by Patrick Dean
I wake at 5:00 am the day before Thanksgiving.
It’s 63 degrees.
Tonight it will be 31.
From now til then, a steep and steady plunge. Here in southeast Tennessee we’ve had icy 20-degree mornings, T-shirt afternoons, and pounding thunderstorms…just since Halloween.
I hurry through morning chores, racing against the temp drop, walking the dogs early so I can get out there while it’s still warm. It’s 61 when I park at the trail — already cooling off. Banks of sharp-edged grey cloud cruise ominously across the sky like battleships, trailing in the wake of the cold front shoving itself eastward toward the Smokies.
The trail is one of my go-tos, and I know how it’ll be today. I’ll have to navigate sodden layers of brown leaves, plastered together like phyllo dough, and keep an eye out for blackened, rain-slick roots. I’ll dodge puddles and rock-hop tiny clear-running sandstone mountain streams, scoured clean by last night’s deluge.
When the loop turns me to the west, the chilly breeze on my face promises the change to come. It brings a suggestion-slash-warning: Enjoy it while you can.
To live here is to ride the crux between competing weather systems: the steady autumnal phalanxes of storms dragging Arctic air from the plains of Oklahoma and Kansas to the northwest, versus the tropical moistness rising and boiling up from the Gulf. They meet, dance, feint, clash above our heads, pushing each other like sumo wrestlers. Down below, we endure the results, banging back and forth between moist warmth and breath-stealing chill.
No segment of the running-gear wardrobe gets put away for the season. Shorts and mesh caps might be needed at any time — like today — as might tights and gloves. Other places have mud season; here we often find ourselves running through deep leaf-fall, then ice, then slop, all within a matter of days.
It’s impossible to really acclimate to the cold because there’s always an intermission, an interlude of balmy southern warmth. I almost envy runners where it’s cold every day; the body can know what’s coming, get into a groove of something like comfort. I don’t even let myself think about places like Southern California, where it’s sunny and mild every day. No masochist, me.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the idea that winter makes one appreciate summer, and vice versa. Yin and yang, no light without darkness, all that stuff.
Also, there’s a heartening feeling of resilience, of adaptability, of learning how to cope with the wacky boomeranging weather here. It demands a certain kind of fluidity of thought. It’s also useful if you’re training for a spring race. That event in March that you’ve signed up for could be in the 30s, or the 60s. What better way to prepare for it than this winter weather flukiness?
Back at the trailhead this morning, I start my watch and head out. It’s time to forget about what’s coming and soak up the warmth before the mercury takes that downhill ride. Time to flow with nature’s rhythms, surfing the isobars through the eccentric weather of the holiday season.
Read more from Patrick here, Soul Running.