Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, but the running isn’t!

This feels like the summer of 2012 all over again.  We had a stretch of rainy days which seemed to go on forever, although it was really only about a 10 days or so.  I had two rather interesting rain-related experiences during this time.  Both were during my Monday run from my hospital in Camden, NJ, over the Ben Franklin bridge to Philadelphia, a loop down to the Race Street pier, then back over the bridge and back to the hospital.  It is a very nice six mile round trip, with the challenge of the bridge, but also with a pleasant breeze on the bridge and very nice views.

The first interesting experience occurred on my way back through Camden.  Dark rain clouds and the rain coming down to the east were illuminated by the setting sun to the west, and a beautiful, full-arc, sharply colored double rainbow could be seen as I was crossing Market Street.  I stopped a local man crossing the street who hadn’t noticed this wonder of nature and pointed it out.  He smiled broadly, and said “yeah, cool.”

The other incident was a little more worrisome.  I was doing the same run again.  It was overcast, but the rain seemed to be off to the east, and usually the direction of travel of the rain clouds is west to east.  As I was cresting the high point on the bridge, large raindrops started to splat the walkway.  I still felt this didn’t seem like much of a problem.  In fact, I was marveling at how the rain on the walkway created an outline of the old-fashioned style lamps along the railing.  My reverie was short lived.  Instead of moving east, the storm was heading right towards me.  I still had about a quarter of the bridge to go as the rain picked up and became torrential.  Worse, lightening was flashing around me.  I don’t know the risk of being on an enormous steel structure during a lightening storm, but my gut feeling was that it was not safe.  I scurried down the ending stairway of the bridge, three sets of wet stairs, to the street.  I made it shortly to a loading dock area on the Rutgers campus, and got out of the storm.  As I waited out the storm, several other runners behind me on the bridge kept running in the storm, and I watched them go by.  I felt a little wimpy, as if I should shake my fear and continue running.  But then, reason took hold and I waited a bit more.  Looking up at the sky, I could see swirling clouds which looked like they were attempting to make a tornado.  Fortunately, it never go to that.  With the storm, and the lightening, having moved on, the thunder now coming more than 10 seconds from the lightening, I ventured out and ran the last mile or so back.  It was still raining, and when I got to the hospital I made sure to allow a little drip time before going back in to change.

Now, though, the rain has been gone for several days and the heat has arrived.  As we all know, running in the heat can be brutal.  One’s body must acclimate to the heat.  This is a complex process, involving changes in the body’s blood volume, hormonal status, immunological changes, sweat composition and response, and other alterations.  All those intricate physiological changes have yet to occur in me.  I ran yesterday for a seven mile run, and today for a 12.5 miler.  While the starting temperatures don’t sound that brutal, around 79 degrees F, the high humidity of 90%, low to non-existent breeze, and sun made for very uncomfortable running.  Both days we started at 7:00 AM.  My friend Brandon, with whom I ran on Saturday, seemed to already have made that jump to summer running, as he was not nearly as affected as I was.  Perhaps it is his incredibly lean, thin body, or the fact that he runs normally more than fifty miles a week, but he cruised without dying.  I, on the other hand, felt like collapsing after a few miles.  Saturday, I mustered on, drinking water from the fountains along our route, and going a very diminished pace.  Sunday, I started out running with two other runners, planning to go 13.5 miles.  I carried a bottle of water with me in one of those handy runner’s bottles, with a strap for my hand, and a protruding enormous nipple-like spigot, allowing a drink on the run.  One of the guys in my group peeled off at four miles, saying he was never going to make the 13.  The other kept with me until his usual turnoff at my six mile mark.  So I was left alone for the rest of the run.  As I steadily, but at a considerably slower pace than normal, made my way around our standard Sunday loop, the sun got higher, cresting the trees and shining down on me.  Other runners came by in the opposite direction, looking pretty bedraggled, with the exception of one young guy.  He had on a gray army-style t-shirt and was running with a backpack.  He looked pretty tough in the heat.  I was drinking steadily to ward off dehydration, and used the amount of sweat on my hands as a guide.  If they were dry, I figured I had stopped sweating from not enough fluid, and took another gulp.  The sweat continued to drench me, and I could feel my feet getting soaked in my shoes.  At around ten miles, I stopped at a water fountain and had the good fortune of meeting a friend running in the other direction.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but still we stopped to talk far more than would be normal under milder circumstances.  As I headed for the last leg, I was running now at around a 9’30” to 10 minute per mile pace, not able to go any faster.  I switched sides on the road a few times to take advantage of the bit of shade I could find from the trees.  With two miles left to go, I made the decision to cut this run short, and headed back up the hill for only a one mile return to the start, thinking that lost mile would not be doing me much good anyway.  I made sure to finish strong, though, as I passed my fellow Sunday morning crew who had run shorter and were already hanging out at the Starbucks.  One always should look good at the start and end of a run.  In between, nobody is really watching.  I banged on the sign marking the end of the run, and wobbled over to get my backpack and my extra bottle of sports drink I had stowed for my recovery.  Sitting in the shade, bent over, calf muscles doing their quivering imitation of fireworks going off, I took off my shoes and socks, wrung the sweat from my socks, and slowly felt the heat dissipating.  Once I had cooled to a nearly presentable state, I made my way over to join my friends. I changed to dry clothes, and sitting outside, with a little breeze and in the shade, it didn’t seem so awful.  But, boy, running in the heat can be brutal.  I do look forward to that magical transformation of being acclimated.

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