Today I felt as if I went on a run sometime in late March much more than the actual day being the last of January. My running lately has been pathetic. This was actually my third run of the week, including Sunday, which is something I have not been able to do in the new year.
I can’t recall exactly when my left ankle began hurting but when I nearly dropped to the floor in pain a couple times while merely walking around the house, I knew it was time to get it checked out. The Physician’s Assistant had no idea what was wrong, and called for an x-ray and for me to see someone else. The x-ray was negative, although it did reveal some arthritis but that would not be causing my pain. I finally saw a physical therapist, who happens to be my neighbor, and he diagnosed me with acute tendinitis. I was glad there was nothing structurally wrong with me but the pain did not go away immediately. So I took off a good week of running while downing ibuprofen and occasionally icing my ankle.
All seemingly went well with my minor treatment, and so after more than two weeks off from running I finally laced up my shoes. A few small runs on the road, not wanting to be far from home if the familiar pain reemerged. I was glad to be running again, although I could tell by my watch that even a couple of weeks off severely affected my times.
The weather of course throughout my recovery was quite variable and I didn’t feel all that bad missing out on a run when the temps were in the single digits. But today I actually had to contemplate wearing shorts when planning out my run.
After spending the morning with my four year old son Quinn coloring, which I seem to be making real progress at, I gathered up my running gear while getting his things ready for afternoon pre-school. There was some rain, some clouds, some incredible sunshine and of course there were strong gusts of wind. What the weather was actually going to be like when I went our for a run, I couldn’t be sure. So I still layered up with my lightest weight tights, a long sleeve tech shirt under a short sleeve tech, which was my new Trail Monster shirt that I got for Christmas. It was the only thing I asked my wife for and now I was thrilled to be sporting it for the first time. I did however put a light jacket over it, as I still wasn’t completely confident that Mother nature loves all Trail Monsters.
I easily could have gone for a run out on the road but I had been looking in my backyard all morning agitated in the fact there was not a trace of snow left in it. I noticed a few banks left around the neighbors and one in our front yard but it was all but gone after all the rain last night and a thermometer that read in the fifties. Last day of January? With this absence of snow and my new shirt on I knew I had to head for a trail. So after I dropped off Quinn, I whizzed over to our town dump which is situated right near the trails of Hedgehog Mountain. Not really a mountain, but certainly the best spot in town to get a view of Mt. Washington a hundred miles to the West.
I got a little nervous pulling onto the dump road and looking into the woods and noticing much more snow than was in my backyard. I began to wish that I had packed my ice grips. I didn’t want to miss a couple weeks or more of running because I fell on my ass.
The trail was exactly as expected. It was packed down like a glacier from everyone using it during our once again limited winter and now all the ice from those forces was being exposed from the rain and warm temperatures. My gait was slow and very calculated but I did not slide around quite as much as I thought I would, and was then pleased to round a corner and see open trail. Open trail really translated into mud. Not deep mud one would sink into but rather a top layer of mud lying atop frozen turf. Here I was glad not to have ice grips on, as they would have torn the trail to shreds. Still I had to use caution in my gait so as not to take a fall that I did not need.
I continued to venture down the trail never sure which surface I would come across next, hoping for something in the middle. Then I got exactly what I asked for. In the middle was a couple of inches of snow covering a mix of slush and ice, never really knowing if I would slide or sink. Well, at least I was more used to running a little slower now over the past couple weeks so I wasn’t disappointed with not getting a fast workout. No, this run was becoming more of a physical workout than any speed workout.
I headed down a hill that is usually muddy even when there is a drought but the frozen ground kept it better shape than expected. At the bottom was a small stream crossing where a bridge built by snowmobilers awaited me to cross. Sometimes the stream is barely a trickle but today the water was nearly flooding the bridge which sits a good three and a half feet above. The bridge is always at a slight angle with planks separated from one another by about five to eight inches. I decided to just walk across the smooth, wet planks rather than take a risk slipping into the cold water below. Really I didn’t fear drowning, I just didn’t want to freeze my parts off.
More of the snowy, slushy mix back up the hill. I hadn’t run here in quite awhile, so I was surprised that my watch indicated that I had only done one mile. Yah, one mile and I had the texture under my feet change probably a couple dozen times already. A road run would have just been one continuous step after another. Oh you silly mindless roads.
I grew used to the change of texture just by keeping a nice slow pace and short gait. I certainly wasn’t racing anyone, or even myself so I just moved along eventually looping back to the hill leading to the stream. A few little slides down on the slushy snow and then I was once again stepping carefully over the bridge.
For the first time in the run I did check out my pace as I crested the top of the hill and saw a twenty minute pace. Twenty minute! Yah, this was a slower run than I ever expected, but on the bright side at least I wasn’t feeling winded after my January slumberings.
I followed my tracks along an old woods road making note that it looked like someone had already cut back a fallen tree as there were wood chips on the trail. There were quite a few branches blowdown and although I couldn’t feel the wind as much due to the shelter of the trees I knew that gusts were still blowing hard.
A small loop off the woods road was followed by my ascent up the mighty Hedgehog. Here the trail showed real signs of affect from the melting snow as it was a pure top layer of mud coming down the mountain. The melting snow must have flowed directly down the trail as leaves lay perfectly where they had fallen months ago just off the path that people used to walk up and down the mountain. Every step forward slipped back but I didn’t get discouraged, I just looked forward to viewing Westward from the Hedge Ledge.
The sky was blue but there were just a few too many clouds to clearly see Mt. Washington a hundred miles away. I knew exactly where to look from, the right side of the tree growing between two boulders.
Onto the actual summit and back down, and I began to pick up a few more blown down branches on my descent. I had moved a few others in my way, but really only if I could reach them without totally stopping to bend over. And now, I realized that moving a couple extra was not going to slow me down all that much more.
There was one blow down that was a little too big for me to move and it lay at the intersection of the summit trail and that one leading to the woods road that I had previously come across. It wasn’t that big of an evergreen but still may require a little cutting to get fully out of the way. Maybe next week I’ll have to bring my foldable saw.
Back to the minivan but my watch indicated I was actually under three miles. I couldn’t stop short of three miles! So I crossed the road to where just earlier this week I had taken Quinn out on his cross country skis and now what little snow there was was only suitable for squeezing the water out of and then remixing with the snow to make a nice ice pack for swollen joints. I checked out another bridge which sat much higher over the same stream but was much narrower. I noted to myself that it would have been an excellent day to play Pooh Sticks there with my kids. If you don’t know how to play, well then you’re missing out on some real excitement.
Back to the road where I still had to run on the paved surface just a little in order to get the three miles. Oh, the sacrifices. I stopped my watch at exactly three miles and wasn’t really surprised to see a time of over thirty three minutes. Hey, Larry Bird was 33 back in the day so it can’t really be all that bad. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t because I finally was back on a trail. No ankle pain, no traffic and no frostbite. Let’s hope February is nothing like March.