Arts and Culture
Food and Wine
People and Places
Science and Nature
Travel and Lodging
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Snow Dash!     BY: Al Terryberry
Snow Dash!

A New England Running Tradition

By Sam L. Rothman | January 19, 2012

What happens when folks today retire? Some leave the cold of New England. Some take up cooking or gardening. Some do volunteer work while others just glide into old age.

Rails to Trails
BY & COPYRIGHT: Al Terryberry

And then there is the growing number of AARP eligible adults who reject traditional notions of senior behavior.

Rather than ease into a sedentary lifestyle, they are lacing up their Nikes and literally running out the door.   While some jog just a few miles now and then, a small, but growing number are logging in dozens of miles each week.   Older knees aren’t necessarily weak knees.

Of course, running - like any other outdoor activity in New England - means that for part of the year its going to be cold, sometimes very cold. It also means snow, sometimes lots of snow. For one band of 60 to 70 year-olds that combination means only one thing: Snow Dash!

A Snow Dash is a trail run through a deep blanket of freshly fallen powder. If you’ve never tried jogging through eight inches of the white stuff, it isn’t a simple task. A Snow Dash has been likened to running in a waist deep pool of water, only a lot colder.   A normally easy 45-minute jog becomes a heart-pumping hour-long slog.   Who exactly are these Snow Dashers?

Ice Flow!
BY & COPYRIGHT: Sam L. Rothman

They refer to themselves simply as “Amigos,” friends who meet twice a week to run on the Rails-to-Trails Linear Park in Vernon, Connecticut. The oldest is 71, the youngest 60. For much of the year they share the wide dirt path with cyclists, dog-walkers and hikers.   But when the snow flies the path belongs to cross-country skiers, snow-shoers and eight mostly retired Amigos.

As winter’s first Nor’easter arrives, Steve makes the call. His email is terse: “Snow Dash! Snow Dash! Snow Dash!” Everyone knows the time and place. Attaching ice-gripping spikes to their running shoes, they don extra sweatshirts, gloves and hats. If the temperature hovers in the teens, well, that’s what it does in winter. If the wind howls out of Valley Falls Park or along the ridge over Tunnel Road, well that’s what the wind does in winter. A Snow Dash is both a challenge to the elements and a celebration of the season.

Last year the first Snow Dash came in early December. As might be expected conversation turned to shoveling snow and the holidays. Bob solicited gift ideas for his wife. “How about a good snow shovel?” suggested Steve. “Probably not a good idea.” Al advised.

A tongue-in-cheek discussion of alleged Yeti sightings faded and the wind soon carried only the sounds of labored breathing. Eyes wandered to the trail’s wintry tapestry.   Icicles, some 8 or 10 feet tall clung to a shaded cliff. Deer tracks crossed the trail. A red-tailed hawk cast its shadow from atop an ice encrusted oak tree.

A Snow Dash is both a chance to return to nature and to an earlier age. These guys grew-up in an era before videogames or Facebook, a time when kids spent every spare moment outdoors, playing ball, riding bikes, or in winter, skating or sledding. Half a century later, the Snow Dash is a return to the outdoor-play-hard lifestyle of their youth, a lifestyle they lament that their grandchildren are missing.

Taking a Scenery Break
BY & COPYRIGHT: Al Terryberry

The are also part of the so-called “Baby Boom Generation” that is stretching not simply the definition of aging, but also the expectations and limits of human performance. Several Amigos are veterans of the seventies “Running Boom” who simply never stopped.

Al at 70 has carefully recorded diaries that go back decades. The group laughs about an icy eleven-miler Al took late one New Year’s Eve to reach his 1,200-mile annual mileage goal.   Others took up the sport later in life. Steve, once an overweight smoker, was in his fifties when he began. Together the Amigos have run or jogged well over 200,000 miles in the past half-century.

As health experts highlight the obesity epidemic in America, veteran New England runners like these are redefining fitness for seniors. Twenty years ago a 60-year old had only to show up and walk/jog through the local three-mile road race to win a “Grand-Master’s” trophy. Last year on January 1st three 90-year olds greeted the New Year by completing a three-mile road race in Orange, Connecticut - along with four men and a woman all in their eighties. By comparison, the Amigos are still youngsters.

The next time it snows, the Amigos will head off to revisit their roots - a bunch of kids out once again to play in the snow.

For photos and stories about Connecticut’s past see Sam L. Rothman’s Historic Photos of Connecticut.

Share |
ONE is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.