Our temperatures have finally started to moderate here in eastern Pennsylvania. After spending several months with highs in the 20’s and low 30’s, seeing temps hit the 40’s, 50’s, and even once the 60’s over this past week has felt downright tropical. The benefit of all of that lovely warmer weather is that the snow and ice that has been hanging around is finally melting. Of course, that leads to another new challenge for runners – mud.
I’ve never been a big fan of mud in general, but when I run, it doesn’t bother me that much. In fact, some days I even look forward to it. As long as I have access to a towel or a change of clothes when I am finished, I enjoy getting down and dirty on a run. It makes me feel much more hardcore than I really am.
Wednesdays are supposed to be my rest days, but I rearranged my schedule this week when I saw that we were going to hit 60 degrees on Wednesday afternoon. Of course, that was the day that I had to stay late for a meeting, but fortunately for me, my school backs up to Haverford College, which has a great short nature trail to run on. I managed to sneak in 3 miles between dismissing my students, and sitting down for a parent meeting. Wednesday was so warm that I got to experience one of my favorite running phenomenons – wearing a shirt sleeved shirt while running over snow. Parts of the trail were clear and dry, but a much larger portion was either still covered in ice, or full of chilly water from the melting snow. I initially tried to tiptoe around the mud and water puddles before realizing that it was really just much easier to plow right through. After soaking my feet the first time, I didn’t even really mind the water. It took me back to my childhood days of splashing in puddles just because it was fun. As an adult, I am often more concerned with keeping things neat, lest I have to clean up a large mess. It was nice to just let all of that go and squish through the mud.
Today, I had another opportunity to play in the mud on my long run. Jen and I met up in the Wissahickon to get in some much-needed trail work. We started with an out-and-back path on the main drive, which was fairly mud-free, but covered with a lot of really cold puddles. Once again, we threw caution to the wind and plowed right through them. While this was definitely preferable to running over the frozen snow that still covered much of the path, it did lead to some uncomfortably numb toes. I have bad circulation in my feet on the best of days, so repeatedly dousing my feet with icy water was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Fortunately, the temps were high enough that I never entered the danger zone. At times, the path through the snow was so narrow that we could barely fit one foot in at a time. I joked with Jen that my gymnastics training came in handy, as I was able to balance through the puddles with relative ease. At least one part of running appears to come easily to me.
After our initial run, we met up with my favorite trail runners to hit the upper trails. This is the group that I first met for my awesome return to the trails on New Year’s Day. The majority of the runners are faster than I am, but I am fortunate that they continue to let me come out and trail along at the back of the pack. My mother told me years ago that the best way to become a better runner is to regularly run with people who are faster than you are, and this group definitely fits the bill. Besides, they make me look tame, devising all kinds of fun workouts like today’s hill repeats session. Our course today – roughly 2 miles out on the trails, followed by 8 hill repeats and then 2 miles back to the start. If I can manage to make it through this entire workout by the end of the summer, I will be quite proud of myself. While our pace was slightly slower than the main group, Jen and I met up with another runner and covered the first few miles easily enough. We were covered in mud, but feeling satisfied, when we made it to the chosen hill. Our other four group members were already on their second trip down the hill when we joined in the fun. I am embarrassed to say that I had to slow to a walk before I even made it to the top of the hill on my first trip up. Of course, stubbornness and pride kept me from stopping at just one trip, so while I slowed each time, I did manage to make it up and down twice more. I really wanted to push for a fourth trip, but fortunately my common sense kicked in at that point and reminded me that we still had a good two hilly miles back to the cars. At the end of the morning, I ended up with 11 completed miles, super muddy feet, and eight frozen toes. Jen keeps telling me that is a sure sign that I need to give in and get myself a pair of Gore-Tex trail shoes before next winter arrives. I guess I know what to ask Santa for this year.