I don’t want to be the grumpy old man in the EZ-boy who tells annoying stories about how tough it was when he was a kid, but I’m struck by the number of road races that got canceled on July Fourth. No date on the calendar offers so many opportunities to get out there with your neighbors and canter through the town square, but not this year.
This was the year of Arthur, a Category 3 hurricane that had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached New England. No matter, Friday’s forecast of heavy rain provoked a number of changes to Holiday events. Boston chose to move up their Pops Concert and Fireworks to Thursday night, and just managed to finish things up before the area was hit by powerful microburst that gave the area ten minutes of dangerous winds and torrential rain. Many towns cancelled their Fourth of July celebrations entirely.
For anyone who, like Kevin, signed up to race in Concord on Thursday morning when the weather was damn near perfect, the decision to cancel the race was perverse, to say the least. In a typical year, the temperature is 90 degrees and humid, and racing is hazardous to your health. This year it was 70 degrees, dry and overcast. How often does that happen on July 4th? Unfortunately, the Concord Race and many other July 4th races are generally planned by Town Recreation Departments, and on Friday they were looking at a full day of events and the prospect of a steady downpour by noon. It was an easy call to cancel everything, road race included.
It’s tempting to see the decision to cancel the race as part of a societal trend of being more risk-averse in the face of less than ideal weather. For example, this winter there was much debate about whether schools were too quick to cancel classes when there was snow in the forecast. Had we become weather wimps? Or did it make good sense to exercise more caution and keep people off the roads?
I know I’ve become more cautious about some things: I don’t run when there’s lightning about. I used to, but not anymore. I used to love running when it was really windy, but now I always have my eyes on the trees, imagining how easy it would be for a rotten branch to break and take me out completely.
On Saturday, Ann and I spent the afternoon hiking in the Middlesex Fells. I hadn’t been there for many years, not since my Orienteering days. As we walked along the trails, I recalled a cross country race that I had run there maybe twenty years ago. If memory serves, it was in late September, and it was a day much like Friday. There had been a hurricane or tropical storm, and there was heavy rain all morning and all day. Being September, it was a chilly rain. Many races canceled, but for some crazy reason, the organizers of the cross country race went ahead and held their event.
I can honestly say, I have never run through as much water in a race as I did that day. There were areas of some trails that were under a foot and a half of water. I do not exaggerate; it might have been deeper. You couldn’t run, you had to plunge in again and again as the rushing water tried to sweep you off your feet. The race was listed as 5K, but it took nearly twenty minutes for the top guys to finish.
The race itself was an adventure, but the adventure didn’t end when we finished. After the race was over, everyone was standing around soaked to their skin, when somebody noticed that two of the women who had started hadn’t returned. Since they were not slow runners, and it had been a half an hour, they should have finished, but there was no sign of them. As the minutes passed (and the rain continued to pour down), we all realized that they were likely lost in the Fells. If you’ve ever run or hiked there, you know that even in perfect weather it’s easy to lose your way. In a torrential downpour on unfamiliar trails, it would be that much easier. As the minutes passed, we got more and more worried. It was no joke to be out for an hour in the woods in a chilly rain with nothing but skimpy running clothes to keep you warm.
The story had a happy ending. The two women had, indeed, taken a wrong turn and had run all the way to South Border Road, at least a couple of miles from where they should have been. They knocked on somebody’s door and somebody else gave them a ride back up to the race venue. It was a great relief that search parties and first responders were not needed.
Yeah, that’s the way we grumpy old men and women handled hurricanes in our day. We did stupid, dangerous things. And we liked it!