Snow Run

I was really looking forward to this trail run. This winter I’ve run in the snow a few times on paved road/rail trail, but not on single track trail. I parked my Jeep on top of Peters Mountain and stepped outside to a cold, sunny, breezy, snow covered parking lot. I strapped on my yaktraxs to the bottom of my sneakers, put my winter cap, gloves, and sunglasses on and I was off to tackle another Appalachian Trail run.

I crossed over the bridge and the first thing I noticed was that no one had been on this part of the trail since the last snow storm. The trail was barely noticeable. With the snow on the ground, the only way I could really follow the trail was with the white trail blazes on the trees. At that point I knew it was going to be a little tougher than a normal run. I started off nice and slow. By the half mile mark, I realized the yaktraxs were not really needed. I was running in 4+ inches of snow, so traction/grip wasn’t really an issue.

About a mile into the woods, I noticed that my senses were alive and well. The wind was howling and the snow was blowing across the top of the ridge. All I could hear was that wind and an owl (I believe?) calling it’s call. I could feel the cold snow on my feet and I was running into a bright, brilliant sun. Things couldn’t have been any better.

A little more than a mile later and on top of the ridge, I decided to veer off the trail to an overlook. It’s an overlook I’ve been to before, but not when there was so much snow on the ground. It overlooks the Susquehanna River and the valleys that it cuts through, all the way down past the state’s capitol in the horizon.

I continued running on the trail. At some points there were snow drifts that I had to slow down and navigate through. I saw lots of deer and turkey tracks throughout the run. A few times I would pass a tree along the trail and it appeared a deer had bedded down right beside it for protection.

I normally plan out my runs before I do them and this run wasn’t any different. I had planned to turn around at a gas/power line. As I eventually approached the power line, the wind picked up more and the snow drifts became higher. It was impossible to run through them so I slowed to a walk and stomped through it. It brought me back to my childhood when we would leap in big snow piles along the road….sending us plummeting down through it past our knees. This time around it was different. I was not within walking distance from my warm house. I was out in the woods, miles away, in a remote place. A place where if something would go wrong, i.e., a twist of an ankle, a pulled hamstring, a mental breakdown, I’d be in trouble.

I had less than an hour left of daylight. On the way out the trail, I was thinking I’d have an easier time running through the snow while coming back through due to my tracks I created. Once I made the turn to back track, I realized that wasn’t the case at all. It was equally as tough heading back to my Jeep. I had about 3 miles to go and I was getting pretty tired. One thing was for certain, I wasn’t going to dehydrate with all the snow on the ground. I made sure I was running cautiously and patiently throughout the back track. As the sun was setting, the sky became a pink/purple color. Mixed with a white snow, trees, and a colorful sky surrounding me, it became a different world all-together….dream like. A picture perfect painting.

With a mile to go, my competitive nature kicked in and I wanted to finish the run within a certain time. With my legs heavy, my breathing fast, my feet freezing, I pushed my body. On top of the mountain, then dipping down off the ridge of the mountain, and then back up to the top again, I went. I approached the bridge, with Jeep in sight, in what seemed like a sprint to me. My lungs filled with cold air, my legs screaming heavy thoughts, I sprinted across the bridge to my Jeep. I knew though that I was, in fact, running at a snails’ pace. At the end, grasping hold of both of my knees, I nearly fell to the ground in exhaustion.

It had been a 7 mile run….and it was anything but typical!

In the beginning….. there was a track!

Running has changed my life physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. I’ve met lots of running friends throughout my running time. This is the thing I’m most appreciative of, the people I’ve met along the way. It never would have been this way if it weren’t for my confrontation with a track years ago.

I am so glad I decided to run around that track 13 years ago this winter. I simply wanted to see how fast I could run 1 mile in. I had remembered running a mile in high school and wanted to see if I could beat that time. If I remember correctly, those first meetings with the track 13 years ago were fun. I would go there in the dark. It was cold and the track had no lights. My lungs would hurt during and after the run. When I hear new runners say that their lungs hurt when running in cold weather, my brain automatically takes me back to the dark/cold track in 2002. I would be sweating profusely afterwards. I also remember having a good, healthy feeling after running. I eventually bumped the mileage up to 1.5 miles. Then eventually up to 2 miles, which was 8 laps around the track. As Morpheus stated in the movie The Matrix, I was starting to believe.

I then decided to run, what I call, my first “real run”. It wasn’t a run around a track, but a 2.2 mile loop from a local grocery store parking lot, around the neighborhood, in through town and back to the lot. Though tired, it was an accomplishment and small journey for me. I eventually added a 2.9 mile route, a 3.5 mile route, and a 4.6 mile route. It’s funny how I remember the exact mileage. I haven’t forgotten any of the routes, either. The 4.6 mile route was considered my long run. It took me all the way past the end of town to my grandparents’ cottage and back. After running these routes multiple times, feeling the ebbs and flows of each individual run, I decided to add a 6.8 mile run. It was a little more than a mile past my grandparents’ cottage. Feeling confident and brave, I then added on to that…a 9.2 mile route. This route, to me, seemed to be a day’s journey. It was also so far beyond my grandparent’s cottage, that the turn-around for it was in a different village.

After running the 9.2 mile route for a few months, something came over me. I felt confident in my routes and my running that I wanted to run a marathon. Not a half marathon, but a full 26.2 mile marathon. I remember making people aware of it in person and on multimedia (at that time, it was Yahoo Chat!). I eventually added on to the 9.2 mile route to make it 11.5 miles. I ended up being in a running zone. All I could really think about was getting out there and running, testing my personal times and seeing how far I could go. I would combine the routes that I made around my town’s area. I’d run the 11.5 mile route and add the 3.5 miler at the end of it. Eventually I added a 14 miler and a 16.5 miler to the mix.

As I look back, I can’t help but realize how boring these routes would be now. I ran the same routes, over and over for 2 years on the same road. In 2004 I finally ran my first marathon, and though it was a special thing for me, I only remember bits and pieces of it. I remember the start, which was in front of the state’s capitol building. I remember it being really cold, windy, and sunny. I also remember after completing it, my legs were sore for close to two weeks. I’m certain, that at that point, I had no intentions for running another marathon. Of course, that changed when I decided to run another marathon 2 years later. And the rest is history. I’ve run multiple races since then, mostly marathons, and recently have gotten into trail running and ultrarunning.

I am so glad I met with that track 13 years ago. Though I didn’t know it then, I now know it was a life changing decision!

Run on friends…..