A much-needed rain fell on the Boston area over the weekend, starting Saturday night and continuing well into Sunday, the first day of Summer. According to local papers, rainfall was nearly two inches over a twenty-four hour period, providing a little welcome relief to parched lawns and the local watershed.
I can’t say whether the rain ruined Fathers Day picnics for the multitudes, or disrupted tee times at the local links, but there was little chance that it would change my plans to join my buddies for a long run on Battle Road Sunday morning. But plans or no, the rain certainly changed the character of our run, transforming it into a midsummer morning’s dream, in which our mortal efforts were bewitched from the first puddle to the last.
It begins with a momentary confusion in the parking lot: is it cool enough for layers or too warm for a shirt? I choose layers, Terry chooses bare skin, and Kevin stands pat with a single technical t-shirt. Five miles into the run my layers are clinging to me like wet sheets in a bathtub, and I am envying Terry’s shirtless glory. How could I have imagined that I would get cold in the humid embrace of this tropical mist? But rain will do that to you, fogging your judgment, baiting you into over-reacting.
Although the morning rainfall is gentle, we can tell that the clouds must have opened during the night because our route is nothing but puddles. Whatever your attitude toward puddles — whether you conceive a childlike affection for their muddy warmth, or shun them with a series of precious, off-balance steps along the narrow edge of the path — you can’t pretend they aren’t there. I maintain that it’s impossible to run through a puddle without experiencing a slight feeling of fear, or its cousin, bravado. See? I’m ignoring the puddle and running right through it. I further maintain that the love of puddles is like most other loves in that it is not infinite: there comes a point when, even if the first hundred were delightful, you have had enough of puddles and would like to take a few steps without having to wonder what’s concealed below the surface of their dirty water. One consequence of puddles is wet shoes. And wet shoes are heavier than dry shoes. And heavier shoes make the run feel longer. Perhaps this is why this morning time seems elongated, and I could swear we’ve been out here for hours.
Then there is the solitude. Without the rain, Fathers Day on the Battle Road trail would be a festival of ambling humanity, and we would be weaving through the crowds of walkers, joggers, and cyclists; families with small children; tourists with cameras; and everyone else out to enjoy the first day of summer. Instead, we are virtually alone and the trail is eerily quiet. There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center, and when we finally pass another runner on the trail, it’s the first other person we’ve seen for a half hour. Strange, when you think about it, that normal people look out their windows, see the weather, and say, “What a shame! I guess we can’t go to Battle Road today,” but that scene must occur in a hundred kitchens on rainy Sunday mornings. So what does that say about us that we are out here? Does it make us abnormal? Does it make us stubborn? But running in the rain is not some sort of titanic struggle, it’s just… well, it’s just really, really wet.
As we pass familiar landmarks along the trail, we note little things that are out of the ordinary. Inexplicably, the building with the bathrooms at the end of the trail is locked. Is there a policy for locking the bathrooms when it rains, or is it just that the person whose job it is to unlock them never showed up? Just past the bathrooms, we take the trail that leads from the end of the Battle Road Trail to the cemetery that we use to get to Great Meadows, and the branches along the trail are so heavily weighed down by the rain that we have to push our faces through them, like a human car wash. A little later, we see a turtle on the path, ignoring our hare-like speed as we splash past.
When we finally stop after nearly two hours I look at my legs and at the mud and trail grit that’s clinging to them. My shoes have lost their neon sheen and now resemble the trail, adding to my overall camouflage. Having become one with the rain and the mud, now I feel unfit to re-enter the civilized world, or at least my car. Later, I will stand in the shower and scrub off all the evidence of the run, and by the afternoon, all we be forgotten again on this Father’s Day, the first day of summer.
As runners, we like to insist that rain and weather are incidental distractions to the real business of training. But they do matter. In particular, rain never fails to re-color every detail of a run, and stirs thoughts and emotions too indistinct to survive a hot shower and a change of clothes. When I return to the world of coffee and bagels, I find myself wanting to talk about it, but what is there to talk about? What can you say to the people who stayed home? That we ran in the rain and nothing happened?
So I write about it instead, trying in vain to capture the elusive conviction that there’s nothing ordinary about an ordinary run in the rain.