Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Tomorrow’s winter Solstice is an important one-day event.  The Solstice, the calendar onset of winter, induces the shortest time in terms of daylight than any other day of the year.  For some the Solstice may portend an unwelcome future.  One filled with gray skies, little to not-enough daylight and, of course, cold, cold and more cold temperatures.  I tend to think of the Solstice in another way.  To me the Solstice and the onset of winter actually signifies the beginning of new light and new life that eventually comes with spring.
I know what you’re thinking.  There goes Neal again banging away at his keyboard wearing rose-colored glasses.  Not so.  Not exactly so, at least.  Winter can drag on for me, too, especially when February has an extra day in it, like it does in 2012.  A few warm days in March send daffodils and tulips reaching for the sky, a true harbinger of Spring’s arrival, yet at times they’re simply shot back down to earth by a late season blast of arctic weather.  It is this back and forth towards winter’s end, with cold temperatures one day and warm the next, which mostly gets to me and has me crying out for spring.  But for now how can I not look forward to daylight getting longer each day, as it will be doing so as soon as Friday?  How can I not look forward to the chance of playing in fresh, pure snow?  Plus, I am often rested and recharged this time of year; I definitely am right now.  It is easier to run faster on recharged legs and in cooler temperatures.  And I definitely intend to this winter.
In Vail, winter arrived long before we did.  The snow everywhere, falling from the white sky even at this moment, is a sight to behold.  Yesterday afternoon I pulled up a pair of running shorts, slipped over a light long-sleeve shirt, shoved my hands into gloves, put on a hat, laced up my sneaks, quickly closed the door behind me so as to not waste any precious indoor heat and made my way up into the mountains of the White River National Forrest on the northern edge of town.  The pavement quickly turned to a gravel forest road.  The gravel road quickly turned to compacted snow and ice.  The compacted snow and ice slowly transition to layered snow, compacted only slightly by the weight of snowmobile tracks.  I continued running up the forest road as my pace eventually slowed to an 11-12 minute per mile, post holing slugfest.  The snowmobile tracks eventually disappeared and the only path I continued following were those left by the giant hoofs of mule deer or elk.  The higher I climbed the quieter and still was my surroundings.  I paused.  Winter was in full affect in the high backcountry, the environment blanketed under a white, puffy silencing cocoon of snow.  There was absolutely no sound.  Not even a flow of wind or a singing bird.  Everything was still.  It’s hard to imagine how few moments in life are filled with actual, complete silence and it is important (I think) to stop and recognize them- and appreciate them- when they come.  It was indeed a perfect moment, one I will not soon forget, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Unfortunately the climb could not go on.  I simply was not dressed enough to continue on as the afternoon grew long.  I turned around and ran down in the exact direction I had come up, chasing the sunset over the horizon.  As the deer hoof prints gave way to snowmobile tracks my paced quickened.  As the snowmobile tracks gave way to vehicular compacted snow and ice my paced quickened even more.  Eventually I found myself running a 5:30 minute per mile pace, surrendering the form of my stride to the gaze of the peaks looming above and the fading glimmer of sunlight to the west.  I placed a lot of faith in the inner lugs of my trail shoes as my legs turned over, carving icy switchbacks.  The descent provided a quality tempo finish to what was at first a casual uphill exploration into the high winter backcountry.  And all in all it was a rewarding winter running experience.  Running in the snow is just so much fun.  Though I doubt it would be as enjoyable were I left with no other option between the months of November and April.
During yesterday’s run and since I have thought a lot about 2012 and what might come of it in terms of running and racing and exploring.  Surely, I like the idea of running fast.  I like the idea of showing up to a race ready to rip.  It feels good.  This, too, is a form of exploration.  I fully understand that it takes a hardnosed, hard-work approach at training, month in and month out, to develop pure speed.  Showing up fit and quick for Western States in June is my main goal for the first half of 2012; therefore, I would like to try my hand at it.  
Tomorrow is the winter Solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  Beginning Friday each new day will deliver slightly more daylight, sliver by sliver.  My intention is to follow this trajectory, infusing light in the form of volume and color in the form of speed into my training, producing more natural turnover in my legs than before, with all of it hopefully, ultimately resulting in a clock that reads 16-something as I cross the finish line at the Placer High School track in June.
Time for work.

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