“I ran my fastest marathon in the rain.”
I love running in the rain. Not a downpour or a storm with thunder and lightning, but a slow drizzle or a steady rain. I thought of that a few days ago as I did my usual 9-mile Saturday run by myself in a light drizzle. Living near Lake Michigan as I do, in the summer I often find the first part of my run a bit crowded with walkers, bicyclists and other runners who are also enjoying the lakefront path. But on a rainy day, I have the path all to myself with not a soul in sight. In the rain all is quiet and tranquil, and my mind just drifts and flows from one thought to the other in the solitude of the run. In fact, the idea for this brief essay came to me in one of those random thoughts on a rainy day run.
What is it about a spring rain that makes the colors of the trees and the grass vibrant and alive? There are so many shades of green shimmering through the raindrops like their water color namesakes–emerald, lime green, Hooker’s green, viridian green, sap green, olive green and cobalt green to name a few. The colors aren’t washed out by the light of the sun, but are saturated and full of life. The rain also creates a sweet earthy smell called petrichor, that combined with the vivid colors creates a delight for the senses.
I also hate running hot weather during the summer, and usually a rain shower signals a shift in the temperature as a cool front moves through. Then, instead of slogging through a hot, humid summer day, I can actually run at a steady pace and enjoy the run.
I have had some glorious experiences racing in the rain, as well as one major disappointment. My first Boston Marathon in 1970 was run in a steady rain with temperatures in the low 40s, but I was oblivious because it was “Boston” and I was overjoyed just to be in the race which was my second marathon. There are no photos of me running that race, but in this photo of the beginning you can see Canadian Jerome Drayton, who still holds the Canadian record for the marathon, and American Kenny Moore, who finished 4th in the 1972 Munich Olympic Marathon, dashing to the front in Hopkinton. I wore a sweat suit and was soaked to the skin when I finished, but overjoyed at the experience, especially going through Wellesley College in the days when we marathoners ran through the phalanx of screaming coeds with no barriers to intercede between them and us.
Then there was the Haverhill, Massachusetts (pronounced “haveril” by the locals) race in August 1970 in a steady rain. It was a breakout race for me running not too far from the front with some of New England’s better road racers. I managed to finish the 9.4-mile course a bit under 50 minutes in fourth place, which for me was a considerable achievement. My Cambridge Sports Union cotton singlet was soaked by the end of the race, but I was one happy fellow.
Those were a couple of the good memories, but there were also the ugly, one in particular, the Boston Marathon in 1978. I came into the race having run a 2:32 the previous September in the first Mayor Daley Chicago Marathon, so I expected to have a good race in Boston as well. My training had gone well, although the week before the race I had not been feeling particularly well, but I tried to ignore it. My running buddy Clyde Baker and I flew to the race in a small private plane piloted by one of Clyde’s friends, with a stop in Syracuse to see his sister and her family. At the race we caught up with another running buddy from Chicago, Bob Pates, who continues to run and race, now in his mid-70s, and was the 2011 CARA Circuit winner for the 75-79 age group.
The race started in the rain, and I felt really good for the early part of the race and went through 20 miles in about 1:54, if memory serves me right—on target for a PR. But then the wheels fell off. My quads were sore from the downhill pounding from Hopkinton through Wellesley, and I could barely lift them as the race wore on. At about mile 24 I started to walk, but could barely lift my legs up over the curbs as I walked along the sidewalks lining the race route. I walked over the bridge at the Massachusetts Turnpike just before Kenmore Square, and was less than a mile from the finish, but I couldn’t continue on. I was spent. I stopped and just stood in a doorway of a building on the route not knowing what to do. Just then a policeman came up to me and asked if I was okay and if I wanted to go to the hospital. I was in such a state of depleted energy and dehydration that all I could do was say “yes” and he took me to a local hospital, I forget which one, where they gave me an IV drip to replenish my fluids.
But what about my friend Clyde who had no idea I had dropped out of the race. Remember this is 1978 and there were no cell phones and Clyde had no way of knowing what had happened to me when he couldn’t find me at the finish line. Somehow he had the presence of mind to call around to local hospitals and he located me, a bit worse for experience, but nothing that an influx of fluids couldn’t solve. That will remain the nadir of my running career and my first and only DNF in a marathon, and one of my few bad experiences running in the rain.
I have these memories of races in the rain, mostly good, but most of all memories of solitary runs splashing through puddles, hearing the splat, splat of my shoes on the pavement and relishing in the glorious colors and smells of the rain, with many more rainy runs to look forward to in the future.