Miles high

All week we’d been graced with autumn days that felt like the sound of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G – a swirling uplift of leaves and breeze, a gentle descent of sunlight in the western sky, impassioned bursts of color from trees singing their last joyous harmonies before winter’s fugue silences their glory.

But the weekend’s forecast threatened the end of our sun-splashed reverie. The announcers on our local public radio station gleefully read the latest bulletins from the National Weather Service: winter storm watches for the mountain passes, high surf warnings for the ocean beaches. And for metropolitan Puget Sound? Rain. Pounding, driving, blowing, Pacific Northwest autumn rain. Rain that inspired the likes of Eddie Bauer and the founders of REI. Rain that makes Seattle the most book-reading city in the nation. Rain that creates a highly caffeinated yet oddly subdued collection of down-and fleece-sporting citizens.

I woke at 5:30 on Sunday morning and lay still in bed, listening. I could hear a few drips landing on the sodden plants beneath our bedroom window. But there was no steady patter of showers, no rush of wind gusts. The unexpected silence was such a relief. My planned training run was 10 miles and I dreaded having to slog through it as the rain soaked my shoes.

I rose for coffee and a pre-run yoga session. Shortly after 6:00, as I was grimacing through Crow, it hit. The glass front of the fireplace rattled, there was a howl from the living room window where I’d left it open just a sliver, and the building shuddered as a blast of wind careered in from the northwest.  Within moments the windows were streaked with thin streams.  “Well, kid,” I thought, “you signed up for the no-bullshit training plan. You ARE running a half-marathon at the end of November. Rain is your present, rain is your future.”

I stepped out the door shortly after 7, waterproof jacket zipped to my chin, long pants zipped tight at my ankles. And there was the moon, low on the horizon,  ripe and lush after waxing full during the night. The clouds rushed past carrying away the rain and the sky shimmered a silvery-blue. The wind blew deliriously, claiming its right to change the seasons on a whim.

And so I ran. I ran the steep climb from 65th to Phinney and descended cautiously on pavement slippery with Big Leaf maple and White birch leaves. I splashed through puddles that dotted the outer perimeter of Green Lake. I ran as the sun rose and the dog walkers emerged. I ran to the inner perimeter and dodged couples sipping lattes from travel mugs and moms trotting with strollers. I ran past the Aum Shinrikyo guy meditating in full lotus by the west end bathrooms, past the tai chi group practicing behind the viewing stands; I ran past the scullers and the geese paddling in their wake, past the turtles sunbathing on logs, past the Blue Herons posing in the shallows. I crammed my gloves and my earband into the pockets of my jacket and stripped to shirtsleeves, cursing my long pants as my body heat steamed through the layers.

About five miles on, it was as if someone had suddenly dimmed the lights from 75 watts to 40. The golden-green glow in the sky dulled to a lusterless gray as the clouds rolled in, heavy and low. And then the rain began. There was no warning interlude of slow drops. It simply spewed forth, pummeling straight into my face, sending my contact lens astray.

But I’d reached the crazy point. The point at which your body has settled in the groove, your endorphins are in command of the show, you are running because there is no other option, there is no other place you could be. As the paths emptied out, the walkers making a dash to the shelter of their cars and nearby cafes, the runners were left to splash through their circuit. You’d catch someone’s eye as you passed, realizing that shit-eating grin smeared across their rain-plastered face was a mirror image of your own. There might be a nod, a lift of a finger, as an acknowledgment of the camaraderie between maniacs. Or you might simply be witnessing someone lost in their own pace, surviving their pain and the elements by the grace of will and the perfect set of tunes on their iPod.

I feel like I’m one injury, one disaster away from not running. The chronic pull in my groin,  the sharp twang in my left metatarsal, the deep ache in my plantar fascia have sidelined me in recent years (recent months!); only this week have I stopped feeling a jolt in my ribs from September’s bike crash. So every run feels like a gift. I GET to do this. I get to run in weather than numbs my legs and leaves me shaking from a cocktail of adrenalin and exhaustion. I get to rise in the wee hours before dawn to do what I know will heal me –  yoga –  before I set out to do what shreds me apart.  I’ll never be fast, I’ll never be thin, I’ll never assume the finish line is mine. But no one else runs those miles for me. Those miles are mine.

This morning I set out under clear skies. By the time I finished, the clouds had gathered and the first drops were falling. Today I ran 12.  The half marathon is twenty eight days away.

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