5:30 AM never looked so dismal. Determined and unaware of the calamity of the outdoors, I had woken up for (yet another) of those Northwest winter runs. The kind where you stand in your closet debating whether you need three or four layers then check your headlamp to make sure the batteries are going to last.

On this particular morning my optimism reigned, and I stepped onto the porch only to find that a surprise blizzard sort of thing had blown in overnight. I say “sort of thing” because it couldn’t really decide if it was torrential rain or heavy snow. I’m not sure if there is a right kind of gear for moisture and ice in all directions, but it would be fair to say that my two layers were far from appropriate.

When I find myself running down the road, splashing slush and snow in all directions, flakes melting onto my face and dripping down the back of my neck, I ask myself the same question I do just about every day: “What, in the name of all things holy, am I doing out here?”

The answer comes in sweet memories of last April and one of my first races of the season – done in shorts – along the shores of the Spokane River. I remember those winding trails and dodging around trees, the view of the cliffs on the opposite shore, and the joy of running free. It’s a spectacular run, all right here in our backyard.

The Spokane River Run has become my token spring race: It’s what gets me out the door and into the dark cold of winter months until spring finally appears. The anticipation of this inauguration of the new season is what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other – in Yaktrax or snowshoes – all winter long. That and all the eggnog I drank.

When I show up at the race start in April, it’s more like a celebration of spring running than anything else. Hundreds of trail runners crawl out of hibernation to patter down the trails with wide grins on their faces, like running in shorts was the best idea yet. I look forward to it all winter long, maybe because I love trails, and certainly because that’s something I’ll have in common with everyone there.

The race itself is clearly organized by runners who know what they are doing. The registration is efficient, there is ample parking, and the course is well marked and diverse. They have a great family atmosphere and an inclusive selection of distances (5K, 10K, 25K, and 50K). And because they seem to understand those of us who like to climb things, they’ve included a 25K Fun Run Challenge – a course designed to wake up your winter legs at the very least.

If you’re looking for something to motivate you into the darkness, or to get your summer running foundation strong, Spokane River Run is the local adventure to take part in. I’ll be spending the next two months trudging through snow and sleet and rain with a smile on my face. It’s the same smile I’ll be wearing the whole race long.

For details or to sign up for the race, visit www.spokaneriverrun.com. //