There’s a reason why the month of April aptly starts off with a day called April Fool’s Day. People playing tricks on each other is just an imitation of what April does to us all.
Those of us who run and ride know better than anyone how cruel and fickle the month of April can be. Even on a given run or ride it is possible to experience all four seasons in the space of an hour. I know. I’ve been there. Done that. Started out in a 72 degree day with southerly breezes. Felt winds shift to the north and east and pick up speed. Feel the first shreds of rain pummeling the nylon and finally seeing snow come tumbling down by the end of the run or ride.
That’s how April works. It cares not what you think the weather should be. It only cares to express itself, as if both a hot cheerleader and a Goth bitch were lurking inside her soul. You’ll never know what you’re gonna get until you get there.
There are daffodils poking through the mulch even as there are gray clouds beating back the sandhill cranes flapping for all they’re worth to make progress north. And if you dare challenge April with something so bold as a 70-mile bike ride, there’s no telling how cold or hot you might be before you finish.
Don’t know why I selected that particular date. It just seemed right. My teammate would shake his head and mutter, “Cudworth, you’re a trip.”
But I was right most of the time. April 10 is just far enough away from the month of March that a 70 or 80 degree day is quite possible.
Of course some Aprils were so cold it never got above 60 degrees. Those were years we’d grow frustrated. A bunch of us decided to protest this karmic injustice by stripping naked and running through the college cafeteria yelling, “The weather sucks! We want spring!”
Only one guy hesitated when we streaked the union. Separated from the group, he was captured and strapped to a support column in the middle of the cafeteria.
And that was no April Fool’s joke. It took him a while to wriggle free. All the while his already chilled unit was shrinking from both cold air and embarrassment.
We didn’t know what to tell him. Obviously he was infuriated at the genesis of the incident. “Why didn’t you guys wait?” he demanded to know.
“Why didn’t you come with us?” we shouted in return.
One of our long runs turned into an April slog when the skies erupted. Our cotton sweats soaked up the rain. We gained seven extra pounds during a 13-mile run. The crotch of the sweats was down at our knees. Talk about training resistance.
And I recall a steeplechase race in early April when a skim of ice had to be chopped off the face of the water jump. The first time through that water was colllllld.
Yet the very next week we were competing in a meet down at Grinnell College when the temps reached the mid-80s. 18 guys started the 5000 meter run at 3:30 in the afternoon. One by one our runners pulled off and gathered at the first curve to cheer on the remaining fools who stayed in the race. I was one of them, and can avidly recall flipping them all the bird as they laughed and cheered my sweaty, skinny frame all the way through to the last lap. I barely broke 16:00.
In recent years my cycling has always ramped up in April. One cool (45 degrees) dark morning a pack of 15 guys took off riding straight into a northwest wind. I tucked in behind some triathlete with a strong frame and sat in the draft for 30 miles. When we turned around I was excited to think I’d made it through the tough part of the ride. The pack had different ideas. The pace accelerated to 30 mph and it was either pedal like a madman or get dropped. I made it six miles before popping.
That left me alone for the last 25 miles of a 70-mile ride. It felt to good finish with an average pace of just over 20 miles. That was a ride well-earned.
April truly is a watershed of fitness and hope. It can build you up or dash you down. Every new endeavor is an experiment with what you’ve managed to sustain over the winter and the dispassionate reality of the cold and sometimes lonely road up ahead.
Thank God there are flowers in the garden when you get home. Whether you’ve won or lost the battle that day, there is always hope for better days.