Enchanted and frustrated by snow

I have really enjoyed running in the snow after getting home from work several evenings this week.  Apart from the challenge of remaining upright on the icy path from the village to the foot of the escarpment, the running has mostly been easy.  Even though it has been several hours after sunset when I have set out each evening, the low cloud has reflected the light from the village above the escarpment and the also the more distant light from Beeston, a few Km away across the river, so the snow covered path has been easy to see.  It has looked magical, and the muffled crunch of my running shoes in the snow has scarcely disturbed the soothing silence.

However this was the week that I planned one or two tempo runs to help me estimate what pace I might maintain in next week’s Turkey Trot.  After a brief six week program starting from a rather insecure foundation at the end of October, I do not really have much sense of what pace I can hope to sustain for the half-marathon distance.   While my long runs have gone well, my pace during interval sessions has been slow, and I was relying on the tempo runs this week to clarify the situation.

On Wednesday, I decided that I would persist with the plan for a tempo run despite the snow.  However even in the first few minutes of the warm-up, when I would have expected my heart rate to be less than 100, it was already in the mid-aerobic zone, probably due to the stimulation of my airways by the cold air.  When I tried an easy stride-out, my HR went sky high and I stopped to check that I wasn’t in atrial fibrillation.  I was re-assured that the rhythm was quite regular despite being fast.  Another easy stride-out produced the same racing heart beat, and another check confirmed that the rhythm was still regular, so I decided to continue with the planned 5Km tempo session.

I set off along the snow covered path, the peaceful solitude now disturbed not only by the somewhat heavier crunch of my shoes but also by my deep breathing.   My heart rate rapidly rose well into the anaerobic zone, but I felt exhilaration rather than stress.  I had the sensation that I was running fast.  Surprisingly, I had little difficulty holding the pace for 5Km.  But it was a great disappointment when I got home and downloaded the data from my Polar, to find that I had taken 25:50 to cover the 5 Km. In retrospect, there was little point in trying to assess my pace on a snowy path.

Last night, when I arrived home, snow was beginning to fall once again.   I put on my trainers and headed out for a relaxed run.  Again the riverside path was enchanting, with fluffy snowflakes filtering down through the trees.  When I got back to the village, the roadway that had been covered with a treacherous sheet of ice on my departure 40 minutes earlier was now covered in a fresh layer of soft snow.  As I passed the village church I almost expected to hear the sound of carol singing, despite that fact that Christmas is still four weeks away.

For the moment I was happy to take delight in the idyllic quintessential English winter village scene, but my thoughts drifted to the prospects for an informative tempo run on the weekend.  The air temperature actually felt a little warmer, and I was pleased to get my hands out of my gloves.   I suspected that the flurry of snow was the consequence of a warm front pushing moist air from the Atlantic up and over the mass of cooler arctic air that had given us a chilly week.   So it appeared that a thaw was not far away, but it was hard to imagine the snow disappearing before Sunday.

This morning, Saturday, the thaw had indeed arrived.  A wan sun struggled to penetrate the strands of nimbostratus.  The snow still lay heavily on the ground.   Again I set out for an easy run.  The snow was no longer crisp, but neither was it slushy, so I suspect it will be at least 48 hours before it has gone from the minor roads. I will not be surprised it continues to lie on the shaded riverside path for another week.   Perhaps by Monday I will be able to do a short tempo run on the village roads, though it will be important avoid too much unaccustomed stress on my legs in the week of the race.

Within the next day or so I will prepare a summary of my short and mostly sweet campaign to get fit enough to race a half marathon before the year is out.  Meanwhile, today’s postal delivery included an official looking letter that rather amused me.  It was from the Department of Work and Pensions telling me how to claim my old age pension.   The reason for my amusement was the memory of a trivial event as I cycled to work on Thursday morning.

On Thursdays I start the working day at a hospital on the other side of Nottingham and my route takes me across Wilford Bridge.  It is a low, almost flat bridge, formerly parallel to the now missing railway bridge that once carried the Great Central Railway across the Trent on its way to London.  There is a short steep descent of a few feet from the bridge to the riverside roadway on the northern embankment.  Some brickwork constrains the cycle path into a chute that makes an S-wiggle as it descends a few feet to the level of the roadway, apparently designed to prevent cyclists cannoning onto the road at high speed.  However on Thursday the most immediate risk was from the layer of ice covering the S-wiggle.  Mindful of my spectacular tumble a few weeks previously when my rear wheel lost traction on some wet leaves as I descended the ramp off the much higher Clifton Bridge, I slowed cautiously as I approached the S-wiggle.

I could hear the crunch of rapidly approaching cycle tyres in the snow on the bridge deck behind me.  Apart from two short staircases for pedestrians on either side of the chute, there was no other route off the bridge, but I was not going to speed up as I negotiated the treacherous icy wiggle, simply to accommodate the impatience of whoever was behind me.   However I had no reason to worry.  As I proceeded cautiously downwards through the wiggle, two youngsters on mountain bikes flashed past, one on either side, and launched themselves off the top of the two short stairways, like WWII Spitfire pilots on bomber escort duty peeling away to either side of a lumbering Lancaster.   With amazing chutzpah they sailed through the air and landed with a slight bounce on the icy pavement below, before continuing blithely on their way.

Over the next few Km until our ways parted, they proceeded at a pace no faster than mine, and it was clear that their urge to overtake me was not motivated by any desperate need to hurry, but simply by the opportunity for a display of flamboyant athleticism.  I smiled inwardly as I realised that I could not really lay the blame on the limitations of my suburban commuter bicycle with its rigid frame and lightly treaded types in comparison with the sprung forks and chunky tyres of the mountain bikes.   The main reason I was the lumbering Lancaster was simply that I am about five decades older than the two youngsters who had flown past me.  I have been aware of a gradual deterioration in my sense of balance since my mid-fifties and I am afraid that it is probably time to think of growing old gracefully rather than engaging in displays of chutzpah when cycling in the snow.  However I hope I will still be running in the snow with at least a modicum of elan for some years to come.

3 Responses to “Enchanted and frustrated by snow”

  1. Ewen Says:

    I enjoyed that post Canute. Comparing yourself to a lumbering Lancaster was a little harsh. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of chutzpah come race day. How the young take the power of youth for granted!

    Running on snowy paths does sound enchanting — as long as one isn’t attempting a serious tempo run. Hopefully come Monday you’ll be able to do something brief to give you some data as to what your half marathon pace might be. Down here we’ve been ‘enchanted’ and frustrated by constant rain… a total turn-around from the drought and dust of last year. Running in rain and mud was novel at first, but now we’re over it!

    • canute1 Says:

      Ewen, Thanks for your comment. I am actually pleased to hear about the rain, though I can understand that running in rain and mud loses its charm after a few days. However, I wonder if perhaps Ricky Ponting and his team might be praying for some rain in Adelaide in the next few days.

      • Ewen Says:

        Definitely! They’re just back on after a rain delay. The ball’s spinning a mile, so they’ll need rain tomorrow to frustrate the Poms out of a win. Clarke and Mr Cricket are batting well. Listening to it now.

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