Olympics, Running and Inspiration

You know, there's no substitute for visual media when it comes to covering the Olympics. As an NPR junkie, I'm a confirmed fan of radio journalism. My longish work commute gives me plenty of time to become informed. So it was on my way home from work that I learned that Lindsay Vonn won gold in the downhill - the first American woman to do so - on a harrowing course that snatched the Olympic dreams from at least two competitors. That night, I watched the Olympics on TV. Even though I knew the result, the radio report could not compete with the visual horror of watching a woman go down on the course, tumbling and skidding at breakneck pace. Nor could they truly capture Vonn's breathtaking finish and the tearful celebration when she realized she'd won. And then there's Shaun White's open defiance of the laws of gravity.

Each time the Olympics roll around, I think I'm not interested. Then I tune in and I am captivated by the raw talent and flinty determination of these athletes. I'm reminded that it takes both to make dreams come true - the talent and the hard work. There isn't much that can make up for the lack in one or the other.

Today, with the Olympics on my mind, I went for a run outside - my first outdoor run since the blizzard hit last week. Since I have a treadmill, I can avoid running outside in challenging conditions but after too many days pass, workouts on the treadmill get old. I continued to think about the Olympics on my run. So much so that I think I came up with a new Olympic event. Since I'm not fast enough or young enough to hold an Olympic dream, I'll outline my idea here for you.

Olympic sports have no-nonsense names so we'll call this one Obstacle Running. The concept is simple: the athlete to complete the course the fastest is the winner. As in many sports, it's the course that's the bugger so what follows are directions on how to create an effective and challenging course for Obstacle Running, should you choose to try this at home:

1. Dump 2 to 3 feet of snow on an urban or densely populated suburban neighborhood. The area should be large enough for a 6.2 mile course (because a 10K sounds good).

2. Shovel no more than 75% of all sidewalks. Ensure that thin coating of ice exists on at least 50% of shoveled sidewalks. All sidewalks must dead-end in a snowdrift. Minimum height: 18 inches.

3. Clear wide roadway at start (to give athletes and spectators the illusion that the course will be easy). As course progresses, shovel increasingly narrower areas so that two-way roads become one-lane roads fit for a Prius. Allow all roads to be open to traffic, especially large SUVs and delivery trucks.

4. On at least half of roads, build snow up to 4 foot drifts on both sides.

5. Course must include at least one bridge (because they freeze before roadways, of course).

6. Any athlete wearing Cramp-ons or other such devices to enable ease of running/walking in icy conditions will be eliminated. No exceptions, no appeals.

Since I'm a purist, I would give the gold to the fastest athlete but you could also add points for technical merit. For example, you could rate how high the athlete jumps out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Or you could note the finesse with which s/he handles the icy downhill of the course. You might consider the form with which the athlete can negotiate the snow piles at each intersection. Really, the possibilities are endless. And can you imagine the drama?

ANNOUNCER 1: Bob, did you see the control of American Jane Smith when that Mercedes grazed her? ANNOUNCER 2: She must have nerves of steel. No small feat after her teammate bought the farm in that 5 foot snowbank while trying to avoid a UPS truck.

(Okay, so I admit that my run today was challenging but at least I kept my sense of humor!) What I want to know is: How are my fellow runners faring in the Northeast this winter? And what inspires you?