Autumn in the Northwest is a shoulder season for the alpinist: the high desert is wet, the ice isn't in, and it hasn't snowed yet.
The forest is alive with movement and color this time of year:
Seasonal creeks flow back to life after a summer asleep.
Mud runs heartily down the trail and splatters up the legs.
Raindrops make the ferns dance.
Worms drown in puddles.
As fall's colors return to the earth, the bright leaves coat the blackening ground with a thick patina of browns, yellows, and reds.
Here are a few ideas to help you get out to play in the wetness.
Logistics: You've eccentrically loaded your legs all summer in the high country, now is not the time to test the limits of your speed. Instead, use the wet days to build hearty strength. In your gait, focus on keeping centered over your feet. Be sure to choose a route that allows you to keep running the entire time with little if no walking or stopping. Especially if it is windy and rainy, hypothermia sets in fast.
Wear: The chilly air might make you want to cover up, but all those layers will turn into vehicles of damp against your skin. Down to about 45F, wear as little as possible (tee and shorts). A baseball cap will keep the water from lashing your eyes. Between 45F and freezing, or if it is also windy, add thigh coverage and a shell. Though even GoreTex will not keep you dry in a typical downpour, it will cut the wind and trap a bit of heat near the body. Run with just a hand bottle as most packs will absorb water turning them into heavy sponges squeezing down your butt.
So above: With the load of precipitation, boughs and brush bend to greet you. Give them a high five as you pass--and mind your head. With the first storms of the season, the summer's rot and rootless snags will fall. Beware the cracking of a falling birch or a dart-like branch plunging from above.
And below: Even a trail you know well will change considerably in the mud and saturation. Trail-shaped rivers take the place of the hard-packed conglomerate ribbons of summer. Mind puddles you can't see the bottom of.
Animals: Your furry mountain neighbors can't hear you or smell you coming as acutely in a storm as on a still day. Scan the saturated earth for their sign, sniff for their dank fur smells, and watch for their little rumps up ahead. Make a bit of noise so you don't scare them.
After the run: To prevent the cold from sinking too deeply into your core (read: quads) change immediately out of your wet clothes into something layered and cozy. Remember your post-run snack. Once home, try downing some hot liquid in the form of bone broth or chai tea to restore circulation and promote the healing process. For the ultimate in post-run luxury indulge in full-body contrast therapy.
Enjoy: Gulp in the dank air, savor the mist rising off a sun-heated wet leaf, watch the branches dance in the chaos of the storm. Embrace the incongruity of padding through cold puddles; cover yourself in mud. Relax into the wet and remember: humans are waterproof.
"Did I just run or swim?" Who cares, it was fun!
written oct 2013