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

  • An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks

    March 28, 2017

    By: Grace Cooper 

    Besides being a beautiful city, Pittsburgh has some lovely parks maintained for us by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. So, as we make our way into spring, let’s take advantage of the beautiful recreation areas our city has to offer!  

    Emerald View Park 

    Emerald View Park is the place to get a good view of Pittsburgh. The 257-acre park is actually a combination of three older parks on Mount Washington, Grandview, and Olympia. The wooded hillsides are perfect for hiking, biking, walking—whatever suits your mood.

     » Read more about: An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks  »

  • Venture Outdoors Youth Programs

    March 21, 2017

    How our team is impacting young lives around the city.

    By: Meg Taylor, Youth Program Intern

    Here at Venture Outdoors, we are known around the city of Pittsburgh as the people that get you outdoors. Whether we take you kayaking along the Allegheny River downtown, on a morning hike in Schenley Park, or cross country skiing at Kooser State Park, you’ll always find us doing something fun outdoors. In addition to the public programs you can find on our website  Activities Calendar, we have also found a way to work outdoors with youth in our local communities. 

     » Read more about: Venture Outdoors Youth Programs  »

  • Mount Washington- A Spring Ritual

    March 14, 2017

    By: David Paul

            

    It rises over everything around it, offering a commanding view of the landscapes that define its rugged region. Despite its steep, unforgiving slopes, tourists flock to it year round, ascending to the top by automobile, a special type of rail car, bicycling, and even using their own two feet. Mount Washington’s vistas offer anyone who makes it to its top a sense of accomplishment; it’s a place for families, friends, couples, and individuals to take in one of the best backdrops in the United States and offers a meaningful place for reflection,

     » Read more about: Mount Washington- A Spring Ritual  »

  • Trail Tails from Witch Doctor

    March 7, 2017

    By: Brian Beach, Youth Program Intern

    Virginia is absolutely the longest state on the Appalachian Trail. I might have had a beard during my 2005 Appalachian Trail thru-hike down in Georgia or Tennessee, but it became a “Grizzly Adams” beard in Virginia. I imagine there was a specific mountain where I snapped due to the solitude. (If so, it was probably Sassafras Mountain. There were at least four or five with that name.) The evolution of a thru-hiker from a “backpacker” to a “homeless person” is less obvious to those residing on the trail. Regardless, it was certainly in Virginia that I became a little more salty than usual.

     » Read more about: Trail Tails from Witch Doctor  »

  • Getting to Know our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Lora Woodward

    February 28, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    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 Lora Woodward, our Program Director.

    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 Harrisburg, PA on a four-acre property across from my grandparents’

     » Read more about: Getting to Know our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Lora Woodward  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Get your 2017 Season Pass!

Kayak Pittsburgh North Shore and North Park open Saturday May 6!
Aspinwall Riverfront Park opens Saturday, May 27!

Featured Outing

 Spring Wildflower Walk
Sunday, April 30
10 AM – 1 PM

Join local ecologist Henry Schumacher for a tour of one of the most vibrant local spring wildflower patches here in Southwestern PA. We will take in the fleeting beauty of this annual natural wildflower display and discuss the ecology of wildflowers and their role in the ecosystem.

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