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Fool In The Rain

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I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless

When I'm breathless I run till I drop -- Led Zeppelin

On Saturday I went out for a short run. It was cool and began raining after a few minutes: slow at first, increasing as I ran west into the storm front. By the time I turned around, I couldn't help but notice that I was smiling -- even as the rain got into my eyes and wrested my contacts away from my corneas. The rain cooled me off, but more pronounced than the physical cooling was the overriding calm that it brought. With that calm came a feeling of being centered that often requires a few hours of running.

It's a calm that I have only experienced a few times. The first time I recall while running was a few months into my initial training for a half marathon. I wore shorts and a long-sleeved technical tee and got caught in a deluge. I think I ran three miles, an out-and-back up a long hill. The rain really hit right when I got to the top of the hill; halfway back down I spotted two guys my age running up to their front porch. Upon seeing me jogging down the hill, they stopped and stared with the sort of incredulity that a sopping wet white boy in a mostly black neighborhood deserves: I looked absurd.

A few years later I went out for my peak marathon training run, a 22 mile out-and-back along the National Mall and C&O Towpath. About six miles into the run the skies opened up and soaked me. My headphones stopped working; I packed the iPod up into my belt back and let the sounds of the river and rain guide me through the run. After mile eight I saw exactly three people out along trail. Every single one of them smiled, waved, and high-fived me. We were all caught in the rain, and there was nothing to do but embrace it. Sometimes the only way to enjoy the ride is to give in and let yourself enjoy it.

Runs in the rain are probably my favorite -- I tend not to over-heat, my surroundings sound different, and the smell can be wonderful. These are the runs in which the world seems so empty and vast -- not a soul in sight, lest they get soaked to the bone. Those few that you do see tend to have their heads down, hunched under a newspaper or with a hood on in an attempt to shield themselves from the world at large. Humanity recedes to shelter, leaving nothing between the runner and the road (save a few millimeters of rubber, ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer, and a pair of socks).

Our human interactions during these runs are far more rare, and perhaps as a result are more enjoyable. The plodding tourist, painfully unaware cyclist, and hurried mother with a double-wide stroller are nowhere to be found. What's left are that handful of stranded pedestrians and a few other runners. Those who choose to acknowledge you all give the same look, best approximated as the 'hey-buddy-what-the-hell-are-you-thinking-can-you-believe-we're-out-here-in-this-shit?' look -- a mixture of delight and curiosity. We are not well-suited for the cold rain; we see our own silliness in the others susceptible to it. That silliness makes it all worthwhile.

It's always nice to see someone else sharing in our particular flavor madness; runs in the rain happen to be a particularly beloved aspect of mine.