew once again gathered around the local running store for a training session and run.  The group is an earnest one, training for a race on St Patrick’s day eight weeks away, veterans all, aching to get outside despite the compelling introduction provided by our enthusiastic instructor, Cheryl.  The format of the class is the same each time, about thirty minutes of instruction on some aspect of running, from kit to form to nutrition, followed by a run of varying distance.  Our first night was a simple three kilometer run at an easy pace to get everyone back into it.

Some of us, myself included, hadn’t run for a while.   But as the crowd headed out into the parking lot to begin our warm-up, headlights and reflector bands twinkling in the twilight, there was a distinct frisson of excitement, to get going, to be on the road.  We all craved the repetitive slap, slap, slap of feet on the pavement, the breathe, breathe of lungs straining, the relaxed pump, pump, pump of our arms swinging.  Soon we took to the road, watches, GPS’s and app’s synchronized,  the shouts of “Car up!” to cue us to cling even more closely to the mountainous snow banks, the cries of “Ice up!” to have us leaping and dodging  around those icy patches, but never, god forbid, actually slowing down. We did a simple run down a dark suburban street, past the smaller war-time era homes on biggish lots, dotted with the occasional McMansion infill.   Christmas lights still glimmered on several eaves, the vestiges of the recent holiday, and one inflated snowman still held court at a cock-eyed angle near his front door.  Our small group moved quietly, getting to know each other tentatively as we ran; some were graduates of the December session and picked up their conversations from before the holiday, frosty breath smoking out with each response.  At the half-way point, we turned around, realizing we were now running uphill — it’s funny how those downhills seem to slip by unobserved so often.

A young lad, fresh off a long recovery from a wrestling injury and straining at the bit to sprint ahead, was out of courtesy following our intrepid instructor’s request to keep together.  Realizing I was cold, and therefore not working hard enough, I moved out front with him, and we allowed ourselves a little break away from the group.  Soon we were in sight of the final block of our run and he could hold back no longer; into the dark silence he took flight, his steps rapidly disappearing in the night.   As I watched in admiration, I heard the rest of the group catch up behind me, and we made our way back to the store in formation, happy that our first run of the season was now under our belt.

Ah, the joys of winter running!  What’s your favourite season for running?