Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Colors of Jericho Woods

Neon yellow.  Pure white.  Ice gray.  Bluish-black.

These were the colors of my morning running with Bob and Sam in the bucolic Jericho Woods of Weston, MA.  We were set on running the 6 mile course for the new TARC Spring Classic, which we will be hosting on April 23rd.  We got lost and ran 8.5. The course is a flat and fast loop.  We didn't quite get to the "fast" part (course record stands at a stunning 3:35).  We were still smiling at the end.

Neon Yellow

Last weekend I ran the GAC Fat Ass 50K and wore my New Balance 506s, a cross country spike (I figured the metal studs would aid with traction).  Bob, who was also running, commented on the rather flashy, neon color of the shoes (the comment referenced visibility from space).  I decided to wear them on our reconnaissance thinking the paths would be packed and what was left of the spikes would come in handy.  Yet both Bob's and my car read -2 degrees for the outside temperature when we met.  I thought little of this until we left the 10 foot stretch of paved road we walked before jumping into nearly knee-deep snow.

Pure White

Running in snow is wonderful.  This morning the woods were adorned in a coating of unadulterated white fluff from the this week's storm.  The depth of snow, coupled with our need to navigate, led us to a slow crawl through most of the run.  Running through snow in the past, my feet have never gotten cold.  Today, with our extended walking/navigating/snow too deep to run in, my feet got cold.  Most of the trails we ran had been frequented only by deer (or us) since the mid-week storm.  The snow was still deep.  On the trails frequented by other bi-pedal locomotives, ski tracks added an interesting jersey-barrier obstacle between our feet.  The snow is beautiful.  The snow is also really cold on your feet after three hours.

Ice Gray

We reached what will be around the 4 mile mark of the course and ran along the perimeter of a picturesque farm.  Bob was explaining to Sam and I the foresight of Weston's planning board, which has created numerous easements for public access to wooded areas, resulting in around 300 miles of trails in the town.  That's incredibly encouraging for those of us who appreciate open spaces.  At this point, we were attempting to follow what appeared to be a faint path on the map.  We were likely off any easements and were simply walking through a frozen swamp (which many deer had been calling home, it appeared).  My left foot broke through the snow-covered ice as we bushwhacked through the area.  It took us about ten minutes until we finally decided the path we were trying to follow was actually the stream we kept jumping (and, in my case, placing my foot in).  This led us to a more obviously marked path (out of the swamp), at which point we ran some beautiful trails and, with many more navigational pauses, made our way back to the start.  During this stretch I noticed ice cubes forming around my ankles.  These were not the typical clumps of snow that form when running through the woods in winter.  No, these were blocks of frozen water.  We had been running for about 3 hours.   My feet felt like bricks (actually, my feet were too numb to feel.  My legs felt as if they were lifting bricks with every step).


It was with a bit of relief (on my part at least) that we reached the cars.  My feet being frozen bricks, coupled with the ice forming around my ankles and feet had started causing me a bit of worry.  The thought of warming my feet with the car's heater was at the fore of my mind.  After talking running and TARC with Bob and Sam for a bit I was on my way.  Once in the warmth of the car the feet began to, happily, thaw.  I realized my shoes, being soaking wet, were slowing the rewarming process so I decided to take them off.  The left shoe came off easily and the foot started warming much more quickly.  I tried to take my right shoe off.  I couldn't.  It was stuck.  It was stuck exactly where it had been coldest.  It was stuck exactly where, for the last 2 hours of the run, I had felt something poking my foot.  I feared one of the metal spikes from the shoe had pierced my numb foot and was keeping it attached to my shoe.  A grotesque scene played out in my mind as I worked to remove the shoe, fearing part of my foot coming with it.  There was a distinct tugging/pulling sensation on my numb foot with the gentle separation of the shoe.  The shoe finally acquiesced to my desire.

To much relief, a large chunk of ice covered the outside of my sock.  At least it wasn't skin.  Yet I had just had a piece of ice pressed against my numb foot for about two and half hours.  It was not a relaxing drive home.

"I'm afraid to take my socks off.  I think I have frostbite." This is what I told Liz, in an effort to be honest with her, but mostly myself.  I know what frostbite looks like.  I know the damage it can do.  With a touch of anxiety, the socks came off (I wanted to start warming my feet as quickly as possible).  Where the ice had been on the outside of my right foot looked a bluish-black color.  So did a quarter-sized area on the arch of the foot.  When I got them in warm water the color darkened further.  Images of Beck Weathers on Everest danced in my head.  After warming, the feet were covered up - out of sight, out of mind.  The colors of the morning pushed to the back of my mind, replaced by self-scolding at the foolishness displayed.  Thirty one years of living, including years of playing hockey, outdoors, in sub-zero temperatures, and I had never done anything this idiotic relating to the cold.


Fortunately, I think, this story has a happy ending.  After the kid's nap, the whole family headed up to the Y to go swimming (in the, thankfully, incredibly warm, turquoise water of the kiddie pool).  The feet were looking better - no longer bluish-black, but a fleshy pink.  Sensation returned.  They felt swollen, but at least they felt. As I went to bed, I noticed the massive blisters over the areas that had been affected - a sign of superficial frostbite, which given my idiocy, was a welcome relief.

Now all remains is to heal, and, with any luck, learn a couple of things about humility and respecting the cold. Either that or just make Bob and Sam wear snowshoes next time to pack the trails down for me!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Best. Snow Day. Ever.

