Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn Running Is Awesome, So Make the Most of It

It's mid-October, which means New England is enjoying autumn: The pumpkin-flavored everything, the postseason baseball and the near-perfect running weather. It's chilly in the morning and evening, but you can still get away with wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and warm and sunny in the afternoon.
Autumn is my favorite season for running. Honestly, it's not even close. That awesome weather brings welcome relief after suffering through the summer. (Yes, other parts of the country are warmer, and more humid, but those parts of the country aren't full of people too stubborn to accept that sometimes it's just too damn hot to be outside.) The foliage makes for stunning scenery, too.
Autumn , it should be noted, differs from spring. Yes, spring starts cold and gets warmer, but the threat of a freak snowstorm looms over us until mid-April. (My mother tells a story of snow interrupting my brother's birthday party one May in the 70s.) The eventually melting snow begets mud, too, which is more widespread than you'd imagine because of all the sand used to keep roads and sidewalks free of snow. And New England spring realistically only lasts a few weeks; by Memorial Day, summer has arrived. (I've previously described why I dislike summer running, so I won't rehash it here.)
Autumn, on the other hand, provides a slow, gradual progression toward winter. This makes it easy to get acclimated to dropping temperatures -- first by enjoying them and then by dressing for them.
Here are a few ways to make the most of your autumn runs.
Especially if you're new to running, you can use the fall to see how your body reacts to cold temperatures. Try different layers, different hats and gloves, and different pants, and remember that, uncomfortable though it may be, you should be a little cold when your run starts.
Sign up for some races. October and early November are increasingly popular marathon dates, but the later weeks of November and December are filled with shorter race options. These races will serve several purposes: They'll give you goals to focus on, they'll keep you active as the holiday season commences, and, crucially, they'll lay the foundation for running through the winter.
If your races are in fact shorter, use the opportunity to cross train. Hit the bike, the gym, the indoor pool or the backyard. This will work different muscle groups, which in the long run will improve your running, and it will make things a bit more interesting. (You can even count yardwork as cross-training, provided your yard is big enough.)
Try to work out at different times. Because autumn weather is so cooperative, you can run at any time of day without fear of overheating at lunch or freezing in the morning or at night. Daylight Savings Time brings an earlier sunrise, too, so it's not quite as hard to drag yourself out of bed. Darkness does come earlier, yes, but the crisp fall air makes up for it. This also gives you a chance to see how well you acclimate to wearing a headlamp, vest and other reflective gear -- all of which are essential for safe nighttime running.
So there you have it. Get out there and enjoy the fall weather before winter comes -- though, as I will write in a couple months, winter running has its own advantages, too.
(Note: If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, please bookmark this and read it in six months.)