Small Circles in a Big World


It’s tough to be a runner in New England when the deep snows come. Usual running routes become treacherous or impassable. Each day feels like a life-and-death search for safe places to get in a few miles. Runners in winter seek solid footing the way Wildebeest in the Serengeti seek drinking water. And when our search is fruitless, and when the forecast calls for more accumulation on top of the snow we’ve already endured, we sink into a funk and curse Mother Nature.

And then we adapt.

Non-runners laugh at us for running in circles. I can only imagine the abuse we’d suffer if they ever found out to what extremes we’ll go when weather or circumstances really clamp down on our wandering. Let’s be specific: raise your hand if you have resorted to any of the following venues recently to get in your daily run:

  • Neighborhood side roads
  • Cemeteries
  • Parking lots
  • Parking garages
  • Driveways

As our options become more limited, our loops become smaller and more tedious. I have a six-mile “neighborhood run” (see map, above) that I do a few times every winter that takes advantage of lightly traveled side roads near my house. Another option is Comm Ave. in Newton, which has an access road with little traffic that is usually well-plowed. In the last week, I’ve done several runs that consisted of driving to, and then running back and forth on Comm Ave.

But after a few weeks of such runs, I get pretty sick of these measures.

What about indoor options? There’s no law that says you HAVE to run outside when the Governor has declared a snow emergency. That’s true, and if I belonged to a more sensible tribe, I’d simply head indoors at the first sign of trouble. But mostly I don’t. I know some people are happy to run on treadmills, and I admire them for it. But that just doesn’t feel like real running to me. So if I have to run indoors, I run and my loops get even smaller than laps of a parking lot. Anyone out there doing regular runs using any of the following?

  • Indoor tracks
  • Basketball courts
  • School or work corridors
  • Indoor malls
  • Airports

I don’t want to share too much here, but I will admit that once or twice in my desperation I created workouts that made rather free use of the hallways and stairwells in my office building. (I blame my high school track coach, who had us run laps of our school building during the winter, including sprints up the stairs. Now that I think about it, at Newton North, the track teams did the same thing for the first couple of years I was there, until the custodial staff put a stop to it.)

Maybe the only way to fight off the aggravation of small loops is to remember that not every athlete is inconvenienced by several feet of snow. As a runner’s world narrows, a skier’s world broadens. There have been plenty of winters with little snow, when Nordic skiers had little choice but to head over to the Weston Ski Center and traverse the same (man-made) 1k loop over and over. These days, they can ski just about anywhere they want to go.

And I’m happy for them, I really am. I try to imagine how nice it would be to have the freedom to glide across the snow-swept landscape.

Meanwhile, I look out the window of my office and survey the parking lot. Twenty times around should be about right.

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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5 Responses to Small Circles in a Big World

  1. Kevin says:

    Thankfully the Minuteman bike path is nicely plowed and a short walk from my front door.

  2. Jon Waldron says:

    A well-maintained, traffic-free, linear park for people who want to get off the couch and exercise? What kind of European-style socialist madness is this?!

  3. Robin says:

    Guilty as charged

    Let’s be specific: raise your hand if you have resorted to any of the following venues recently to get in your daily run:

    ■Neighborhood side roads
    ■Parking lots

  4. Peter says:

    This week included all of the above: neighborhood side road loops, a treadmill, some XC skiing, and yes, mindless loops in the gym. This is the time of year when I remember to value those trail runs…

    • Robin says:

      Funny thing — I was doing a double out and back on a snow covered back road, 5 degrees, more snow falling, and I remembered the guy who trained for the NYC marathon by running “indoor” loops while trapped underground after a mine collapse. I decided that I didn’t have it so bad.

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