I think I became a teacher because I enjoy my time off.  After all, in what other line of work do you get snow days?  We just had our first two snow days in Boston Public (Wednesday, January 12 and Thursday, January 13).  As we were just coming back from the holiday break I did not yet feel that pressing need to have time away from school.  Perhaps though it was because I was almost disgruntled about having the day off, and therefore delaying summer vacation that much longer (as I said, I likes my time off!), that it turned into one of those days that fills me with a total sense of content.  Regardless, it was great!

Running while it is snowing is, simply, one of the most sublime and enjoyable experiences I've had.  First, there are fewer people out there, so I feel hardcore (I have to feed the ego somehow!).  Second, there is a distinct stillness and quiet to everything.  Sounds are muffled, so you can almost hear the snowflakes touching the ground.  Third, it is beautiful.  Snow blankets the world with a fresh coat of paint.  So it was, with my all-American, more is better attitude, that I figured running in what was forecasted to be a blizzard would be an even greater experience.  This is why, when I got word on Tuesday afternoon that school was cancelled, I told Liz I was going for a run early in the morning, while it was still snowing hard (the heavy snowfall was slated to be out of town around 10 or 11 AM).  At this point, she is used to such proclamations, and, already geared up for a day inside with the boys, expressed little reservation beyond the standard, "You're crazy." That evening, I shut the alarm off (one of life's great pleasures when you get up at least two hours before anyone else in your house during the week), and went to sleep hoping for epic snow.

Jacoby's standard 6:30 call of "Mommy.  Mommy.  MOMMY!" woke me up.  The distinct sense of joy brought on only by the freedom of a snow day struck as we went downstairs and looked at the 12+ inches of snow that had fallen over night, with the white continuing to fall at a heavy clip.  Shortly after the boys were fed I ventured out.  My trustee (and old), semi-insulated Patagonia wind breaker, GU socks (they're a bit longer than my others), "lobster" mittens, and Mach XII shoes were my armor against wind gusts up to 50 mph, and the heavy snow.  I knew today's run would take me to my "backyard," the woods of Whipple Hill.

On this day, more snow did prove better.  I ran a mere 5 miles or so (see the Garmin file here), and was spent by the end. On the short 3/4 of a mile to Whipple Hill I could only see about 30 yards ahead of me, and the snow banks were already nearly as tall as I am.  The snow quickly covered my eyelashes, jacket, and hat.  When I reached the woods, I was running in white stuff up to my knees.  The trees were all bowing under the weight of the snow - Whipple Hill was unrecognizable, but glorious, in its winter coat.  By the time I got home (an hour and ten minutes later), my jacket and gloves had frozen solid.  If I could have felt my face (which had gone numb about twenty minutes before), I would have been smiling broadly!  It was enthralling to be out there, even if my pace was reduced to a near walk.  It was bliss.  It was humbling to be in the elements, and empowering to think that I wanted to be there.

Yet a great run unto itself would not qualify this as the "Best Snow Day Ever." No, there was more to it.  There was Jacoby asking, "So how's your run?" upon my snowy return.  There was the two hours Cooper and I spent digging tunnels in what had become close to 20" of snow.  There was the warm lunch Liz had made when we finally dragged ourselves in.  There was the smell of Clementine and eating it right when we got in - reminiscent of those snow days in Vermont when we came in from hours of play and ate tangerines (smell is powerful that way).  There was the extended reading of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before nap time.  There was taking a nap itself.  There was the reassembly of Legos (by Liz and myself).  There was happiness.

While I am sure to regret typing these words in a few weeks, when it remains cold and what is left of the snow has turned that grotesque color of salt, sand, and oil, let me just say: Best.  Snow Day.  Ever.

It Begins . . .

8:16 the clock says.  As with a run, I imagine settling into the writing.  As with a run, there is this sort of nervous anticipation, the balance between being present in the moment and understanding what will need to be done to reach the goal.  Yet with a run, that goal is, in one way or another, finite, clear.  Perhaps it is leaving the house at 4 AM and knowing I will be back at 8.  4 hours, 30+ miles.  I know I must move.  I know when to drink.  I know the signs that my failing body needs a GU.  It is not so with this blog.

I begin my effort tonight, as the blog's title suggests, to keep a record of what I learn.  Long have I thought it is a good idea, and today, a few weeks past the age of 31, I have taken action.  Thus, it begins.

Yet what is my goal?  What do I hope to gain from this?  Unlike a run, with its clear beginning and end, this record has no end.  Perhaps I will stop writing, but my ultimate goal, to be more thoughtful and understanding and compassionate, that (hopefully) will never end.  This will likely be a collection of my odd noticings and musings, often overly dramatic, and attempting to sound erudite.  My apologies (to self and others) for that.  I view it with trepidation - yet it is only my thinking.  I view it as narcissistic - who cares what I think (other than me)?  I hope it to be enlightening - a record for Cooper and Jacoby to see into their dad's mind when they are older, a window for myself to reflect on my thoughts and learning.  I hope it will be a chance to exercise what little intellect I have - there's not much there to begin with.  Maybe this will help!

In the end, do I even need a goal for this little venture?  My best days, my best runs, my best classes have been the ones where goals were not totally clear and I just was.  The hike with Liz on the Kalaloua Trail.  The hike with Liz in Japan (rough start, memorable ending).  The snow day with Cooper.  The nighttime snuggles with Jacoby.  The first 3 am/30 mile run, with the loons around Walden Pond, and getting home before Cooper woke up.  The recent discussion among students of the relation between money and happiness.  These were all things unplanned.  They were part of the umbrella goal of being a decent person.  And that is my hope for these rambling writings - that they inspire me to be honest and become a more thoughtful and caring person.

Pretty heady stuff for something that started out as a way to write about my running!