aframeDeerFor the past week or so, I’ve had an odd image in my mind, a kind of half-memory, of seeing a small herd of deer come out of the woods and wander into the backyard of our house in Amherst where I grew up. This memory has no date on it, so I don’t know if it was a long time ago when I was a little kid, or not so long ago when I was visiting my parents as an adult. But in the memory, it’s late winter or early spring, and someone — my Dad? — observes that it has been a long winter and the hungry, emaciated deer are leaving the safety and anonymity of the woods and coming into people’s backyards looking for food.

Here in the present, it’s late winter in New England, and we’re once again between snowstorms. No sooner have we shoveled out the walks and the driveway after one bout of winter weather, then  we are told another one is on the way. No single storm sticks out as being particularly epic, no “Blizzard of ’78,” but the overall effect of repeated blasts is, as Kevin says, “aggravating.”

For runners who are committed, for one reason or another, to getting in a lot of miles, the aggravation of winter induces a kind of mental numbness, distinct from the numbness of fingers and toes, but no less real. Many weeks ago there might have been something mildly heroic about braving the elements to get in that long run. Now, there’s a kind of deer-in-the-backyard quality as we search for routes that give us a chance to get in miles without running through too many snowbanks, or over too much ice, or into too much oncoming traffic.

After last week’s snow that hammered the East Coast, including Washington D.C., Joni told me about how Dennis, here fiancé (and a native of country where it never snows), had expressed incredulity that she would run in spite of a declared snow emergency in the city. Eventually Dennis will learn this is normal behavior.  I remember there was a time when my loved ones, too, expressed incredulity and — did I imagine it? — a certain reluctant admiration for my resolve, but that era passed long ago. Now, Ann expresses no surprise at what she has come to accept as a typical, albeit mildly dysfunctional habit. The best I can hope for is that she takes enough notice to scold me for not wearing a reflective vest.

The mental numbness of runners is late February is evident, too, in the decision about what constitutes a reasonable running route. Of course, for some runners, a treadmill or an indoor track solves the problem. Kevin told me yesterday that a fellow age-group competitor of our acquaintance was doing his long runs in the Lexington Field House (9 laps to the mile). If that sounds tedious, it’s not so very different from the routes chosen by those of us committed to running outdoors. Last week, a day after a foot of snow had fallen on Greater Boston, I completed a 45-minute run in Burlington that consisted entirely of loops through the parking lots of nearby office buildings. Yesterday, Tom admitted he had just recently done a three-hour run in which he had never strayed more than three miles from his house. At least there have been no parking garage runs for me this winter, at least not yet.

All this brings me back to my image of that small herd of deer. During yesterday’s run through Arlington and Winchester, I kept thinking about those scrawny deer foraging for food in suburban backyards, just as we scrawny runners were now foraging for relatively bare pavement down streets that we would normally avoid, drawn away from our usual secretive trails to show ourselves on public thoroughfares, searching, searching, searching for good footing.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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1 Response to Foraging

  1. Robin says:

    I have decided that running on snow on a back road with very little traffic is at least mentally less tiring than running on the main road where there is more bare pavement but more traffic and lots of side-stepping onto the shoulder. I had a moment of insanity when I looked out at the snow covered main road at 2 a.m., when I had just finished shoveling, and thinking about how glorious it would be to go for a run with almost no traffiic (but I went inside and went to bed). There is also better traction on the snow when it is 12 degrees than when it’s in the mid-20s.

    One might even see a herd of deer.

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