motivation · running

Summer Running: Not Quite What I’d Pictured

Sam just posted about her love-hate relationship with running. I also have a mixed relationship with running, but like her, the simplicity of it really draws me to it. Running is so … well … portable.

Unlike Sam, I don’t love running in the winter. It’s okay for a couple of months, but when the real cold sets in around mid-January to early March I can’t always nudge myself out the door. Snowflakes melting on my nose–maybe. But when I start running into that cold northwesterly wind on the days when there’s a windchill factor in the minus twenty Celcius or colder range–I just can’t handle that.

So I looked forward to the change of seasons as an opportunity to get into it again. But like a good Canadian, no sooner did I stop complaining about the cold and the wind, when the perfect temperatures and fleeting beauty of spring gave way to the hot, muggy, smoggy summer.

The utopian vision of summer running I had in late February — sunny days, running shorts and summer tops, sunglasses, a gentle breeze on a cool morning — just isn’t the way it is at all.

First, let’s take the weather and the air quality. Our summers in Southwestern Ontario are almost tropical with heat and humidity. Through the winter and spring I was in the habit of breaking up my day with a run just before lunch. But in the summer, if I’m not out there by 7 or 7:30 a.m. it’s too damn hot. Even at that time of day I need to seek out the shady stretches and stay out of the direct sunlight.

That was one of my biggest reservations about the triathlon start time of 9 a.m. Running in the sun on a hot day is about as fun as going through airport security.

Not only that, but we routinely have “smog advisories.” That means bad air quality that comes with a warning not to do vigorous outdoor activity. For me, running is a vigorous outdoor activity.

Besides the weather and air, you can usually count on sidewalk and road construction during the summer. So on my favourite shadiest route the sidewalks were all dug up for at least kilometre a couple of weeks ago. And when they’d filled those in, they moved on to the next kilometre.

Poor air quality, unbearable humidity, and construction are the urban challenges of summer running.

In the summer I spend a lot of time out of town, both on our sailboat and visiting family in more rural areas of the province.

I spent a weekend at my parents’ home on Lake Kashakawigamog in Haliburton County a few weeks ago. When I told my mother I was going running in the morning she handed me her bear alarm and pointed to the insect repellent. The prospect of encountering a bear pretty much cancelled out the possibility of running with any sort of music. I wanted to be alert to the sounds around me. But I was hardly relaxed. And what I heard the most wasn’t the wind rustling through the trees but the mosquitoes buzzing around my ears.

This past weekend we were visiting my brother-in-law near Blind River and Elliot Lake. We’re talking the north shore of Lake Huron. Same deal with the bears, though my brother-in-law is more relaxed about it and had no bear alarm to offer. He told me not to worry, the neighbours dogs have scared the bears away. Dogs are not my best friend either. I’ve been sailing around here long enough to have had my share of bear sightings. With dogs and bears on my mind, I worked myself up into that same state of panic I used to get in the ocean as a kid after I saw Jaws. Result: run cut short.

Right now, we are anchored in a beautiful natural harbour between two unpopulated and undeveloped islands in the North Channel (northern Lake Huron, north of Manitoulin Island). This morning when we were out in the kayak, we were scoping out the thick brush to see if there might be a walkable path for a good hike on shore. It’s rugged country, not easy even for hiking let alone running. This anchorage is typical of where we spend our time for our month on the boat.

So my vision of establishing a good, strong running routine in the summer isn’t even compatible with our month on the water. Kayaking, swimming, and hiking has replaced running as my routine forms of activity. Running, it seems, is only portable in a relative sense.

I think if my short running career has taught me anything it’s that establishing a good routine cannot be weather-dependent. Even on this trip with my limited opportunities, I’ve made a commitment to take them as they come. And when I get back, it’ll still be summer with all of the tropical conditions that August has to offer.

At least the sidewalks will be repaired by then. And I can start looking forward to fall (because it’s always beautiful in fall, with the colours and the cooler weather, and as I imagine it now, it never rains).

3 thoughts on “Summer Running: Not Quite What I’d Pictured

  1. Two suggestions: Running on the indoor track around the arena in the winter. It’s boring, I know, but you can do fast intervals to make it interesting. And because there’s no cars, bikes etc you can listen to loud music. I used to like jogging around the bends and sprinting on the straight bits. In the summer, trail running is terrific. It’s shady in the woods, always cooler, and the terrain makes it more interesting. It’s never perfect but as we’ve discussed about writing waiting for prefect conditions is a bad strategy. I like your commitment to run in August regardless.

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  2. Ugh, I hear you. Part of the reason I took up triathlon in the first place was practical, because I needed a way to keep in shape that doesn’t have me running long distances outside during the summer. (That I fell in love with the sport was a happy accident.) Right now I can manage about 4-5 miles before I turn into a grease smear on the road. I still do it, but the entire time I’m telling myself that the best part of what I’m doing is that it will be so much easier to run when the temperature/humidity starts to drop.

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