One day I thought, why not experience all the elements all on the same run?
We’ve all heard the advice:
Switch up workouts to prevent fitness plateau.
Alternate speed/incline on treadmill to prevent boredom.
Eat occasional pie to prevent strangling coach/trainer.
You know… A-typical runner advice.
Switching up running routes is a thing, too. Not only is it a safety precaution (an unfortunate reality), but it’s another way to keep things fresh both physically and mentally. Change your view and you can change your whole run.
I took this last piece of advice to heart.
And so, without further ado, I present to you…
The Wild and Wacky Weather of Western Washington (Running)*
*There is no ‘W’ word replacement for ‘running,’ unless you’re Elmer Fudd
What: Run in snow, rain, and sun all in one day.
How: See ‘Where’
Where: Western Washington — my home and the home to micro-climates galore
When: …Whenever Mother Nature cooperates
Who: Myself… and my unaware, supportive husband
Why: Because runners are a little different
I’m originally from northern Michigan, so mountains are a new, exotic concept to me. As is the ocean. These two combinations here in western Washington create micro-climates where it could be raining and snowing in one place and clear and sunny in another.
All at the same time.
And all within 100 miles.
One day I thought, why not experience all the elements all on the same run?
…And by “same run” I mean driving to reach each weather event and then running.
I’m no Scott Jurek…
Sunday, December 13th
My husband and I leave the house at 7:15 a.m. to be at the snowy mountain pass by sunrise. Thankfully, Michael is an early riser anyway and doesn’t mind setting the alarm for weekends. The morning starts off with a gentle mist but turns to slush as we drive in elevation. It’s been two years since I’ve driven through snow–it typically only snows in the mountains here–so I’m guiding our Honda up I-90 like a 90-year-old with cataracts, white knuckled and hunched over the wheel. We arrive at the Summit at Snoqualmie, a ski resort about 50 miles from downtown Seattle, around 8 a.m. Everyone here is throwing on gear to glide down the mountain while I cinch my YakTrax to prevent doing just that.
Michael heads indoors for coffee and I take off down the road. Everything around here looks and moves like a post-winter storm scene: partially-covered road signs, the sounds of snowplows and bulldozers, and chairlifts, unmoved — the electricity knocked out by heavy winds and snow. Only part of the mountain is operating this morning.
To my right, a group of snowshoers strap on their own gear for the Pacific Crest Trail, located just a few feet from the overpass. I’m guessing their journey will be a bit farther than my own, but their pace won’t be too far off (shout out to all my fellow turtle runners).
About a quarter mile up the road, a white SUV drives toward me with a foot of snow covering its windshield, a tiny corner on the right side exposed for the driver to peek through. The driver stops and by the time I pass her, she’s out brushing off the rest of her car. I ask if I can snap a photo of it to document the snowfall and she wants to know why.
“Just don’t get me in trouble,” she laughs stepping out of the shot.
I turn around before reaching Snoqualmie’s big sister ski area, Alpental. Depending on your skill level, this is where you go to bomb sick terrain or pee your pants. “When you’re ready, Alpental is waiting for you!” it says on their website. The craggly peaks and intense grades tower over my head as I make my turnaround.
I think of Alpental like I do an Ironman: Upon seeing the bumper sticker on people’s cars, there’s an equivalent feeling of reverence and “Screw that, you lunatic.”
When I’m finished running through the mashed potato-like snow, I take a satisfied breath, absorbing the bittersweet reality that although the snow is, sadly, a drive away… it is also, thankfully, a drive away (If you grew up with snowy winters you understand what I’m saying).
Total snow miles: 2.42
We leave Snoqualmie Pass and continue on I-90 for Ellensburg, located another 50 miles east. It’s not long before the clouds start to break, or rather, we start coming down from the clouds.
When you live in the Pacific Northwest, sunshine can be a rare commodity. I say ‘can’ because last winter–my first winter here–was ridiculously sunny and dry, according to the locals. But this winter has been the typical gray and gloomy. The kind that makes you drive 100 miles for the sun. So when the skies open and the rays beam our eyes with all their retina-burning glory, I hesitate to pull down the car visor.
By the time we pull off the freeway, there’s little to no evidence of snow, just the flat farmlands of Ellensburg and snow-covered foothills beyond.
It’s the perfect contrast to the last leg.
Excellent, I think, feeling a little too Mr. Burns about this.
Time to put leg two into motion.
We pull off onto a shoulderless road outside of town. I quickly switch out into my warmer weather gear as a couple farm dogs protest behind a nearby fence. Another runner, a woman in her 30s, wears capris and pushes a jogger past us.
Soon enough, it’s my turn and off I go — country music appropriately streaming through my earbuds.
It’s now around 10 in the morning but it feels more like 4:00 in the afternoon, thanks to the time of year — ‘Tis the season for hibernating, overeating and stalking cheap airfare to tropical destinations.
‘Tis also the season for getting out there and savoring these rare sunny moments to save your winter sanity. The sun feels amazing on my face and I know it’ll stay pink for a couple days (thanks, genes), but I’m willing to pay the price of an uneven complexion for these types of runs.
While my phone kicks over to the next singer twanging about country girls and Friday nights, three cows to my right graze on a mound of brittle hay. I stop to take a selfie with my bovine friends and laugh at the irony I was dodging snowplows just minutes ago.
I’m sweating by the time I finish and kick myself for not dressing lighter like my mommy jogger friend. I turn into the park where Michael waits for me, throwing his fly line into the Yakima River, even though he knows a high and cloudy river likely won’t fetch him a fish.
No matter, the sun is shining.
Total dry miles: 2.59
After a late breakfast in Ellensburg, we make our way back over the pass and–sure enough–are back in the wet embrace of cloud cover and I’m white knuckling like grandma.
North Bend is on the other side and it’s just as rainy there as it is in the City of Seattle, so I take the exit off I-90 and Michael connects with a friend who offers us hot pizza and a warm place to hang out.
Not yet, I think. I’m determined to finish this silly project.
I’m 78 miles from sunny, flat Ellensburg and a mere 25 miles from snowy and mountainous Snoqualmie Pass when I pop in my earbuds, throw on my bright pink vest and take off along the winding road of fluorescent green moss and damp forest canopy.
To the left of this road, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River rages even higher, faster and chalkier than the Yakima. I have a natural fear of deep water, so I can’t help but picture myself falling in and being sucked down by the rapids. I also can’t help but feel relief for what this falling rain and raging river means for western Washington: reprieve from raging forest fires and devastating drought.
That is, if the rain continues to fall.
It’s 3:30 in the afternoon as I wipe beads of water off my phone screen and hit ‘Finish’ on the MapMyRun app — seven hours after I hit ‘Start’ with a pair of winter gloves clenched in my teeth.
Total rain miles: 2.12
Rain and snow are not always ideal conditions for running, but neither are shoulder-to-shoulder races and busy schedules. The point is, you run anyway. So why not embrace all that is different and, in all honesty, necessary? Because not only do we need a little precipitation for the planet, we need a little gray to appreciate the light.
What’s the craziest weather you’ve run?