So here it is May, and in Southern New England spring is in full riot. Gardens have flowers again, and trees have green leaves. It finally feels like it’s OK to put the storm windows up and the screens down. It’s not going to jinx anything to bring out the lawn chairs and the backyard picnic table.
A runner enjoys spring as much as anyone – the chance to shed those winter hats, gloves, and extra layers — but a runner also experiences a slight feeling of something like regret, or perhaps mild resentment, at having to share favorite outdoor routes with the masses. Anyone who has trained through the past few months knows that it hasn’t been very crowded out there on the River, at Fresh Pond, or along the Battle Road Trail. Now that the weather has turned nice, that’s all changing.
A week ago, Sunday, I ran our usual 12-mile route, which mostly follows Battle Road, beginning at the National Park Visitor’s Center in Lincoln. Because I was late, arriving at about 9:10, I missed connecting with my usual running buddies and did the entire run solo. No matter, it was a lovely day, and I was content to ease into the run with no great ambitions about pace.
Perhaps because I was by myself, I was more aware of all the other people out for recreation on that beautiful morning. There were families with young children in strollers, other families on bikes, walkers and hikers young and old, along with other runners in groups or, like me, alone.
A week earlier on the Saturday of Patriot’s Day weekend, we had chosen to run at Battle Road on the day it was being used for the “Tough Ruck” event. The Tough Ruck is a marathon-length hike “…to honor fallen service members, police, firefighters, and EMTs, while raising funds to support military families in times of need.” We felt like flighty interlopers, trotting along with our minimalist running gear and light shoes, while hundreds, perhaps thousands, marched under the hot sun with their service uniforms and full packs for something other than personal fitness.
Now, a week later, the ruckers were gone, but the Trail was once again crowded with non-runners, and once again, I felt a little out-of-place.
Over the years, I’ve found that most non-runners have a strong prejudice about what constitutes a “nice day for a run.” As far as I can tell, a nice day is between 65 and 75 degrees, typically sunny and dry, and not too windy. It seems to me that in a calendar year, about 20-25% of the days would qualify as “nice days to run.” Those who do run, but perhaps not daily, are more likely to allow cooler, wetter days into the preferred conditions. But even so, very hot, very cold, and very raw days are good reasons to stay indoors.
April 23 was a nice day to run. It was also a nice day for every other activity one could imagine doing on the Battle Road Trail. And thus, what might have been (on a less ideal day), a long, meditative run became and ninety minutes of extreme people-watching. There was the man scooting along in his segue, the first such vehicle I’ve ever seen on the Trail; there was the boy with the bow and arrow who looked at me exactly as his ancient forbears had once looked at the deer that was to become that evening’s venison dinner; there was the old couple with canes who prompted me to slow to a walk as I carefully passed them.
After my run was over, I thought about how popular the Battle Road Trail had become.
My friends and I have been doing our long runs at Battle Road and nearby Great Meadows since before the underpass was opened to the public. We have run early in the season before all the snow had melted, and sometimes into January, when the trail was frozen harder than concrete. We have run on summer days when the sun beat down mercilessly, turning our running brains to mush, and on perfect mornings when it was a delight to feel the warmth of the sun as we came out into the open after the chilly shade of the woods. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine what my running life would be like now if I hadn’t had the pleasure of fifteen years of runs on the Battle Road Trail.
It was no great burden to share Battle Road for a weekend or two. All those visitors were the reason that the National Park Service built and maintained the trail. I also knew that when the weather turned extreme, either hot or cold, fewer folks would venture out. And sure enough, temperatures in the 40s yesterday morning kept the crowds away, and it was mostly runners out there at 9 a.m.
I suppose that, being a bit cool, it didn’t quite measure up to the Sunday before, but despite that, or perhaps for that very reason, it seemed to me like a perfectly nice day to run, and I would have been happy to share it.