Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The joy of running in storms

                BRUNSWICK, Maine – I am a preacher when it comes to running in bad weather. For years I have cajoled friends to get outside during pouring rain, sleet storms, blizzards, or even run-of-the-mill high winds. (I draw the line when it comes to extreme heat waves, hurricanes, lightning storms, and seriously icy roads.) Too many of us look outside at sheets of rain and say to ourselves, ‘Not today.’
                I recently ran in two storms back to back – one here in Maine during a snow storm and the other in Chevy Chase in a 43-degree rain. I’ll acknowledge that I hesitated a minute before running in cold rain. But years of preaching had its rewards: You say something too many times and you start believing it.

I always tell my friends they should run in rains and snowstorms because they always will feel better afterward. During these recent runs, though, I started examining why that is so. Five reasons came to me.
          No. 1: You are almost always alone.

Think about it. During many runs, especially in populated areas, trails are full of other people exercising; the constant line of people becomes part of your focus. But in a downpour, you can go miles without seeing anyone. And when you do see someone, there’s almost a kinship, as in, another crazy is out here. You may even wave.
This difference in a routine can spur creativity. Patterns of thinking change. The focus at first may be inward, thinking about how your body is responding to the rain or sleet or high winds. Gradually, though, in my experience, the thoughts while running in storms turns to mounting other obstacles in your life, and this is an opportunity to explore why you haven’t had success – and what you can do to find a solution.
No. 2: You have to know yourself well.
To run in extreme weather, you have to prepare both physically and psychologically.
In the 43-degree rain, I opted to wear thin nylon wind pants, for instance (along with a T-shirt underneath a semi-rain-proof running jacket, light leather gloves, and a running cap with a head band to keep my ears warm). If it were 47 degrees, I would have run in shorts. If it were 37 degrees, I would have put on my insulated running pants. Know what you’ll need, even to the level of five degrees difference in temperature.
In the snow in Brunswick, I prepared myself psychologically as well, knowing that while it was beautiful to run through snow, my footing would be unsure; I would slip backward slightly with every stride. I ran slowly. I was careful not to give myself a hard time for running at such a pace, knowing that the experience of being in the snow was more important than the pace of my run.
No. 3: You are on an obstacles course.
 Bad weather can close off paths. In the rain recently, my run took me past three brooks, which are leap-able in normal weather. But the brooks had risen high, and I was forced to stop and look for new passages.
In one case, there was no way to clear the brook without getting wet. So I looked for a way  least likely to injure me – a deliberate jump in the brook with one foot while maneuvering with my second foot for mud on the other side. That brings me to ….
No. 4: You’ll get wet, get over it.
One of the best things about running in a hard rain is that you are drenched in two minutes. In 20 minutes, you’ll still be drenched. So why not enjoy it? In a hard rain, with nylon pants clinging to your legs, it’s one of the few times you’ll be aware of the strong muscles in your thighs and calves. Let that be a moment of inspiration.
No. 5: You will laugh.
How many times in life can you feel like a five year old? Running in bad weather brings out the inner abandon, and the pure joy, of a child playing in the rain. So when you splash in a big puddle, and your foot feels the piercing cold wetness almost immediately, instead of saying, aaaarrrgghhh, why not laugh about the ridiculousness of being outside in a hard rain in the first place?
On runs in bad weather, I will laugh out loud a dozen times. Fair-weather runs are boring in comparison. So the next time it is truly awful outside, and there’s not a threat to life or limb, dress for it and get out in it. You’ll feel better for it.