Running Outdoors in a Pittsburgh Winter

AN ESSENTIAL EMBER
By: Suni Lynn Lee

Outside the temperature hovers around 10 degrees. As I stand staring out the window, watching the wind whip the snow into sparkling spirals, I feel motivation oozing out of me. Inside it is toasty warm, and I shiver at the thought of stepping out into the cold to begin my run. But, I turn away from the window, thinking, “Today is my day to run, and I will run.”

Dressed in layers, I feel like an abominable snowman. I stuff soft cotton into my ears, pull a wool stocking cap onto my head, and snuggle my hands into fuzzy mittens. I sigh, breathing out my last bit of hesitation and turn to look at my cat. From her cozy position on the sofa, she stares back at me as if to say, “Are you crazy?” Then, I am out the door where the cold knifes through my clothes like ice water, and the only way to get warm is to move.

Going up the first steep hill, I innately match the pattern of my breathing to the rhythm of my footfalls: breathe in, step, step, breathe out step, step. I feel an emotional weariness resisting my efforts, the burdens of work and the day-to-day struggles of my life weighing me down. Like a Sumo wrestler muscling an opponent out of the ring, I push to cast my worries aside and focus on the rhythm of my strides, coming faster now: one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. I move steadily forward, warming up as I put time and distance behind me.

Following the familiar route I have taken many times before, I sprint up and then down hills, across streets and bridges, around parked cars and piled snow. I leap over frozen puddles and plunge, child-like, through powdery, knee-deep drifts. Still, I push forward. On an uphill slope, my churning feet repeatedly slip and lose traction on the snowy sidewalk. Soon, my breathing becomes labored and with head down, shoulders hunched in concentration, I relentlessly work my way up. At the crest, my legs feel leaden, and my lungs are ripping breaths from the cold air, but I do not stop. Instead, I take solace in the knowledge that what goes up gets to go back down.

Nearing the halfway point of my run, I enter a cemetery and stride along a still and deserted lane, cutting between acres of graves now hidden beneath a blanket of winter white. In the silence, the scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, scrunch of my steps compressing snow against asphalt is melodic and soothing. In all directions, beauty surrounds me. Lines of tall, stately evergreens, their branches weighted with snowfall, stand like silent sentinels. Deciduous trees reach their gray, barren limbs into the winter sky, posing for Ansel Adams, while the cherry-red, artificial poinsettias lovingly placed on graves sprout from the snow like winter-blooming flowers.

At my turn-around point, I abruptly reverse directions. Retracing my steps, I become fascinated by my footprints in the snow. Like a photograph, they have captured a moment in time, a tiny fragment of my life. In some mysterious way, they validate me, as if to say, “Look, you are alive!” I am oddly comforted in knowing that although I may never pass this way again, my footprints are proof that I was once here.

I am sweating now and have moved beyond my second wind to a state only runners know. I unzip my windbreaker and loosen the scarf at my neck. I glide easily up the hills and, when on level ground, extend my legs into longer, more ardent strides. For stretches of time, I feel I have moved onto another plane of reality, consisting only of sounds and feelings. I am aware of cars passing on the street, a barking dog, my blood pulsing against the cotton in my ears, but these things are merely part of the music I am feeling in my soul – joy rediscovered.

My state of consciousness has become fluid, like an inland sea, flowing slowly toward and then gently away from the random feelings floating through my mind. I am thinking nothing but observing everything – a large, yellow dog straining on its tether, its barks exploding into visible puffs of air, a holly bush covered in snow, wearing its bright red berries like Christmas ornaments, a little Cape Cod house, exhaling smoke from its chimney, a cardinal decorating the bare, gray branches of a tree, icicles dangling from the eaves of a house, sunshine finding dazzling diamonds in the snow. I feel all these things and more.

Slowly, I become aware that I am nearing the end of my run. Conscious thoughts start easing their way back into my mind, clamoring for attention. I begin thinking of the day’s tasks, tracing the myriad threads in the fabric of my life, but now my problems and struggles no longer feel burdensome, as though someone has waved a magic wand, rendering them manageable.

