It’s May. The mornings are cool, temperatures are still in the 40s, the air is nippy but the sun shines brightly. The trees that were gaunt and barren until a few days ago are covered with fresh, bright green leaves. And there are people jogging on the side of the road as I drive to work. There are the few regulars whom I’ve observed running through snow or rain. Then there are the others, trying to get back into their routine or starting a new one. I look at them wistfully as I drive by.
For little over a decade, my running season has started in May. The first few runs would usually be 3 miles or so as I would restart my training after a long break. However, I’ve been hobbled by a pretty stubborn case of plantar fasciitis and I’ve had to stop running or walking for exercise. May is a perfect month to start running since it lets me log the required number of miles when I train for a race. It lets me build up fairly gently, giving my body the time to acclimatize for the rigors of the long runs. The regular runners are easy to spot. Lean and fit, they train through the year. I’m not one of those. I’m more of a reluctant runner. I need to train for an event in order to rouse myself out of bed and head out in the morning. If I had no goal, I would probably cut short my run after a mile or two and head back home. It’s funny how the mind works.
I started running in South Florida. Running there was an interesting experience. Initially, I would run in our housing community. It was 1.8 miles from the front gate to the back and the road was lined with Gulmohar trees (Royal Poinciana or Flame trees). These reminded me of Bangalore, the city where I grew up. However, by 7 am or so, the air would be muggy and the temperatures would already be in the high seventies or low eighties. I would pass an occasional iguana sunning itself. The complex that I lived in had beautifully manicured lawns with flower beds along the sidewalks. I had to keep an eye on the sidewalk though as I ran. Sometimes I would come across a lizard sunning itself and a game of chicken would ensue. It would invariably end with the lizard darting away at the last minute and me jumping in mid-stride to avoid squashing it.
In many ways, I could have been running back home in India. I would run past backyards with trees laden with mangoes or guavas. There were the ubiquitous Ixora flowers named after Ishwara or Shiva to whom these flowers are traditionally offered in India. The special treat, however, was the jasmine flowers that grew in abundance at the rear gate of our complex. On early mornings, the air would be redolent with their heady perfume. I could very well have been walking through any flower market in India.
As beautiful as it was, it would get harder when it came to my long runs. I would get bored running back and forth in my complex, so I would venture outside. Unfortunately, the roads were not exactly lined with trees and the sun reflecting off the asphalt would make me feel as if I was in an oven. It was not uncommon for me to start a long run at 5 am with a pair of camelbacks filled with water and Gatorade. One of them would have been frozen overnight and yet at the end of my run by 8:00 am, the contents would’ve warmed up to the temperature of lukewarm soup. The best times of the year to run were December through February, which is, of course, the worst time of the year to run in New England!
After we relocated to Massachusetts, I tried running in winter a couple of times. After slipping on black ice, I figured that discretion is the better part of valor and I stopped running in winter. Running here has been a completely different experience. In South Florida, the roads were absolutely flat, the closest I would come to a hill was an overpass. I live halfway up a hill now and that means when I am returning home after my run, I have to huff and puff my way up the hill.
The terrain is different and so is the flora and fauna, For one, the roads are lined with tall majestic trees that offer plenty of shade. I live in the suburbs, sidewalks are few and far in between and I’m usually running at the edge of the street. Rabbits streak across, mocking my glacial pace. Chipmunks and squirrels regard me with some curiosity and then skip away as I draw closer. Sometimes I come across deer that make a show of ignoring me, nibbling away at the grass but keeping a furtive, wary eye on me. I have once been surprised by a hot air balloon that hovered over the tree-tops as I came to the end of my street.
Mailboxes start sporting graduation balloons and congratulatory signs show up on lawns in late May and early June. Even though July and August are hot, it is still cool to run in the shade and there are plenty of trees to offer their shade. September is probably the best month to run, the weather is cool but not cold. It starts getting cold in October but once I warm up after a mile or so, it is still a pleasure to run. Gloves and bean caps make their appearance and short sleeves give way to long sleeves. The leaves now change color and the trees are a riot of colors – red, orange and yellow. When I run past ghouls hanging from trees and tombstones start sprouting in the yards, I know that Halloween is around the corner. Soon there is a carpet of leaves on the ground.
At this time of the year, I am in good shape. I’m logging 35 to 40 miles a week. I feel on top of the world. I tell myself that this year I’m going to continue running through winter. I usually run up to Thanksgiving and then stop. It is really cold now and December is a festive season. I’m busy gorging myself on treats and with the first snow, my resolution ebbs and I hang up my running shoes. Its a long wait for May to start running again.
As I drive by and look wistfully at the runners, I do realize how much I take things for granted. It is a shame that I have to lose something in order to miss it. My sneakers still beckon as I pass my shoe rack, I hope it is just a matter of time before I start my routine again. Till then, I will have to deal with the running blues!