Long Train Running: A Chicago Marathon Story | Chapter 3 — Weather or Not
My penchant for historical recordkeeping proved itself unworthy as I set out to remind myself why I began running cross-country in seventh grade. There was nothing about it in my spiral notebook journals other than I enjoyed it and hoped it would impress whatever girl I was hoping to impress that week. My records on the self from that time also reveal nothing about how impressive the girls did or did not find my competitive endurance running.
I suppose I did it because I was a fast runner and I enjoyed athletics and I knew I would never make the basketball or volleyball teams. Though, I did tryout for the volleyball team in eighth grade. It was an exercise in the willingness to embarrass oneself as a means of trying. I was doomed and I knew it going in. I couldn’t serve overhand.
Cross-country came to me naturally. I continued the sport throughout high school. I lettered freshman year, was captain of the team my senior year, and generally, trained hard and placed well in meets. Being that I lived in Chicagoland, the fall season provided a variety of conditions: hot, cold, muggy, foggy, wet, flooded, cold and wet, hot and wet, windy, really windy… I preferred warm with sunshine. It’s how I prefer most things. Regardless of the weather conditions, defending oneself from the elements when running in practice or in a meet was rarely difficult. We often ran through forest preserves with secluded paths to stave off the wind, bike/running/walking trails with ample shade to protect us from the rain or the burning sun.
The changes in weather and running routes made for a cornucopia of uncertain and enjoyable scenery. Each run was an adventure and it challenged me to stay loose and attentive and fleet on my feet and to mind my body so as not to overheat or underhydrate or freeze off my skinny fingers.
All that changed when I moved to Las Vegas to attend college.
In a way, I’m still running to impress a girl.
I tried running a bit when I first got there. A quick two miles and change from the campus dorms to my Aunt Hilda’s house. But Las Vegas, while dry and easier to breath when stacked up against a Chicago Indian Summer’s humidity, offers little in the way of shade to shield a runner from the desert sun. And with so much of the town at that time in the areas I knew and felt comfortable running through being gravel and dust, the heat radiated from below as well. It was like jogging through a convection oven. I couldn’t hydrate fast enough; the bottoms of my feet got hot through the soles of my running shoes. There was nothing fun about it. So I quit. Although, looking back, I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t really give it a full-throated try, nor did I allow myself to acclimate. No matter, I switched to a bike. But even that was limited to infrequent drives out to the foothills at dawn or dusk for an off-road ride.
My exercise was reduced to push-ups and sit-ups in my apartment bedrooms and, eventually, short but numerous laps in the backyard pool of the house I bought.
Thankfully, I was in my twenties so I didn’t feel the need to exercise. I didn’t yet worry about potential long-term health issues or wake up with aches that weren’t there when I fell asleep. It’s been said before a million times a million ways: Your body begins to give up on you in your thirties. If you don’t romance it, give it a reason to stay in good form, it’ll lay off the workers and cut back the business hours.
I knew this and yet, I still didn’t get back to running when I moved back to Chicago at the start of my thirties. I have no good reason why other than I was long out of the habit. That, and I found peddling the city streets on my bicycle far more enjoyable. Easier, too, as a means of clocking some exercise time and getting to where I needed to be: a bar, a Second City class, a girl’s apartment…
But now I’m trying to get back into running. It began with a cause but has quickly awakened the joy I find in its challenge and solitude. Okay, some of what I’ve documented in this column could be construed as complaining, and, yes, some of it is. But it’s not with running as much as it’s with the running scene. There’s a difference. If you don’t recognize it, it’s likely because you’re a part of the scene.
It’s different now than when I ran as a student. It’s a different season. And I’m twentysomething years older. And instead of finding ways to enjoy the weather, I’m finding myself becoming afraid of it.
Since beginning my training three weeks ago, every training day but three has been cold and wet. It’s not so bad once you get moving but it’s a difficult motivator. And stretching in cold, wet grass sucks. But when the Chicago Marathon starting gun goes off on Sunday, October 13, the weather conditions could be that which we have trained through at some point this summer or nothing at all. Chicago on marathon day has been cold and dangerously hot.
Where Las Vegas is lauded for its dry heat, that heat that gave me cause to halt my running, I can only hope that Chicago offers a dry cool come race day. Not so I can place well or meet a personal time goal — I don’t have one — but so it’s not an excruciating trot through the city’s potholed terrain. And, I’d hate to prove my wife correct by dying at the race’s end from heat stroke.
In a way, I’m still running to impress a girl.
If you’d like to help Gilda’s Club Chicago, an organization the provides free cancer support to anyone impacted by cancer, please make a donation to my Team Gilda running page. I appreciate your help. More importantly, so do the thousands of Gilda’s Club members who would be lost without it.