Every year around this time, my mind wanders to warmer climes and the arrival of pitchers and catchers at spring training baseball facilities across Florida and Arizona. This annual ritual invariably fills me with hope for the future and serves as a reminder to get out the door with a bit more of a spring in my step than earlier in the winter.
The spring-training tradition, of course, is the vestige of a bygone era when ballplayers actually got out of shape over the winter and needed to scrape the rust off prior to the start of the season. Today, in the intense world of year-round training, the ritual is probably unnecessary but for me it is inspiring nonetheless.
I, too, as a runner, feel the need to bang off some rust toward the end of a long, cold, dark winter and, as the mornings become lighter and the air a bit warmer, I find myself slowly gaining motivation and momentum as the summer race season nears. While I know many ultrarunners train and race year round these days, I tend to be more of a creature of habit, following a rather consistent and predictable training pattern year in and year out.
Typically beginning in January, I struggle to inexorably increase my volume and intensity. It is usually a grind to get back into shape and I must admit, as I have aged, it has become particularly difficult to increase intensity during this period. However, a funny thing often happens around mid-February. Perhaps because of Valentine’s Day or the President’s Day long weekend, but for some reason a switch seems to go off in my body signaling a time to get after it. It seems that after six weeks of drudgery, the daily toll begins to bear fruit. It is at this time that I begin to shed a few pounds and ever so slightly gain a little speed. It’s nothing Earth shattering, for sure, but it is noticeable when I go from 8:00-minute miles to 7:30-minute miles in a month. My body must be telling me something!
Then, of course, there are the races! Thankfully, the early spring is the season of the 50k and there are ample opportunities to test fitness in these not-quite-ultra sufferfests. For me, having never been all that competitive at short distances, I often enter these events to run as training runs and I tend to really enjoy the camaraderie that 50k’s provide when I am not, in my mind, racing. This year I am excited about returning to Way Too Cool in northern California next month and also running two of the Virginia spring classics, Terrapin Mountain and Promise Land, as I work through training for what will be my final run at Western States in June.
It’s kind of pleasant, in a way, to feel the familiar pain of moving into fitness. It is deeply satisfying to me that after years of running ultras and dealing with the typical range of issues that life and age throw my way, that I continue to find solace in the simple act of running, day after day, week after week, into the hopeful glory of spring.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
Since it was introduced at my local watering hole just this week, I would be remiss to not mention Bell’s Hopslam Imperial India Pale Ale by Bell’s Brewery as this week’s Beer of the Week. Often ranked among the best beers in the country, Bell’s annual offering to the gods is extraordinarily smooth for a beer that tips the scales at 10% ABV. Get it while you can!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Are you in spring training? Are you shaking the rust off, grinding through some early-season miles in the hopes of better fitness for the longer days of summer? What’s on your schedule for tune-up races?
- Or, did you take your downtime at another time and are you pretty fit right now? If so, when did you take your break? If you’ve been training hard all winter, is your spring training going pretty smoothly?