According to the Boston Globe, nearly four inches of rain fell in Boston over the past couple of days, as a typical Nor’easter brought strong winds and heavy precipitation to the area. Wednesday night was particularly delightful, as thunderstorms brought howling winds, flashes of lightning, and driving rain through the Western suburbs. It was great, if you were snug inside with nowhere to go and the storm windows down.
Rain such as we had the last few days can be an interesting lens through which to view the dynamics of a group of runners, for example, a high school cross country team.
Now, I can hear some of you groaning already. “Not another post about high school runners!” But bear with me. This is not really about high school; it’s about tribal identity, about knowing who will be out there with you when the weather drives everyone else indoors, and what that says about you.
So, if we take a group of high school runners as an example, the first thing that happens when the team encounters weather is a free-for-all of reactions and comments that help establish normative behaviors. Some kids, naturally, follow their first instinct, which is to huddle for shelter. Others ask naive questions about whether practice has been cancelled, and become the objects of gentle derision. Some are eager to display bravado as the rain pelts down. Some genuinely and sincerely voice the opinion that this is their favorite kind of weather. Through this discussion, an approximate consensus is reached that we will, in fact, be running today.
That being established, the next issue is what we’ll be doing. Here’s where rain is actually a blessing in disguise. The hardest thing about coaching a large group of runners with a wide variety of backgrounds and motivations is transforming the essential tedium of training into something interesting. Let’s face it, most training is pretty boring. But throw a Nor’easter into the mix and that tired old six-mile loop suddenly becomes an epic journey that they’ll remember long after they’ve forgotten everything else they learned in high school.
Puddles are a hidden resource. Figuring out whether and how to run through or around puddles becomes a fascinating discussion about deeper desires and true motives. stomping on puddles to splash your teammates turns an otherwise tiresome run into a fartlek workout that rivals a video game for entertainment value.
If you have woods available to you, running in the woods in the rain is magical. And I don’t mean magical in a sparkly, Disney-esque way, I mean magical as in gatherings of druids in dank glens, shrouded in dark purposes. On one run this week, I was running with a group in the Estabrook Woods and we came to a stop at the junction of two trails. It was gloomy and primeval, and we shivered, but not from cold.
Another advantage to running in the rain: no one obsesses about time and pace. If the workout is intervals or hill repeats, nobody cares about hitting splits. The battle is with the rain and the wind, not with the watch. I’ve experience this myself with my CSU buddies when we’re running laps in a hurricane and the times are so slow as to be almost irrelevant. You can get a lot out of such a workout, and it’s never boring.
After the run or workout is over, everyone is soaked. This is a good thing. Never underestimate the value of bonding through common exposure to the elements. In the case of our team, we try to gather everyone inside, shed the shoes and do some group stretching or core strength work to extend the sense that we’ve all made it through the storm and are safely home.
Perhaps even the lone runner, returning home dripping on the threshold, feels a momentary kinship with all the other ships still at sea.