Don’t get me wrong; I respect the big jolly red UPS man. Mad props on his amazing journey around the world in 24 hours with his group of misfits attached to a sleigh. The guy gets my vote when it comes to kindness and cheer.
However, Santa is a cheater…
How? The answer is simple. He has a sleigh. See, the unique thing about the land that I call home is that our winter weather ranges from multiple extremes. One week we can have head splitting ice and the next week we can have severe thunderstorms; all within two weeks of Christmas. Santa doesn’t have to mess with the mess of our grounds when his sleigh and our chimneys are able to be his ultimate cheat code.
Am I bitter?
As a new trail runner; I started back in July on this insane adventure. I had been warned from the beginning that as the days grew shorter people ran in the dark; as precipitation fell from the sky, people ran in the snow; and as the Robert Frost world of snowy landscape thawed, people also ran in the mud. Truly we have learned nothing from our ancestors of years past.
The part that I missed within this revelation is understanding that there would be specific, special circumstances when the trail runner would be expected to run in all three unique conditions…at once.
My baptism into this frozen edition of fear factor took place this week.
When not running with the Mud Babes on Monday nights, I tend to spend time with the BAR group on Thursday evenings. True to its name; BAR (beer appreciation runners) operate in a very simplistic mode:
Show up. Go run. Return. Drink beer. Go home.
However, they also function under the similar, unspoken mantra of trail running:
No matter the situation we will still run.
Last week in the flyover land of Kansas City, we witnessed ice, snow, and then a rapid thawing over the middle of the week. Common sense can easily tell you what that does to a trail. Due to the muddy, half-frozen disaster of earth, the area trails were closed for preservation sake. Preservation of the trails, not the runners.
Except for the bridle trails of WyCo. Yes, the muddy horse traveled trails were open for business on Thursday night.
Additionally, I was also recovering from a self-sustained head injury from the Saturday prior. Meaning, the fear of falling on jagged rocks in the middle of the icy cold night was very much a real fear.
However, when in Rome…
Laced up with too many layers of clothes to count, my trusty gloves, a stocking cap (because that’ll protect a head wound), and my Black Diamond Spot headlamp I took off with the slow group*. They hopped onto the horse trails and took off. Mind you, it is pitch black outside, there is snow on the ground, and where there isn’t, it is straight mud, and of course since we are in the ‘flat lands of America’ nothing about this section of trail was flat because God has a sense of humor. This aided the already hellish landscape with an ominous red tint of the night sky (city lights in the distance), and the sounds of a thousand screaming children** coming from the icy lake. Truly, psychologically, I was running through at least the fourth ring of Dante’s Inferno.
Praying that my strained toes could grip into the snowscape, I bound through the woods like a wounded deer trying to escape the Blair Witch. Meanwhile my brain was already completely overwhelmed with the same, repetitive process:
- Headlamp lights the path
- Eyes see the lit path
- Brain receives what the eyes have seen on the lit path
- Legs are already moving
- Feet are already stepping
- Split second connection of thought from the eyes to the brain to the feet to prevent a late night stretcher unit exploring the woods
- Repeat as necessary until fear is gone…or soul is crushed
This thought process lasted an entire mile until I noticed the slow runners doing exactly what ‘that group’ does…speeding up. I slowed to a stop and waiting for the back end of the group to catch me. It was at that point I realized a few things about my life:
- The staples in my head were pounding
- I was on the verge of vomiting from eating too much prior to heading out
- My taste in choice of friends over the years is very questionable
- WHY IN HEAVEN’S NAME WAS I RUNNING IN THE DARK, IN THE SNOW, IN THE MUD, WITH A HEAD INJURY?!?!
With the back two people reaching me, bless their souls, they slowed down for my feeble 29 year old body to keep trucking along. I learned that one of the hardest things about running at night and running in the snow is that very rarely can you do that exact thing; run. Because of the challenging, changing terrain a runner rarely hits full speed in either condition; nearly never when both conditions are present. Meaning, we are forced to be patient with ourselves and just embrace the trail that we have been given. We cruised (slid) for another three miles before coming back to the base camp of the BAR group.
I confessed that the first mile, I was nearly shaking because I was so frustrated that I could not get my body to move the way I wanted it to. It was as if I was trying to dribble a basketball and run in middle school all over again. There are some things a 6’5 frame cannot (or should not) do all at once. Slowing down though, taking my time, and actually feeling the terrain helped throughout the rest of the night. Make no mistake, that was my
third run in the dark and my first run ever on snow; I do not care for either. I will keep trying it because I need the training, but if trail running itself is deemed hard, this just added a few new levels of challenge.
Thankfully, I did not have to embrace this harsh reality alone. My wife was kind (innocent) enough to suggest exploring the same trails the following day.
In conclusion; I appreciate Santa. The dude is pretty legit. However, when it comes to finesse through the wintery conditions out here; I think we can all agree that Santa is a bit of a cheater. I only speak from experience.
*It’s a lie. Every. Single. Time. I believe that the slow group is going to go with a comfortable pace; it is only comfortable if it is under 10:00.00 a mile.
**I have come to the conclusion that geese are indeed spawn of the devil. One, they are so crazy mean. Two, they will chase runners. Three, at night, in the dark, they call out in the hundreds on the frozen lake. Terrifying.