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Running the Perfect Little Storm


On my first Boston experience, the 113th Boston Marathon (or on running in crazy weather–even wishing for it):

I prayed for a nor’easter, yes, really.

But not because I wanted a cancellation. There was no fear of a cancellation. This famed race had been held rain or shine since 1897. They’d come close to canceling before due to inclement weather, but this had never actually happened.

“Bring it on,” I thought,  “wind, rain, snow…” One thing I knew was that I could not be passive about this experience, so I adopted the attitude: “This marathon is not going to happen to me, I am going to happen to it.”

Maybe I could take the same approach with the weather.

There are a lot of things that go through your mind when you are mentally preparing yourself for a marathon, and it seemed good to prepare for—even welcome–the worst, bad weather included.

I was ready for the challenge, have a certain taste for drama, and for some reason, I love storms. I have always loved storms. And not surprisingly, it turns out I also love running in them.

When you run in the elements for a even just a little while you become a bit impervious to weather.  Or at least you tell yourself you do until you finally believe it. Rain, sleet, snow–even heat and humidity–become less and less of a concern once you are forced to deal with them regularly. At some point, you may even welcome the challenge they bring. That said, had the temperature climbed to 70 or 80 degrees F that day the way it had done for some of the past races, it would have hurt much, and I was probably not ready for that kind of weather challenge.

But a storm, well, that would be just great.

Last summer on a trail run I was hit with my first really wicked thunderstorm. As always, I had checked the radar beforehand, saw the storm approaching, but it was far to the southwest and didn’t look like much, and the wind speed wasn’t fast. Nor was it headed as far East as my area. I might catch a little peripheral rain, but I gauged I’d have plenty of time to get in 15 miles before it even rained a little. And even if it rained a bit, so what? Running and summer rain is a good combination.

But summer storms are unpredictable. The wind changed, and it built up some force. My husband even called my cell from the radio station where he worked with a warning that the storm was picking up speed and changing direction–to find shelter. But I was already too far out to get to shelter–stuck between a river and a wall of cliffs and under large trees; not smart.

Not content to crouch under the rocks, I figured I’d make a break-neck run for the car in what turned out to be one of the best–if foolish–runs of my life to date.

Long and fast, through a cold, driving torrent, under a sky lit up with blue-white bolts and over the concave, clay path filling up quickly like a basin I went, vaulting downed trees, brush and puddles with the ferocity of  Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones.

“Parkour,” I thought, weaving round the obstacles, trying to move with the utmost efficiency, to be part of the environment. The lightning was right above, and all around. It was frightful. And invigorating. And I was laughing like a lunatic.

Undoubtedly, though amazing to me at the time, this experience of weather is far from unique for even the average runner. I’ve read some great tales of running in crazy weather–full of rich details from the coldest of conditions  yielding cracked, frozen water bottles to the melting insoles of Bart Yasso’s running shoes when he attempted the Badwater 146.  But until I’d had my own little storm run, I really did not truly understand. Some experiences are just too real, too visceral,  too profound to translate well into words.

From the storm run I learned several practical considerations, namely to plan better for safety. I developed a much clearer picture of what exactly I was capable of physically at that point in my training, and that I could run quite fast and far in soaked shoes without blistering. But also, like every harrowing experience, from this run I learned that the action of running can have a way of permanently turning your perceived reality on its head, of changing you core meanings and values, of making the worst into the best–that things once important can quickly become trivial, and that things of seemingly little value can suddenly become priceless.

Gone in an instant were concerns over my training, of upcoming races, of details I’d sweated of juggling around a busy schedule, work, study, writing, life’s mundane tasks.  Instead there was survival, and then, the pure joy of being completely immersed in the moment.

Nature has a terrific way of reminding us of our own mortality. I have always considered this a blessing in that it reveals every moment’s true significance, meaning and value. In this way, braving any storm is rewarding. Braving a storm while running at break-neck speed by your own sheer force of will is transforming.

In that way, this particular run was for me, like no other before.

Now that some time has passed, I could write about many other runs of which I could say the same–all different–all priceless.

And sure, Boston was one of those. It didn’t snow that day, nor even rain. It was a cool 50-some degrees, partly cloudy and windy; quite perfect for a marathon, really.

To date, I have only run a few actual races, marathons included. I am a newbie to road racing. There is a lot of build up to a marathon, and there was some serious build up to this one for me. I would not call myself a goal-oriented person, but some part of me has wanted this race since I was age 10, so I couldn’t help but beam when it proved to soon become a reality.

People make a big deal of it: of the Boston, of marathons in general. They say they could never do that, never run that far or fast enough.  I know it’s not for everyone, but most often they surely could. Really, it’s just like anything else that takes planning and determination. You simply have to want it badly enough. And you have to believe in yourself—believe that you can do it.

Despite my lack of road racing experience, I love to trail run, and have run the distance of a marathon many times. For me the distance is largely uneventful. In training I have run short, fast runs, speed reps, tempo runs, big hills and little hills, race simulations, and big, slow, contemplative long runs on treadmills, pavement, dirt, snow, ice and mud, through every kind of weather, with colds, with hangovers, with mild injuries and pains, with little or no sleep the night before, and in every state of mind imaginable.

And while I run, I listen to music, with or sans ipod. And I think about everything: about the past, about the future, about my life and life in general. I think about the nature of love, the idea of God and the universe, of string theory, and about our illusory experience of the passage of time; about chronotopes, paradoxes and existential dilemmas, epiphanies, and peak experiences. I make grocery lists, do math, make plans,  have illuminating ideas, profound insights, mentally send love to loved ones, meditate, pray, forgive, bless, find hope, experience joy, and focus and concentrate on my breath and my form.

Eventually you learn what every runner knows; that running is for running’s sake and races are mere trappings: goals to set your training runs around, and well, most often–just another run.

They do teach you a lot about yourself; about what you value most and what you really don’t, what you really need and don’t need. But any run can teach you that; be it Boston or your favorite stretch of rural trail, where you might even be blessed to at one time encounter the perfect little storm.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 10/30/2009 03:33

    I love running in the rain and still remember my first run in the rain. I was a freshman in high school and felt like a total geek. That run made me feel like I could take on the world, or at the very least the Coolies at school.

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