Mid Month Musings

Mid Month Musings

Mid Month Musings

I enjoy winter running. In fact, I might be the exception, but it’s my favorite running season.

I don’t race much, if at all, from mid-November to April. And I don’t run inside, eschewing the treadmill in the basement and local indoor tracks. I’ve run in as much as 9-10” of snow and with temperatures as low as 12 below zero. But, I enjoy it all.

Winter running is just getting out there and, often, just sloshing around. Conditions prevent much in the way of fast or really long training (although I did spend two winters training for a certain April marathon). Precautions peculiar to those conditions must be taken for safety; snowy and icy trails and roads require careful negotiation. We have to dress properly. Limited daylight hours also mean adjustments to when we can run.

Often, if I want to run in the winter months, I have to run in the dark, in the early morning or the evening. Traffic, potholes, and slippery surfaces demand more attention than usual. I was reminded of this on a recent pre-dawn run—with my blind training buddy Michael Holmes. We came close to falling more than once. As Michael often jokes, “it was the blind leading the blind.”

Despite all this, it is invigorating to run in colder, crisp temperatures. Freshly fallen snow creates a beautiful landscape, turning regular running routes into fantasy ones. Even running in the dark, under stars that seem to twinkle more brightly than usual, is an adventure. It’s something Warren Kay calls “a spiritual experience” in his good book Sacred Running.

And with fewer hours for running, there are extra hours in the week to read. Over the past couple of months I took advantage of this. Two books about running stand out.

The first was Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall. My son Matt gave it to me for Christmas. He has a knack for choosing books I enjoy. This one kept his record perfect. Born to Run tells of McDougall’s experiences with the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.

Perhaps you’re familiar with their distance running exploits. Some, like running for days and hundreds of miles at a time, seem legendary and beyond credibility. Yet, McDougall chronicles those amazing feats, bringing readers face to face with Tarahumara legends.

He also finds a variety of other characters, several American ultra champions, a mysterious figure known mostly as “Caballo Blanco” (The White Ghost), and “Barefoot Ted” (more about this “barefoot” part in February’s column). Among other things, the adventure leads to an exciting culmination, a 50-mile ultra-run in the northern Mexico canyon home of the Tarahumara, an event with just a handful of invited participants.

McDougall gives us several geography lessons, from northern Mexico to the Colorado Rockies and Death Valley, California. He also provides some history of the legendary ultras at Leadville and Badwater. Physiologists, biologists, and even running coaches offer some interesting and controversial theories on long-distance running, including what McDougall comes to believe—that humans were “born to run.”

The second book comes from well-known running writer Hal Higdon. Higdon has written several dozen books, most of them training guides, and countless articles in magazines such as Runner’s World. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide is a novel that follows the 72 hours leading up to the thinly-veiled Lake City Marathon, one with more than 50,000 participants.

Higdon has created, in the words of one of his characters, “so many story lines.” The main character, race director Peter McDonald, is faced with the many responsibilities of putting on a mega-marathon. Among the subplots are startling announcements from a returning champion and a world record holder, a “mystery girl” who unwittingly challenges the leaders, prompting many to question “Who are you?”; the appearance of the decidedly anti-running new marathon sponsors, who must be won over; and a budding romantic interest between McDonald and a new media face in town. Even the weather provides excitement and intrigue. Perhaps most compelling is the participation of “Celebrity X,” whose identity is known only to McDonald and, of course, the readers. Even with “so many story lines,” Higdon skillfully weaves them to a dramatic, exciting conclusion.

Runners will enjoy Higdon’s inside look at a mega-marathon, from perspectives of runners, race director, media, and even nonrunners. Those nonrunners will also find much to like, even getting a flavor for the marathon’s appeal. (You can find a lengthier review of Marathon at http://www.trainingpeaks.com/bbs-forum/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=53091&posts=10

So, if you find you have some extra time on your hands due to the limitations of winter running, do yourself a favor and pick up one or both of these books. You won’t be disappointed.