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THE WHITE CARPET

by Dave Milner | published 12.12.10

The Runner's High. It eludes most of us most of the time, it seems. A feeling of euphoric effortlesness that occurs, even for the most highly trained athletes, infrequently, and almost never when we have a number pinned on our chest. Sometimes it comes when least expected, like the day following a disappointing race. My most recent high came this afternoon, on a snowy day during which I had put off my long run as long as daylight would allow. Twenty four hours after a disappointing track workout in which a steady 20mph wind, relentless rain, and an uncooperative Achilles tendon had conspired against me.

A fourteen miler was slated for today. Just an easy run, no faster than 7 minute pace; what my friend, Andrew Bumbalough, terms Slut-pace (easier than easy), the goals being capillerization, improved oxygen and blood transport, and improved conversion of carbohydrate and fat into fuel.

But 14 miles is still around 100 minutes of running, and with an Achilles on which I can no longer depend, it was with a certain degree of dread that I realized, around 3pm, that if I didn't head out of the door shortly, I probably would end up running the whole thing in the dark on the roads. The temperature had dropped to 25 degrees (15 degrees with the windchill) and it had started snowing an hour earlier.

The notion of running on the treadmill briefly entered my head, but just the very thought of running in place for over an hour and a half on a 20" x 60" revolving piece of rubber kind of saddened me. I went downstairs and layered up ready to embrace the winter. I took my iPod, put it on shuffle and stepped outside taking my chances with the elements and the tunes.

I decided I would head towards Percy Warner Park, knowing that once I entered the gates to the park on Highway 100 I was (this being an out and back run) committed to at least 10 miles. The wind made it feel a good deal chillier than the 25 degree on the way out to the park. On my way down to Deep Wells, I passed some children attempting to sled down a shallow hill with only a dusting of snow as their father looked on. But the snow was falling at a decent rate, and the sledding would improve. I headed for the horse trails, knowing all too well that I wouldn't have any equine encounters on a day like this.

The trail felt soft and the snow seemed to somehow fill in the voids between the rocks, actually making it smoother going than usual. It was like Mother Nature had rolled out a white carpet of cushiony goodness.

After 40 minutes, catalyzed, I'm sure, by the beauty and serenity of the trail, the endorphins kicked in and I had gone 53 minutes when I glanced at my watch for just the second time. Oops, time to turn around. I was now committed to 15miles. No biggie, since, surprisingly, my Achilles was as free and easy as my mind, which, free of distraction, was churning out idea after idea for the various projects I am juggling. This was fun, unstructured play compared to the precision, seriousness, and self-imposed pressure of yesterday's track workout.

On the way back, I picked up the pace just a touch when I felt like it and backed off as I pleased, no doubt influenced by the songs shuffled forth on my iPod, which was coming up trumps. At the edge of the road, where I was running now, the snow had drifted slightly, about half an inch or so deep, offering a nice buffer between me and the asphalt, and creating a reassuring crunch that let me know I wasn't about to land on my ass. I was clearly having more fun, and getting more traction, than the few motorists that passed me.

Even in the last couple of miles, when the wind was whipping up and numbing my face, my strides felt fluid and powerful and I was practically grinning under the orange glow of the street lights. I had just had a beautiful 3000-acre park practically to my self, I seemed to be getting high without beaking any laws, and I had not only conquered my procrastination, but was going to get a bonus mile banked without incurring the wrath of my Achilles.

One hour and forty six minutes and fifteen miles later, I was home, with Zola, my sans-ACL, middle aged Siberian Husky, waiting by the front door. All she wanted to do was what her daddy had just done - play in the snow. I obliged her with a snowball fight, which I won. It pays to have thumbs!

TR editor DAVE MILNER is currently training for the 2011 European Indoor Masters Track & Field Championships in Belgium, where he is anticipating a temperature of 70 degrees, and the complete absence of any wind.