June 14, 2017

When Spring Turns to Summer: The first short sleeve run of the season

Embracing the early summer weather in Colorado with the first minimalist run of the year

It’s now been five years since my family and I moved to Boulder, CO. It’s a town that’s known for the healthy, outdoor lifestyle embraced by its residents, as much as it’s nationally known for its left-wing politics, even as it remains pretty conservative on any number of local issues – especially with regard to housing and transportation policy. And while these characteristics and others might dominate the conversation if you were to ask a CO resident to generalize about Boulder, I think there’s actually one characteristic that unifies the Boulder population more than any other: an interest bordering on obsession with studying the weather forecast.

This is not without good cause. Weather defines every outdoor experience on Colorado’s Front Range, the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, where Boulder is situated. Mostly, this is because the weather fluctuates with alarming suddenness. While the frequent onset of afternoon summer thunderstorms, which can turn a warm morning run into a Gore-Tex® wearing, shelter-seeking, hailstone-dodging, flash-flood avoiding adventure, are perhaps the most often cited example of weather volatility, I find the transition from winter to summer to be the more interesting case study.

We don’t really do spring here. It’s more like the weather conditions just fluctuate between winter and summer with increasing, and then decreasing frequency, until summer simply wins out. Our National Weather Service recently posted historic data regarding the last date of 0°C weather and the first date of 30°C or warmer each year. On several occasions, these temperatures occurred within the same 24 hour time period at some point in May or June. And, often, our last big snowfall of the year occurs after our first 30°C day.

It’s with this context and experience in mind that I wanted to share with you the sense of absolute freedom that I had as I set off for this morning’s trail run. I always feel a sense of freedom on the trails, don’t get me wrong. As much as the health and other benefits of running, the freedom is what motivates and inspires me to put in the work. But each June in Boulder, there’s this one special day. Special because it’s the first day of the year that is flawless – absolutely flawless – for trail running without a backpack, without a jacket, without a long sleeve jersey, or even arm warmers. It’s cool, maybe crisp in the morning. Maybe the overnight low temperature was around 7 or 8°C, but the sun is in the sky early, and you can count on temperatures to reach 25°C by lunchtime and before you have to worry about afternoon rain.

I plan my running routes around these days. Always on the trail, starting out steep and technical, at a pace that keeps me warm while wearing just shorts and short sleeves. The route has to be long enough that, by the time I reach the high point, temperatures are warm enough to keep me comfortable on the descent. Sometimes, when I know the change in temperature over the course of the day will be really big, I’ll try to pick routes that start out exposed to the sun, but then duck into the shade.

When I say this out loud, I know it almost sounds crazy, or at least obsessive, to my friends from other areas of the country. But that’s just how it is here. Soon enough, summer will be in full swing, and it won’t require much effort or planning. But if immersing myself in Boulder’s weather obsession is what it takes to plan and earn the first short-sleeves, no-jacket, no-gloves run of the year a few weeks earlier than I otherwise might get it, I’ll take it. The pure lightness of leaving the winter kit and backpack behind is well worth the effort. I hope the rest of you in the northern hemisphere are enjoying your last days of spring, as well. (And for our southern-hemisphere readers, I’ll share a confession with you: overall, I still love winter on the trails more than anything.)

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