Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the lakefront in fall

I love September, and I love fall. Always have. Cooler weather. Football. As a child, back to school time meant new clothes, new school supplies and new episodes on my favorite TV shows. But nothing is quite like Chicago’s lakefront in September. There’s a certain sadness, as summer turns to fall and the sun no longer permits “safe” running in broad daylight at 5am. In fact, it’s still practically dark at almost 6am, which makes it real difficult when you have kids to get out of bed no later than 7am…but I digress. This morning I started running at about 5:50am and the streetlights were still on. During the last ½ mile of my super short 3-mile run they finally went off.

The next sign of fall is all of the lifeguard chairs pulled from their usual perch close to the water. This morning they were lying down at the edge of the beach closest to the path. Why? Because the beaches close after Labor Day, and the lifeguard chairs are eventually picked up by park district staff and taken to their winter home, which happens to be close to where I live…on Cornell Drive just south of 63rd Street. Lifeguard chairs from every beach find their way here and hang out until next Memorial Day.

In a few weeks, the numerous boat harbors the girls and I pass on the way to school will slowly experience a dwindling population. Maybe not this weekend, but surely the 3rd weekend in September a bunch will have gone. And every Monday morning the girls and I comment on how many boats have gone "home" for the winter over the weekend. By the 2nd week in October the harbors are probably only at 50% capacity, and then it really drops off. By the last weekend in October, there might be one or two stragglers, because every Chicagoan knows that while it’s not likely we’d get snow and ice it is definitely possible. I suspect that if I owned a boat, I’d be one of these stragglers. :)

Sometime in October the park district cuts off the water fountains and closes the bathrooms “until spring” which is code word for “whenever we feel like it,” apparently, because I’ve never noticed a pattern for when they come back online except that it’s usually one or two times after I’ve really needed one or both during a spring long run. This moment in the fall is when as a runner, you are totally on your own. (One caveat: the park district is VIGILANT about keeping the path clear of ice and snow. It’s pretty amazing. Don’t believe me? Check out the lakefront after a decent-size snowstorm.)

So anyway, this fall cycle happens every year, and while it’s my favorite season, it’s a little sad to see another summer of running go away. But these same milestones generally usher in cooler weather, an easier time in training where your midweek runs have become easy and matter-of-fact. Because of limited daylight hours, there’s no margin of error, you either get out there and run, or you don’t. There IS no “if I don’t go at 5am I’ll go at 6am…or 6pm.” And of course, by now you’re so close to the marathon you can almost taste it. Every run (for me) becomes about imagining the actual race. Race day…race day…race day. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.

September is here! And no worries, those super early morning runs will be back in next year, it’s simply the circle of life on the lakefront.

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