A Running Christmas Tradition

I don't remember what year it started, but it was probably Christmas 1981 or 1982. I met friends Suzanne and Randy for a Christmas morning run around Green Lake, just north of Seattle. Green Lake has been a Seattle-area Mecca for runners and walkers for decades. It has a paved path of 2.8 miles circling the lake near the shore, and a 3.1 dirt path near the streets that border the park. Even on Christmas morning, there will be several people out and about, running or walking.

One of those early years, for my birthday (a week before Christmas), Suzanne gives me running tights with a wild, blue Hawaiian print running down the outside of each leg. Those tights became part of our holiday running tradition. Others wear Santa hats, or run with bells on their shoelaces.

Suzanne and Randy eventually married, then moved across the Sound. Still, I continued to run every Christmas morning, usually at Green Lake. Sometimes with friends, often with one or more of my dogs. Sometimes I was out of town - on a ski vacation to Red Mountain, B.C. for several years - yet I would still get up Christmas morning and run, even if just a mile or two in extreme winter weather. 

The tradition continued while living in Idaho - me wearing YakTrax on my shoes for traction on the snow, the girls loving those romps on their favorite surface in very cold temperatures with sun on our faces.

An Idaho scene from the winter of 2005.
Sadly for Finn, all of his Christmases with me have been in western Washington. Any snow - a rare event in Seattle, especially on Christmas - is wet and slushy and no fun to run on. 

Today's run is an illustration of a more typical Christmas near Seattle. While the girls mind the homestead, Finn and I go for a Christmas morning trail run at Cougar Mountain.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful!

Leaving home, the weather is promisingly dry; I'm encouraged. But approaching Cougar Mountain, the rain and wind increase until they become a full-on storm by the time we reach the parking lot. I sit in the car, hoping it might blow over. Finn paces restlessly in the back, occasionally poking my cheek with his nose, or slurping my ear in his gentle prompt to get going. Rain and wind don't deter him. We've come all this way, and...this is a tradition.

Realizing the foul weather isn't likely to lift anytime soon, I add a rarely-needed jacket against the cold, a head band topped by a hat with a bill for keeping the rain out of my eyes to my usual tights, Coolmax shirt, gloves and trail shoes. I've got spare mitts in my pack. And my camera.

There's only one other car in the lot. "Looks like we're among the few crazies out this morning, Finn." I tell him as I get out of the car. Opening his door, Finn leaps out excited as always for another run in the woods. Racing around the parking lot, he herds me as only Aussies do toward the trail. With this sort of youthful enthusiasm confronting me, how can I not enjoy this?

The trails are more a series of ponds and mud bogs with occasional streams on the hills than dirt trails. Finn doesn't care. I do, and try to gingerly maneuver around the edges of the biggest puddles. Within the first minutes, we encounter a lone hiker heading back toward the parking lot. I think to myself that now we're truly on our own; no one else is crazy enough to be out here in this rain and wind. I keep my eyes on the trail, concentrating so I don't slip or fall. Soon, I see another dog greeting Finn up ahead, and hear, "Oh! Another Aussie!" A woman, about my age, is also spending Christmas morning running with her Aussie. Kindred souls! After sharing brief comments about our dogs, we cheerily part, going different directions. One doesn't tarry in these conditions; without movement, chills set in immediately.

As we gain a few feet in elevation, I notice some ice pellets mixed in with the rain. "Finn! Snow!" I tell him, although I'm exaggerating. It's mostly rain. It seems Finn's coat is the only place the snow doesn't immediately melt. I take a photo, proof that we did encounter snow this day.

Finn reluctantly poses for the snow-on-coat photo.

Finn is probably nearly as chilled as I am. By this point, we're both soaked to the bone with cold rain. Finn doesn't have the wonderfully thick, insulating coats of his malamute sisters. Move, move, move. The wind is howling on the north side of the park, and I'm eager to get to safer, warmer trails out of the wind. I hear a tree fall in the forest, back where we were running just minutes earlier. Both Finn and I pick up our pace.

As long as I keep moving, I'm warm enough. Every now and again I ball my hands into fists; water in my gloves wrings out. I think, Thank goodness for Finn; who else would willingly do this with me on such a cold, wet Christmas morning? Despite the conditions, I'm having a blast. Eventually I quit trying to avoid puddles, instead splashing through them like a child.

I opt for a loop of just under five miles. As we near the parking lot, I'm already planning how to most quickly strip out of my wet clothes so that I won't be completely chilled on the drive home. Normally, I towel Finn dry before worrying about myself, but...not today.

Returning to the parking lot, my car is the only one there. I quickly open the back gate and urge Finn to jump in, wet as he is. I don't care if he shakes once he's inside; I'm cold and need to get warm. Stupidly, I didn't bring any dry clothes to change into; it wasn't raining at home when I left. But in the last mile of the run, I realized I could strip off my soaked running jacket, shirt and bra and put on the fleece jacket I always on the way to winter runs. Usually, I'd simply put that jacket over my sweaty (and often rain-soaked) shirt for the drive home, waiting for my shower to strip off the shirt and bra. Not today! It's been a long time since I've been this soaked and cold.

I jump into the passenger seat of my car and start stripping. I'm glad no one else is around, although my windows quickly fog so I doubt anyone could see inside anyway. As I peel off rain-soaked gloves, hat, headband, jacket, shirt and bra and stuff them into a plastic grocery bag, I'm amazed at how much they weigh - a few pounds at least! I towel my arms and torso off, then slip into the blissfully dry and warm fleece jacket. My tights are still wet, and I've no dry pants to change into. I use the towel to soak up what moisture I can from them. I take off my soaked and muddy shoes and socks, dry my feet, and slip into my apres-run Birkenstocks. I'm warm.

As I'm going through this clothes change drama in the tight quarters of the passenger seat, I look over my shoulder to see Finn, drenched, looking very forlorn. I grab my camera.

Finn tries to sniff the camera. I try again.

A thoroughly soaked Finn.

He's being very patient. I get the car going, heat and defrost on high.

One last photo. Finn's kiss is his way of saying To hell with the photos; dry me off!

So I do. Now that I'm as dry and warm as I'm going to be, I grab one of the dog towels stowed in the back for this very purpose, and towel Finn dry. He stands so still, I can tell he's grateful. He never shivers, but I sense he's not thrilled being so drenched. Toweled off, he curls up behind the passenger sear on another dry towel and starts cleaning his feet. 

Driving home, I notice that the metal art work adorning a wall at the entrance to the residential neighborhood leading to the trail head has been decorated for the holidays.

A Cougar Santa and raindeer.
Cougars running on Cougar Mountain, in holiday garb. How...appropriate!

A holiday tradition is maintained, despite less-than-ideal conditions. Actually, conditions made it memorable. Adventures are good only if you live to tell the tale.

Rebecca WallickComment