When it comes to race day weather, I’ve been pretty lucky. An overcast sky and cool temperatures are ideal for endurance sports. More often than not, that’s what Mother Nature has delivered.
But I’ve also had to contend with hot, sunny race days, which can bring the toughest of the tough to their knees. I’ve seen people collapse from dehydration during races. Despite the varying weather conditions, including a blinding snow squall during a 10-km winter race, I’ve managed to complete every race I’ve started.
Ironically, it seemed my luck might run out on the day of my 13th half-marathon. The forecast for September 21 was a 70 per cent chance of a rainstorm. I’ve run in light rain several times while training, but the thought of 21.1 km in a downpour was daunting. The lightning bolt icon on my iPhone’s weather app wasn’t very encouraging. Nevertheless, like the majority of the 25,000 people who signed up to run five or 21.1 km that day, I decided I’d show up – no matter what!
When I woke up, the weather was perfect. Cool and slightly overcast. When my husband dropped me off, I couldn’t make up my mind whether to take my rain jacket with me. I was feeling optimistic, so I left it in the car. If the rain held off, it would be too much of a nuisance to run with the jacket tied around my waist.
The excitement intensified as thousands of runners warmed up in the various corrals. Finally, we heard the cannon fire to signal the start of the Canada Army Run half-marathon. The RCMP brass band played inspirational military music as we walked shoulder-to-shoulder to the start line. And then we were off.
I was feeling happy and making good time until about 50 minutes into the race, when it started to rain. I didn’t see one person wearing a rain jacket. It had become so humid that wearing anything long-sleeved would have been intolerable. Fortunately, I sometimes think outside the box. I was the only person out of thousands to have the foresight to bring a shower cap. I took it out of my fuel belt pocket and placed it over my running cap. I may have looked foolish, but at least my head stayed dry.
The rain kept coming down as we ran through downtown Ottawa, over to Gatineau, and back to Ottawa, through the Rideau Hall grounds and along the canal. There were so many puddles, it soon became impossible to avoid them. There’s nothing pleasant about running with wet feet or drenched clothing. Despite the hardships, the runners, including me, carried on.
Whether we are fast, slow or somewhere in between, runners typically have an unwavering commitment to our sport and to ourselves. We learn to push through mental walls. We refuse to stop even when we are uncomfortable or in pain. We want nothing more than to get to the finish line. There are additional measures of success. Many of us want to get to the finish line faster than we’ve done before, scoring a “personal best” time. Competitive runners aim to finish ahead of other runners. And we all want to finish injury-free.
I finished the race saturated, but my luck didn’t run out that day. I came. I ran. I conquered. I felt joyful. The rain didn’t end up spoiling the experience; rather, I think it enhanced it. It helped remind me what I’m made of and what I’m capable of. I didn’t have my best completion time, but I wasn’t disappointed. On that day, my will to keep going meant more to me than my race time. If you’re not a runner, you’re probably thinking that running, especially in the rain, is pointless. But the thousands of us who showed up that day got the point: Success doesn’t happen by avoiding the uncomfortable. Success requires conviction, even if it means splashing through puddles to achieve your goal.
My devoted husband stood in the rain with his camera for quite some time in order to capture my moment of glory. He got a photo of me running to the finish line – with the shower cap on my head. And then his water-logged camera short-circuited.
Gloria Schwartz is a personal trainer at the Soloway JCC and the author of Personal Best: Train Your Brain and Transform Your Body for Life.