By Nick Simonson
This Saturday was the second of two back-to-back weekend road races which capped off the most amazing summer of running for me. It was blissfully cool in the morning ahead of the two-day warm-up which, once again in this summer’s style, timed out perfectly for an enjoyable weekend. With the major milestones of dove, deer archery and grouse opener behind me, the off weekend allowed for a chance to close out what has been an excellent summer for many things, including time on the trail.
I can’t recall a warm weather season where I was never forced inside, back to the doldrums of humming rubber, the electric blue glow of the LCD display, and the Fall Out Boy and Metallica playlists that define my winter’s worth of cardiovascular exercise on a tredadmill. Certainly, the dry conditions from late May into September and the stuck weather pattern played a part in it, and the rare morning rainfalls the region did experience seemed to dodge my scheduled run days in preparation for these season-ending events consisting of a 25K and a half marathon. Both went well, with the former being my first and having a surprising final kick that dipped below eight minutes as I gobbled up a few runners ahead of me in the last mile, and the latter being a personal best, breaking a time from 2012 by more than three minutes.
They were both testament to the three-times-a-week effort to extend my distance and lower my times, and over those 25, 30 and 35-miles-a-week-regimens that did so, I had the unique opportunity to watch the season of growth play out on my running routes.
For starters, on the seven-mile loop north of my house, without fail, at least once a week starting in June, a whitetail doe and her two fawns would cross my path. I must have seen them at least a dozen times in clockwork like fashion between mile four and mile five, just before I made the turn back into town. On each trip, the twins grew from tiny wobbly-legged youngsters in the red morning sunlight, to sure-footed and more independent deer, straying (but not too far) from their mother’s watchful eye to nibble at the fenceline grasses of the area that blended residential and rural life on the edge of town.
While up north over the Independence Day holiday, I ran under a red sun most every day as smoke from wildfires both near and far cast an uneasy haze over a favorite bass fishing lake with an eight-mile route that traced its shores. Though the smog was thick over the water at times, the pine capped rocky islands in its middle were never far from view, and I plotted my fishing efforts for the balance of the day as I made my way around it eight times over our vacation. In the mornings, I’d pick my spots on the run and in the afternoons, I’d eye up the road from the boat with a smallie or largemouth on the line, staring back at shore through the looking glass, recalling which mile ended where and if I was angling the spots I had planned.
Under the wings of bald eagles and red-tailed hawks or within the red eye view of loons afloat on calm morning waters, my summer season on the hoof mixed seamlessly with my love of the outdoors. Surprisingly only once was I startled by the bumbling waddle of a black-and-white streak in the pre-dawn darkness, as a roadside skunk barely noticed my presence on the far side of the asphalt. I can tell you however, that my heartrate confirmed my observation as it jumped by 10 beats per minute as I sprinted away on that early morning run.
Around the lake where our family’s cabin has been for the past 60 years, and alongside the river where we’ve resided for just the last four, in both races the trees began to show their shift toward fall as hints of red, orange and yellow dappled the sumac, maple and ash that lined the routes for both runs. How long my time on all of them lasts into autumn is likely dependent on the first snow and the onset of chillier weather. When my blaze orange stocking hat, finger gloves and long sleeves are unable to stand up to late autumn’s cold, I’ll take my workout back inside with the monotonous whir of the treadmill and the rhythmic thud of my stride lulling me into dreams of spring and the first green on the ground in place of white. Until then, I’m grateful for this season of a different sort, full of memories, milestones, and miles spent moving…through our outdoors.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors, who like with hunting, got into running later in life.