There have been few activities in my outdoors life that have focused my attention like a run through the narrow, rolling trails of Carver Lake Park in Woodbury. By snowshoes. At night.
It was quite a new dance with winter.
I joined several other runners on a recent early evening at Carver. We geared up in our headlamps and lightweight racing snowshoes, and floated over the ground toward a trailhead for a run of several miles.
A lot of things had to find their rhythm: the steady clomp of my snowshoes hitting trail; my heart and lungs, working hard against the intensity of the run. Once I found my groove I was ready to embrace the challenge of the activity and the beauty of the woods cloaked in darkness. The headlamp’s beam kept my focus on the immediate path ahead, scattershot with tracks put down by humans and animals passing through. But the light bounced, too, enveloping trees like sentinels at the trail’s edge and creating shadows that moved and contorted — and added to the night’s drama. It was dreamlike.
Our run was organized by longtime snowshoe racer and sport ambassador Jim McDonell, maybe known more by appearance than by name. His cheerful smile and friendliness belie a ready fact to those who know him well: He’s a tough nut who runs out in front and proudly holds the nickname “Braveheart” owing to his face paint on race days.
McDonell, 62, has been running into the night for about 10 years.
“It’s just different I guess. The daytime has the blue sky and the sunshine that contrasts with the white snow. The night just has a solitude. A quiet.”
Sometimes there are groups of just a few runners. He has also drawn up to a dozen a couple of times, he said.
McDonell has raced in snowshoes for 22 years, and last year won nationals in his age group (60-64). In fact, he has raced at the national championships the last 10 years, and finished between first and fourth every time. Alas, he won’t defend his title this winter. McDonell will be moving forward as always — this time on a recumbent bike across New Zealand.