When do we feel most truly alive? The mountain top, overlooking a valley, sun streaming through clouds? Or maybe a cliff-top view of the ocean at sunset, or a mid-day lake in August, our body warmed to the point where we can’t resist a dip in the lake. Right?
A week ago Sunday, I set out for a five-mile run, trying to wedge it in before another early spring storm came, wishing it was sunny or at least without the early-spring edge of cold that reminds you winter’s still holding on by its fingernails.
About a mile in, I swerved around a couple and their dog just as the guy pointed to the clouds a mile down the valley and said to the woman, “See that rain? It’s going to hit us in about ten minutes.”
I’d seen the clouds and knew he was right. But this was my five-mile day. The minimum would be to go to the 1.5 mile point, which would total a three-mile out-and-back. But even as I pictured turning around, it was clear the run wouldn’t end there. It was going to be the full five miles, rain be damned.
Sure enough, as soon as I passed that 1.5 mile turnaround, the promised icy missiles hit. The last three and a half miles ended up being driving rain with a goodly dose of hail mixed in for extra crunch. And this, the first time in the season I’d decided to go in shorts instead of running pants. That waterproof cap purchased for just such an occasion? At home on the shelf by the door. Did I mention I’m bald?
It was a stark contrast with the day before, when I was in the Rocket coffee shop, sweating after a run with a friend, sipping an iced mocha with her and her husband while one daughter gulped juice and the other blew bubbles in her Italian soda, while they spoke eagerly of their impending escape to the beaches of Mexico.
Back in my mid-twenties, when my wife and I were still living in Alberta, I would lace up at midnight in the middle of winter, -20 Fahrenheit on snowy creek-side trails, in the days before slip-on shoe grips – and enjoyed it.
I’m almost twice as old now. We moved south for a reason. And didn’t move to the rainy coast for a reason.
In the end, early-season, cold-temperature rain and even hail aren’t actually all that bad. And there just aren’t enough fair weather days in a given year when you’re available and in a good emotional, mental and physical state for every day to be those a-ha, bask-in-the-sun, Instagram-posting experiences. The legs tighten up, the eyes sting, but it’s all forgotten once you’re warm and dry – provided you don’t get hypothermia, of course.
Going a step further are the words of Errol “The Rocket” Jones, an ultra-marathoner who at age 65 struggles with not having been able to complete a hundred-mile race in three years. “If you’re going to be an ultra-runner you’re going to have to be able to embrace suffering.” It’s an interesting idea: You can learn to embrace suffering. Not just endure—embrace. And more than just three or four miles of rain and hail. He says “the pleasure comes in having overcome that” pain.
When the hail hits your fore-arm; when the wind blows in your inner ear so hard it starts to throb like it might be getting infected; when you’ve gone as far as you can go and then go one mile farther; that’s when you know you’re really alive.
Why is it we never take photos of those runs?