Friday, August 04, 2006

Running In Extremes

I would love to be able to report that I am prisoner to no rules of running. This is supposed to be an activity where one runs free, after all. The run is supposed to be a time when we throw off the shackles of personal and corporate restrictions to run almost naked, to run to another drumbeat, to run with mind and body fully liberated.

I would love to be able to say these things, but I can’t. There are rules to my running. Many of them. Always race on Thanksgiving Day, for example. I’ve done this the last 43 years in a row. Always run, and swim, on January first, a tradition I’ve held to for nearly 40 years. Always run in a blizzard. Always run when the temperature drops below zero F. And, of course, always run when the temperature creeps up past 100.

I’m not sure that the thermometer readings ever got that high this week in the small PA town where I live. But they came close, and the Internet weather pages regularly reported things like “feels like 104.” So I was out the door at about 1 pm each day.

I didn’t go far or fast on any of these runs, but I at least sampled the conditions, collected a nice layer of sweat, and stood for a long time in a cold shower afterwards. And then went back to staring at the computer screen in my air-conditioned office.

At 95 F, I wouldn’t feel compelled to run. But when the mercury climbs up to 100, I figure I gotta get out the door just to luxuriate in the absurdness of it all. I enjoy absurdity. I embrace it whenever it can. In books, in movies, in other arts, in my running. Something there is that pulls me in the direction of activities far from the norm.

That might have been one of running’s earliest appeals. In the mid 1960s, when I switched over from baseball to cross-country running, we were just a hidden handful of clearly oddball characters. We traveled great distances on weekends just to be able to see each other at the various New England road races. You could post a notice for a Wednesday night interval workout on the local high-school track, if you wanted, but there wouldn’t be any sense to that strategy. No one else would read your notice. No one else would show up to run the mile repeats. You’d be timing yourself with your $8 sweep-second Timex.

I fully appreciate the popularity that running has attained these days. I enjoy the frequent, big races, and the large, social crowds drawn to them. I like the cool gear we get to run in, and especially my chronograph, with all its interval-timing functions. Still, there are times when something deep inside me calls out and says, “Go the other way. Run when and where you’re not supposed to.”

So, I scan the weather reports, hoping for blizzards and sizzling midday temps. When they arrive, I’m ready for them. And those runs, often alone, often with people pointing and laughing at me and shaking a head in dismay (just as they did in the 1960s), are usually my most memorable. I feel great afterwards. I look forward to the next.

I might not be running free. But I tend to giggle and smile and cavort a lot on these extreme runs, and I figure that’s a good thing.


At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Alison said...

Nice blog! A popular blogger linked to it in the last day or so, so the cat's out of the bag now if it wasn't already.

I was just explaining to Parker earlier this week that it's not as fun to run when it's 80 degrees as it is to run when it's 100. No one (myself included) is all that impressed when I run most days, but when I do it in extreme heat or a blizzard (or even in an airport, for that matter), it feels like more of an accomplishment. For me it's not so much the absurdity as it is the challenge or the memorability factor. Of course, the more of these crazy runs you do, the more you need to do to top yourself the next time.

I can't wait to read more!

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous corrado giambalvo said...

humbly learning to run barefoot for the last two years feels for me like what you are writing about (i.e. prisoner of no rules.) And repeating things or celebrating time and time again, does not necessarily mean you are trapped, if the approach is free and charged with livelyness. There is the second edition of a race dedicated to Bikila in Rome this weekend (9/16) at midnight, inspired by his 1960 olympic marathon. I am planning to run it barefoot, like last year... and just the thought of doing it again makes me feel good and free... best regards, corrado

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