Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 18 Dec 2003 18:42:42 -0500

Rain on Our Parade

RUNNING COMMENTARY 497

(rerun from December 1997 RW)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, where I live and run, we don't dream of a white Christmas but expect a WET one. Rain falls regularly and often heavily here from shortly after Labor Day to almost the Fourth of July.

So while we know less than most of you about dressing for the cold and snow, we know what to wear -- and not wear -- on rainy days. If you don't run in rain here, you don't run for half the year.

At one recent marathon that I attended, a storm rolled through on race eve. This panicked one man, who checked out of his hotel at two o'clock in the morning and later mailed back his race number, demanding a refund because officials couldn't guarantee him a dry run.

In fact, raceday was dry. But even the slight possibility of rain caused another runner to wear the high-priced rainsuit he'd bought the day before. He soon overheated and handed the suit to a stranger beside the course -- and later demanded that officials retrieve it for him.

I visited another marathon that had enjoyed a streak of dry years. Now rain was forecast, and a main topic of discussion at the Saturday expo was, "What should I wear?" The office was showered with calls asking, "Will the race be canceled if it rains?"

The rain blew in overnight and stayed through marathon Sunday. It truly was a bad day -- for standing and watching. Officials who honored their commitment, and spectators without a good excuse to stay home, looked miserable.

But it wasn't a bad day for running. Temperatures were mild, winds gentle, rains light. No one would freeze or melt.

Runners who weren't at home in these conditions started the race in the garbage bags they'd worn to the start. One man wrapped his head and neck, one knee and both feet in clear plastic bags.

Many runners reacted as if they were about to sail with the fishing fleet into a typhoon. Some wore coats, pants and gloves. They later looked like human clotheslines as they draped stripped-off items from their waists and necks. Or they littered the roadside with enough clothing to stock a Goodwill store.

They forgot some truisms of running:

1. If you feel comfortable while standing at the starting line, you'll soon be too warm.

2. The apparent temperature warms up by 20 degrees during a run.

3. Better to underdress than overdress.

Before leaving our hotel for this race, I had told my wife Barbara, "This would be the day of my dreams if I were running a marathon." Most of my best road-race times have come on days like this, when nature's air-conditioning is set at "ideal."

This day I ran half a marathon, and at a pace that wouldn't build up much steam. Yet I wore only the usual shorts and short-sleeved shirt. The one concession to the rain was a cap to keep the drops off my glasses.

Take it from a longtime moss-backed, wet-footed runner: The widespread fear of rain is exaggerated and the contempt for it misplaced. Rain seldom spoils anything about a race except how you look in the finish-line photo.

UPDATE. In four years of teaching running classes year-round at the University of Oregon, we've been forced indoors by the weather only once. That was when horizontal rain would have made running in traffic risky.

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