The leaves are falling, and all of the beautiful fall colors are fading into a slumber. The cold winter months are fast approaching the Ohio landscape, and for most the change of season is a wonderful welcome. For this runner, I start to think of all of the challenges, and blessings the unpredictable winter can bring. While most people are anxiously awaiting the traditional holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas (and to some degree I am as well) for some odd reason I'm awaiting the first real snow fall of the year. I am anxious, nervous and excited, not because I enjoy the cold or the winter (quite the contrary), but because of the difficulties and wonders I will experience until the spring thaw. Let me explain....
The summer heat that blessed my soul is all but gone for the year. The grey sky's of Ohio will soon push away the bright blue sky's of fall. Old Man Winter is knocking at the door, and that first morning I step outside to see my breath rise into the air is a game changing moment. I am on the doorstep of some of the years hardest running. I'll pull my hat over my ears, adjust my gloves and take my first run allowing the cold air scorch my lungs. My cheeks red and my nose running, that first run of the new season is always the most important. For me it sets the tone for the upcoming hurdles of the long Ohio winter.
At the top of my list of difficulties are shorter days. With daylight already getting scarce the road can become a scary place. Speeding cars, distracted drivers and deteriorating road conditions are some of the challenges that are waiting for me to conquer. Running in the dark of night or in this time of year, the afternoon can present some of the more peaceful moments of a day. My first experience running in the dark was on a late fall evening. The temperature was in the high 30's with a strong wind blowing out of the west. I was running on the local High School track. A simple 5 mile run was on tap and the battery in my iPod had just died. I love running with music but I wasn't going to let this inconvenience derail the workout. As I began to make laps the sound of the wind whipping through the white oaks, my foot falls and the sound of my breathing became my music. With how fast the world is moving these days it's hard to pause and just enjoy the simple things around us. I don't recall if I struggled during the run or what my time was, but I do remember the amazing natural music that surrounded me lap after lap. With that first run in the dark that wonderful memory is etched into my mind forever and a love affair of sorts was started.
As fall is quickly blown away by the winter winds a new season of running will quickly descend upon me. I'm not one for the cold, snow or wind but I am one who enjoys finding those peaceful first moments I can store in my memory. Those moments for me can't be found on a treadmill or in a gym watching the snow fall outside a window. My lungs are strong now; the early winter air no longer a distraction on the runs I so love to do. The hurdle I now face is the snow covered ground. As I head out on an early morning another of the seasons firsts will kiss me. Walking to the end of my drive to start the run there is a sound of snow crunching under my shoes and my warm breath rising into the cold morning air. Off I go with a short stride and quick pace savoring the cadence of the fresh snow crunching under my feet. That amazing short morning run is where I often cross paths with the deer roaming through the country. This a blessing that without fighting the slippery unstable roads and the freezing wind biting my skin I'd never have the experience or the memory to share with those close to me.
The winter months will continue to punish Northeast Ohio and as they do I continue to push through. Some days finding the energy or the motivation is a difficult opponent to tackle. On one day this past winter I was fighting the call of my couch a hot cup of tea and an episode of CSI: Miami. Feeling guilty, I got ready to head out into a heavy snow fall and temperatures in the teens. The roads already had 4 inches of snow packed down by the cars coming home from work. School for the next day had already been canceled and here I am at the end of my drive questioning my decision. That run was the single best experience I've ever had in the winter months. That defining moment became my motivation to log miles over the harsh winter, and why I'm nervous, excited and anxious about what lies ahead.
It's early evening, dark and cold. The small town I live in shut down, bracing for the snow storm that predicted 8 to 12 inches and I'm ready to run. For me running in extreme conditions is nothing new. A few years back when the remnants of Hurricane Katrina blew through Ohio I was out running. Dodging falling branches and fighting the brutal winds was one of the craziest things I've done, but one that not many people can say they have. So with that in mind I wasn't about to let a heavy snow fall stop me from logging my 4 miles. I decided to head west. For the first half mile I was complaining. The large heavy snow flakes crashing into my face. The road was soft and the snow was falling as if I was watching a movie playing in slow motion. As I make my way down the road I see flashing lights in the distance. Coming up the road a plow attempting to clear the road, but not making a difference. It passes me and disappears into the dark. As I make my way to the end of the road I notice it eerily quiet and calm. It seemed as if I was the only soul left on the planet. I brush off the feeling and continue on home. Halfway home unable to see through my fogged up glasses I stopped to wipe them clear. In that moment is where it seemed time stood still. I stood in the middle of the road and noticed all of the "nothing" that was going on around me. Not a sound was to be heard, no traffic in the distance, no planes overhead, no wind blowing, nothing, not a sound. Taking time to look around at the snow still falling in slow motion. Taking in color of the orange sky caused by the street lights that looked like candles flickering in that winter storm. It was in that minute that I actually enjoyed my first moment of nothing, nothing but pure uninterrupted peace. An incredible calming feeling, one that I haven't experienced since. I keep running and chasing that feeling hoping it will cross my path again. That first experience is what helps push me through all of the hard winter running.
The months ahead are not going to be easy. The terrain, weather, drivers and darkness all are reasons to stay inside and curl up next to the fireplace enjoying the company of my dogs, but I'm a runner, my soul needs that cadence to be happy. All of the seasons firsts are out there waiting for me and I'm going to be right there to soak up all of the wonders we are usually to busy to notice. The road is where my heart belongs.