At my stopping point, part of me yearns to run further, longer, harder, but it is enough for one day. I feel refreshed and healthy, with my breath coming easily and sweat beading on my nose. Beneath the layered clothing, my muscles feel warm and powerful. Somewhere deep inside, an essential ember has been rekindled, its spark energizing me from within.

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OUTDOOR News

  • A Trip to Iceland

    June 20, 2017

    By Alex Downing, Communications Intern

     

    One of the most mesmerizing things about nature is that no matter where you come from or where you have been, there is always somewhere more exotic, somewhere wilder for you to explore. You hiked the Amazon and summitted Everest? Congrats, but what about the Outback or Kilimanjaro? There is so much natural beauty in so many forms that even the most well-traveled of us can always find some location more amazing than the last.

    Growing up in the comforts of suburban Pittsburgh with a few acres of woods surrounding my house,

     » Read more about: A Trip to Iceland  »

  • Karen Gainey’s Fishing Tips

    June 13, 2017

    By Jacob Tumminello, Communications Intern

    Karen Gainey might as well have been born with a rod and reel in her hands. Since she was four years old Gainey has loved fishing and challenges herself to accumulate and share as much knowledge as possible. She is a certified instructor for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, has hosted her own fishing television show, and has fished in professional tournaments.

    “Someone once asked me how passionate about fishing I really am, and I told them I’d be catching fish in my bathtub if I thought there was a way” said Karen.

     » Read more about: Karen Gainey’s Fishing Tips  »

  • The Steel City Oasis

    June 6, 2017

    By: Jacob Tumminello, Communications Intern 

    Although Pittsburgh created its legacy primarily in the steel industry, those familiar with the drastic improvement in the quality of its waters will tell you that the rivers are home to a wide variety of large and small fish. Pittsburghers are often unaware of the quality fishing available in the area. Throughout the years anglers have taken advantage of the many popular fishing spots, allowing for enjoyable recreational outings and a great fishing experience.

    The rivers of Pittsburgh experienced a dramatic decrease in pollution following cleanup efforts after the steel mills closed and now provide a stable ecosystem for freshwater life.

     » Read more about: The Steel City Oasis  »

  • Getting to Know our Staff… 13 Questions with Jayme Penner

    May 30, 2017

    We are continuing our staff spotlight series. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes brain power that goes into planning your favorite programs, be it public, family-friendly, or custom outings. Learn about those who work inside so you can get outside.

    This week we’ll be interviewing Jayme Penner, our Membership and Special Projects Coordinator.

    1. Briefly tell us about your background: where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and what brought you to Venture Outdoors?
    I grew up in Pittsburgh. I went to Chatham University and majored in Business. For a short time period,

     » Read more about: Getting to Know our Staff… 13 Questions with Jayme Penner  »

  • Rediscovering Nature beneath the Soles of My Sneakers

    May 16, 2017

    By: Cheyenne Knight

    When I signed up for my first half marathon, I vowed to train entirely outdoors. I knew that climbing on a treadmill day after day to stare at the same patch of grass, the same residence hall, and the same students walking to class for four months of training would take all the fun out of it.

    So I vowed to train outdoors, even if that meant enduring weather that I never ran in and exploring parts of Pittsburgh that I never saw before. I took it as an opportunity to challenge myself mentally, physically,

     » Read more about: Rediscovering Nature beneath the Soles of My Sneakers  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Kayak Pittsburgh North Shore is today (6/26) due to high water flow.
#KeepPittsburghPaddling

 

 

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Featured Outing

Summer Solstice Hike
Wednesday, June 21
7 – 9:30 PM

Join us for an evening of exploration on an easy 3-4 mile hike around Hartwood Acres. On the longest day of the year, we will enjoy the tranquility of the woods, while listening for the critters that become active at dusk.


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