On Tuesday the physiotherapist gave me the go-ahead to reintegrate the “long run” into my training schedule.
Pre-injury my idea of such had been to conquer a ten-, eleven- or twelve-mile course, but weakened by a six-week training hiatus, an irritable hip and temperamental knee, seven kilometres was as good as it would get for now.
Rather than dwelling on “how lame seven sounds compared to 20” though, I decided to focus on the advantages of being allowed to re-approach my favourite element of training: The ability to establish that wonderfully meditative rhythm in your stride, the beauty of spending time alone - just your own humble body for company - and of course, the sense of achievement when you finally finish, peel achy feet out of sweaty socks and let your limbs wallow in post-run bliss.
The anticipation and excitement meant that by the time Saturday morning came around, it was all the more devastating that - rather than being a bracing but sun-drenched late autumn day - the world had turned into a soupy snow globe overnight. Blustery winds, torrential rain and the mercury had dropped too: low-single digits but feeling more like zero.
When cups of tea, weekend papers and other more creative procrastination attempts eventually began running thin, I begrudgingly conceded, laced up, zipped up, stubbed in the headphones and hit the street for some hardcore puddle-dodging, looking no more glamorous than the Michelin man. And a little less smiley for sure.
The water started seeping between my toes in no time and the spray from several passing cars pushed me to the edge of tolerance, but as I entered the park – and much to my surprise – I noticed that I was not the only mad sole to have swapped toasty living room for squally nature.
Beneath a murky veneer, the park was abuzz with runners: every hundred odd yards, a waterproofed figure, zipped up and dripping, would pass me by. Heads kept low, eyes blurry but faces clearly appreciating the wildly unexpected oasis of tranquility in the thick of a grim rainstorm at the heart of London.
As I clocked my first kilometre, I became acutely aware of just how clean each raindrop had made the air. Rather than each breath bearing its common fumy aftertaste, I could gulp down mouthfuls without even sensing so much as a morsel of impurity.
Thanks to it having rained most of the night, each bead of water that spilled onto my tongue tasted of glorious nothingness and I could feel the hydration seeping through my skin. The air filtered through every arteriole and into the furthest corners of my body, rejuvenating skin, nerves, muscles, blood and all my organs – so sick of being trapped in a windowless office, relying graying colleagues’ recycled exhalations, day in, day out.
As I skirted along the northern edge of the park, the pattering of the rain was abruptly interrupted by three galloping horses: Twelve hooves, like weapons, slamming into the mud, and three riders, clad in long rain coats, faces obscured by a wet curtain, like knights tumbling towards battle. Bundles of earth, dirt and water flew through the air, speckling my tights in their wake.
But then, just as quickly as they arrived, they were gone, leaving us to meditate on our steady breaths, the rhythm of the elements, our squeaky footfall and the all-engulfing silence beneath a blanket of rain.
I’m shivering and starving by the time I finish, but a stodgy breakfast and steamy bath replenish my energy levels in no time. The rain however, persists; all through the day, all through the night and all through the following day.
I don’t head out again, but make soup, take hot showers and spend time stretching. I’m fighting off the first symptoms of a cold, slurping water soluble vitamin C tablet with zinc, and from my experience of London’s winters, running in the rain is something that I’ll have to start getting used to.
At least I now know that when I do head out, pull the door closed behind me and watch the heavens open, what awaits is unexpected tranquility, beautifully clean air and a whole family of not-so fair weather runners whose toes are just as sodden as mine. We’re in it together.
(Image courtesy: thedailyenlightenment.com)
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