Useless Things

snow squall

In Spring, hundreds of flowers;
In Autumn, a harvest moon;
In the summer, a refreshing breeze;
In winter, snow will accompany you.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Any season is a good season for you.
– Mumon

The eternal question is: when it’s nasty outside do you pull on another layer or two and venture out into the storm or wait for conditions to improve? As a rule, serious runners are creatures of near-obsessive habit and usually choose venturing out. They might curse the weather, especially in the first moments when they have to leave warm and dry shelter behind, but unless it’s a REALLY bad day, within a few miles most runners will have forgotten that not running was even a choice. Less serious runners — and, I presume, normal people — have no trouble skipping a scheduled run and making cocoa instead. At least, that’s my fantasy. I’m not sure why, but when it’s especially crappy outside and I’m heading out into it, I take a masochist’s pleasure in imagining how much happier other people must be staying home.

These are the things I think about when it’s early spring in New England. Winter can be hard (not THIS winter), but at least you’re braced for it. Spring, on the other hand, is wildly unpredictable, as the past week has reminded us, and trying to prepare for all the weather you’ll see is like planning a birthday party for a dozen three-year-olds. There will be surprises, not all of them good, and someone will always be crying by the end.

Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate a few semi-predictable milestones amidst the unpredictable daily highs and lows. For example, there’s “First Outdoor Track Workout” Day at the end of March, which meets the dictionary definition of “rude awakening.” For one thing, it requires us to throw on far too many layers to feel anything like speedy; second, it requires us to throw OUT all our notions about pace that we’ve developed over the winter running on lightning-quick indoor tracks. Our first outdoor workout of the year was last Tuesday, and we were buffeted by winds gusting 20-30mph. I say we, but I was so far off the back most of the time that there was no shelter in the pack for me, not that a scrawny cohort of skinny runners would offer much shelter, anyway.

Then on Saturday night/Sunday morning, snow arrived in an angry squall that battered the Forsythia and other early flowers that had believed the hype about an early spring. Sunday was also the day that a lot of marathoners had penciled in for their last long run before Patriot’s Day, and we know how runners — marathon runners especially — hate to deviate form the plan. I was stuck at home that morning, but I was copied on a few emails that morning between my running buddies, as they confirmed plans for a long run right in the middle of the storm. There was the first tentative query: “Are we still on?” and the expected reply “Why wouldn’t we be?” and then the negotiating about how to meet if the Battle Road Visitors Center was closed. The run went off as scheduled, with my friends running various distances, from 16 to 20 miles, and posing at the end for some Japanese tourists who wanted to take pictures of the crazy runners in the snow.

I ran much later that day and by then the sun was out, birds were singing in the trees, and no one bothered taking my picture. Lucky me, I guess, although I had a vague sense of having missed out on something.

On Monday the snow was back with a vengeance, dropping five inches on Concord, where I slipped and slid through my afternoon run, barely able to feel my hands. Unlike Sunday, this storm was followed by biting cold. If there were any birds in the trees, they were muttering curses and wondering whether they had made a terrible mistake migrating so early.

But what are you going to do? Run on a treadmill? Well, yeah, that’s an option. I happened to be at School Monday afternoon (although all athletics practices were canceled), and I saw many kids who wanted to go for runs. Some ventured out and were back in 10 minutes saying it was too a) cold, b) slippery, c) insane to run outside. Others ran 4-5 miles, returning with icicles hanging from their hats. Others put their earbuds in and hopped on one of the treadmills in the Fitness Center. One way or another, the show must go on.

On Tuesday, the snow was over but the large cold air mass had just settled in, so it was another chilly day forcing choices on stubborn runners. Outdoors for another frigid track workout? Thankfully, no. After some begging, our little band secured permission to head indoors for one (last?) workout at BU in the climate controlled and snow-free confines of the indoor track there. Surely by next week, we’ll have spring again? Does enjoying the indoor track make us wimps?

Soon enough there will be other seasonal milestones. Following the first outdoor workout, and the unexpected (but predictable!) early April freeze, we’ll experience the oven-like temperatures of the first really sweltering day (for my friends’ sake, please let it not fall on Patriots Day…), and then the three days of rain that always spoils the emergence of the lilacs, and then summer, thunderstorms, humidity, drought, a plague of locusts. All useless things, really. Because in the end, there’s really only one question and one possible answer:

Are we still on?

Why wouldn’t we be?

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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3 Responses to Useless Things

  1. Terry says:

    Great post as always capturing all the angles of spring training in NE. Luckily, we runners are a stubborn lot and I had not 1 but 3 other equally undeterred companions who braved the snow, wind and sketchy footing to emerge under blue skies as we finished up.

  2. Robin says:

    Even when it’s 5 degrees out, there are mitigating factors. It’s 5 degrees, but the sun is shining. It’s five degrees with 40 mph wind, but the road is dry. It’s five degrees, 40 mph wind, and snowing heavily, but it’s Sunday and there’s no traffic: I have the road all to myself! (muhaha.)

  3. Mark says:

    Come to Southern California! I’ve never even seen an indoor track… or snow. I did have to put on a light jacket, gloves, and a beanie for a couple of months though, which was a hardship. It was 35 degrees one morning! 35!!! The things we have to go through for running right?

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