Why Run in November?

by Marlene Farrell

The author’s family from left to right, Quentin, Alice, Kevin and Marlene Farrell enjoy beginning their Thanksgiving with an annual running of the Fowl Play 5k in Leavenworth.

November days can feel like the shortest days of the year. December and January, while having shorter days, benefit from snow’s reflective luminescence and festive lighting that tricks our internal clocks into wakeful anticipation. February has shorter days too, but each morning arrives sooner and dusk recedes later and that buoys us on a subconscious level.

But November, why bother?

Kids’ fall sports are wrapping up, and all around us is a biological battening down the hatches—trees shedding useless leaves and everything from squirrels to bears are gorging to build their insulative layers.

Runners could take a break. Prime marathon season is over, and even a couch potato can jump into a Turkey Trot or Jingle Bell 5k without much damage to the ego.

I say: keep running! It’s full of surprising pleasures.

First, there’s the end of daylight-saving time, giving us a sliver more of light in the morning than we had in October. To ditch the headlamp again for a couple weeks is a boon. My crepuscular mental fog vanishes with daylight’s broad view of the world, whereas to stare along the beam of a headlamp is somehow less inspiring and more depressing.

Late fall’s temperatures range between 30℉ and 50℉, i.e. ideal running temperatures. That initial chill is invigorating; the cool air nips at our heels, making us run a bit faster from the door than we would otherwise.

For me, after an allotted twenty minute warm up, there’s a delicious transformation. The cold is still there; it’s one dimension of the element through which I glide. And yet I travel in a slip stream, the cold sliding off and away while my internal engine roars. The layers that were not quite enough when I started feel just right or perhaps need a minor adjustment—an unzipping of a few inches to let the cool air tickle my throat. Because I am, at this moment, a warmed vessel. I feel incandescent and can pretend I’m a perpetual motion machine.

This might all be happening in the gloom of a misty morning. But also in November there are patches of leaf-crackling joy. There’s crossing paths with a musky, smoky-breathed stag. There’s seeing ducks as intricate ornaments atop a pewter river. There’s the bunching of clouds flaunting all the fiery shades of sunrise and then even getting kissed by a ray of sun, which is a deeper experience than it ever can be on a summer morning.

But what about mud, you say? The end of trail running for long months is bitter indeed. But I’d persuade you there is dirt, and dirt-like gravel to find where you’re not wreaking footprint havoc on the trail and you can commune with solitude and vegetation in a burnished palette with pocket views of a scrubbed sky or distant snowy peaks.

Everything gets a little dirty in November—shoes, socks, me—but I’ll take that over August’s sweat-soaked discards. I have to plan a little, wear layers and gloves that I might shed halfway through my run. We runners have it so easy; we don’t have much right to complain about needing to tie a jacket around our waists.

No one is telling you to train for a marathon through winter (but go ahead if you registered for it months ago when it seems like a bright idea). I run fewer miles in late fall, but that means I feel ready and charged, and my stride can be addictively zippy so long as I don’t let the sound of drizzle keep me indoors.

And my Thanksgiving would be incomplete without the rituals of setting up our local 5k course, then chatting with friends and neighbors at the start line, then racing it, knowing this is it before a speed hiatus. My whole family runs it, but we have a tacit agreement that we each do our own thing. It’s an opportunity for a personal act of gratitude through movement. We have the rest of the day for communal gratitude.

On Thanksgiving, like any November day that’s gray and threatening rain, there’s great pleasure in curling up with a mug of something hot and lounging and laughing with loved ones near a window that shows a world that looks unforgiving. Even more so having known that world as a friend earlier that day and having swapped secrets with it.

This post was originally published on 11/29/2023.

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