Sunday, November 30, 2008

Running in the Rain

I would speculate that most runners have an aversion to running in the rain. Perhaps that is an understatement; most of us have an aversion to being in the rain. In spite of popular opinion I have learned to accept the fact that inevitably it will rain on days I need to run. As such I’ve come to terms with it, and even learned to find it comforting. Especially on a long run. I transform the rain mentally into my own personal cooling system which I can then use to my advantage during a race. At least this was my intention this February when I ran an entire ½ marathon while it rained from the start line to the finish.

In spite of the alarm rousing me at an ungodly hour in order to allow sufficient time to get down to the race, find parking, and shuttle to the start line, I felt energized when I awoke. The race was almost local, only about 60 miles from home. The shoreline course would be a pleasant change of scenery from the local desert mountains that I had come accustom to over countless miles laced up throughout the years. As such I was looking forward to it. Instead of the usual bargaining with myself for an additional ten minutes of sleep on the days when my motivation to get somewhere is, shall I say, less enticing, I immediately got out of bed and started preparing for the race.

The mandatory pre-race expo the day before had proved to be worthwhile, in spite of the brutal LA weekend mid day traffic. Typical of most of my previous decisions to sign up for a race, I had managed to encourage a friend to sign up along with me using a delicate balance of compassion and baiting. Subtle encouragement such as “You can do it” eventually gave way to challenging his ego with “Dude, I’m an old man and I can do it.” The advantages are obvious. Someone to train with, someone to travel with, and someone to celebrate with in the post run beer garden as we recap our performance sharing our sense of accomplishment.

We quickly picked up our bibs and chips before deciding such a perfect day at the ocean should not be entirely ignored. We wandered a few hundred yards to the shoreline and sat on the sand while pondering the vastness of the ocean. Okay, I was pondering. I’m not exactly sure what his thoughts were because men don’t typically discuss their inner dialog. I cannot say with any degree of certainty if the ocean had the same effect of my friend, or whether or not it has a similar affect on most people. A simple yet undeniable reminder of how seemingly insignificant we are in comparison to something so eternal. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperature was mid 70’s. You could not have asked for a nicer, more picturesque day to be sitting in the sand, just beyond the break.

When we reluctantly departed I anticipated that tomorrow would be ideal for racing. The weather report was calling for rain on race day, yet as we had just sat on the beach captivated by the picture perfect climate, it seemed as if they were dead wrong yet again. In defense of those who try to forecast the weather predicting the rain seems about as accurate as predicting how I’ll do in a race. There are far too many variables to really know what will happen. Past experience or previous patterns are no guarantee of future performance. "Why can’t I be that inaccurate at my job" I wondered on the seemingly endless drive home?

So here it was race day morning as I began shuffling after my feet found the floor toward the bathroom. My race day enthuasiasm was not curbed by the high mileage shuffle I'd become so familar with over the last few years. Personally I accept the theory that our recovery occurs while we rest, mainly during sleep, and that's when runners actually make their gains. We don't beomce better runners while running. But the process is still an aquired taste. While the muscles regroup and repair they tend to tighten up often times making those first few steps an ordeal, and a not so subtle reminder of our recent running efforts.

A couple of times during the night I had thought I heard rain, but I wasn’t quite sure. California rain isn’t real rain, at least not in comparison to most places in the world. It’s a form of mild precipitation from overcast skies that never seems to commit to the idea of really raining. Intermittent at best, sporadic at times, but never heavy rain. Real rain. Just trickles here and there in a feeble attempt at rain amounting to an occasional break from the otherwise clear blue sky.

At first glance out the patio door things appeared bleak. Although still pre-dawn it was hard to be sure. As I continued shuffling along to the bathroom I began wondering if perhaps the weather forecast wasn’t actually correct? I suppose it is bound to happen sometime. I managed to inhale a quick bowl of cereal before receiving a text message announcing my race partner's arrival and we were off. Out into the elements with racing gear concealed by sweat pants and a rain proof jacket.

On the freeway we encountered a few rare moments of real rain. At times the rain came down hard enough to make driving difficult. Fortunately the one time you can count on little or no traffic in LA is early morning weekends. We were able to travel at seventy plus miles an hour, in spite of the less than favorable conditions. The sudden rush of adrenalin from our briefs stints of hydroplaning livened up the drive and kept me bright eyed in spite of the fact that left to my own devises I would still be in bed.

As we approached the designated parking lot I realized that traveling sixty miles definitely made us non-locals. If we had any real knowledge of the surface streets we would have avoided the last two miles, which took almost twenty minutes to travel. The anticipation of the race was kicking in as we both got a little giddy, commenting how the rain “didn’t look all that bad.” That nonsense quickly ended when one of us would roll down the window and put an arm out to gauge the rainfall. Not only would other person yell to roll up the window immediately because of the cold air coming into the car, but the rain drops stung your hand as they landed hard, causing you to withdraw your hand suddenly to avoid the sensation of what one could only imagine to be equivalent to acupuncture. Windy and cold I thought, as I sank into the passenger seat feeling somewhat discouraged.

After the usual pleasantries associated with race day parking and a quick stop at the race course rest rooms we decided to forego the shuttle and walk to the start line. Waiting for the shuttle in the rain was less appealing than walking in it, and we were in agreement. As we set out on foot, donned now only in our race attire, we avoided puddles in the parking lot trying to postpone a race day soaker for as long as possible. Quickly the cold wind took a toll on our uncovered legs, causing me to shiver.

Once we were in the corral people huddled together hoping to form a wind break from the painful Artic breeze coming in off the ocean. Instead of the usual pre-race antics that often include stretching, jogging in place, jumping up and down, and flailing about in general attempting to loosen up, most of us stood sedentary and soggy, already feeling somewhat defeated. Prior to the sound of the starting gun we were literally soaked from head to toe. I could not have been more wet if I had jumped off the pier...

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