A short meditation for an early spring day….
It’s the last day of March, and the weather reports are predicting rain, sleet, and snow for the Boston area — an early April Fool’s Day prank from the God of Seasons.
At least here in the city whatever snow accumulates isn’t likely to last. By next week, the snow will be forgotten. However, areas to the North and West aren’t likely to be so lucky. I’ve been in touch with a fellow track coach in Maine who tells me their track is still buried under several inches of ice and snow. From what I gather, this new storm will only add to that.
In New England we know that the transition from winter to spring is rarely smooth and orderly. Warm days in February tempt us into relaxing our guard, but are followed by long stretches of bleak and biting cold in March. Early crocuses impress us as they poke their heads out in defiance of late winter — until they are buried by a foot of heavy snow a few days later. The sun disappears for days on end, and then reappears like a Tomcat after a lost weekend, aloof and nonchalant, seemingly unaware that he’s long overdue.
Unruly spring aggravates our grievances and tests our faith again and again.
I always feel sympathy for the marathoners at this time of year, the ones who have the impossible task of preparing to run Boston not knowing if they will be suffering in thirty degrees or ninety, will be battling hypothermia or heat-stroke. In spite of any complaints about cold, crappy weather, heat is much worse. The body forgets how to run in heat, so if April 17 turns out to be the first really war day of the Spring, it will be a disaster.
As runners, spring reminds us that there are a lot of other things we forget over the long winter months. We forget how to run, too.
I don’t mean that we forget that running involves putting one foot in front of the other over and over until fatigue eventually convinces you to stop; I mean that the fine motor skills that we use unconsciously when we are running quickly and effortlessly degrade from lack of practice. This can happen if we’ve spent the winter running exclusively on paved roads and venture down a muddy trail for the first time since November. I ran on a trail yesterday and it was wonderful to be in the woods, but I felt clumsy and awkward on the uneven ground. I know it will get better with practice, but it was a rude awakening all the same.
It can happen if we’ve been lucky enough to train all winter in climate-controlled conditions on a banked indoor track, and then we venture outdoors to a cold, windswept stadium where working out feels like tracing circles on an Arctic ice floe. I ran a session on an outdoor track two days ago, and felt like I’d never run a workout before. It was as if I just couldn’t figure out how to use my legs properly.
Maybe in my case this annual ritual of remembering how to run again has been exacerbated because for many weeks I skipped the communal speed workouts to let injuries heal. Or maybe Spring itself makes me more attuned to the symbolism of this season as a time of renewal, of remembering things buried under the snow.
No matter how many years I have pursued this dream of being a runner, it still surprises me how quickly I forget how to do it properly when I stop practicing some aspect of my sport. And so, at this time of year especially, I labor at this thing that’s supposed to be effortless and carefree, because for all the forgetting, I do remember how it’s supposed to feel.
Like spring, the process of training can feel unruly. And, like spring, that process tests one’s faith again and again.