Most of my Evanston Running Club friends run in the morning, some getting up really early on a Tuesday or Thursday to begin their run at 5:30 am, while I am still comfortably ensconced beneath our down comforter. I am one of the few club members who cannot abide the thought of leaving a warm bed to go running, so I run solo in the late afternoon or evening. Many, many years ago when I was an elite runner in New England I did try running twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. My recollection is that I was so stiff and inflexible that I would trip on cracks in the sidewalk, as I shuffled along, barely able to raise my feet off the ground. Once that experiment failed I stuck to my afternoon/evening running regimen. Because I run then, I always look forward to January, after the holidays, when the days start getting longer so more of my run is in daylight and not darkness.
In late December the sun sets in Evanston about 4:20 pm, but then minute-by-minute the days gradually get longer, as each day darkness descends later and later. When I leave my house the sun is usually far down on the western horizon, but the tops of the tree branches still glow red and orange from the rays of the setting sun.
Lake Michigan too is awash in the colors of twilight, pink and purple on the water and the horizon as I begin my run along the Lakefront Trail in Evanston. On my way home I again find my way through the Northwestern University Campus with some of its barren trees wrapped in twinkle lights. Then its on to the Lakefront Path again, but now darkness is descending, and I can see the lights of jet planes reflected in the water as they queue up to land at O’Hare Airport.
Admittedly January can often be quite cold, and snowy, in the Midwest, but there are many benefits to outdoor winter running. One of the main benefits is solitude, especially compared to summer when the lakefront path is awash with people—other runners, bikers, dog walkers and families pushing babies in strollers. I can often run for miles without seeing another soul along the lakefront. On windy days the silence is broken by the sound of waves crashing on the shore, or the sound of the ice crystals beating against one another along the bulkheads on the Northwestern University campus, creating a kind of winter water music. And then there are the trees! I really love winter trees after they have shed their leaves and their naked twisty branches are exposed, with no two trees alike. I especially like them after snow has covered the tops of the branches.
As poet Mary Oliver says,
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
William Carlos Williams also has an homage to winter trees in an aptly titled poem, Winter Trees.
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
So I will continue to enjoy my evening winter runs, until spring, when the trees transform themselves once again with unfurling buds, blossoms and new leaves, signaling the end of another winter.