Thursday, April 8, 2010

Riding the Lightning

Sitting at my desk this afternoon, I was slowly working toward wrapping up for the day, when it flashed across the bottom of my screen: Severe T-Storm Warning.  I let the crawl finish then whipped my head around to get a glimpse out the window.  Could it be true?  Sure enough, the clear blue skies from lunch had yielded to what I've come to know as the spring time afternoon sky.  

There's an ominous yellow pall that hangs lazily.  The air thickens.  Benjamin Moore might call it "pollen yellow," but that would instead be the color of my car right now.  No, this is more of a diffused yellow, the kind you might see on storm chasers or expect right before the world is about to end.  Sunlight gets diffused and the wind stirs the budding trees.  Thunderheads bloom in the western sky.  

This is going to be some serious shit.

With a marathon in April, I thought by some miracle I would bypass this volatile time of year, where training runs hang in the balance.  Do I go?  Do I not go?  What if I go?  What if I get struck by lightning?  

I've made the mistake of setting out only to turn an easy run into a tempo workout (or all out sprint) to make it back to the house.  The phrase, "Running for your life" comes to mind.  I can remember one particular incident when the lightning flashed, the thunder boomed right behind it, and it's hard to fight that advice to not hang out under a tree to wait it out.  My dad drove nearly my entire loop before mercifully pulling over, flinging the car door open, and hauling my soggy butt in.  Other times, I've called off workouts, erring on the side of caution, only to have it 1) not rain at all or 2) rain for 10 minutes and suddenly disappear as if there was never a storm at all.

So, it was with these past experiences weighing on me that I began to rapidly close things down and prepare to leave.  My boss looked at me with concern, "You going to get your run in?"

"That's the plan."
"Get out of here then!  And don't go out too far."

It's like she knew.  Scheduled tonight was a 3x2000m interval workout followed by 3x200m (remember, tapering but keeping the engine revved).  

And I drove as quickly as the wind blew, got home, changed, walked the dog, and kept peering up at the  darkening clouds.  The hour-by-hour forecast called for the storm to begin around 7:00 and it was only reliable (and hopeful) source.

I trotted out on my warmup, a quicker than normal pace out to the 2K part on my course, stood for a moment to catch my breath, the words of Metallica lingering in my head, "Take a look to the sky...just before you die.  It's the last time you will," sighed, then turned and set off for my first interval.  

With the wind at my back, I floated up and down the hills, my singlet fluttering at my sides.  The lactic acid beginning to build in my quads made me forget all about the bruised clouds rolling in.  I just focused on turnover, getting through.  I clicked the watch, threw my hands over my head and started a slow 2:30 recovery jog.  That was one.

When number 2 came around, I took off, coasting through the downhills that tortured me just minutes before when I climbed up them.  But now, that tailwind was a headwind.  My singlet still fluttered but the stiff breeze blasted me with pink petals (trust me, they aren't as pretty when pelting you in the face), and choked me with pollen.  I clicked the watch again and fought the urge to go hands to knees.  "Take a look to the sky...."

Half my recovery went and I turned to jog back to the starting line for number three.  I cleared my throat, telling myself the yellow was pollen and not infection (incidentally, I stopped eating pretzels out of a bag today a woman whose husband is sick stuck her hand in...paranoid? overreaction? germapobe? Guilty as charged).  

A few stray, fat raindrops splattered on the sidewalk.  I fought the urge to panic, telling myself I had to do the interval because I had to get home anyway.  The Yield sign on West Ox Road came up..."just before you die."  Click of the watch and off I went.  Half the sky looked normal, the other half (the half I was running toward) looked like night had descended.

This one started to hurt...and bad.  I tried to talk myself out of it: "It's a peak week.  We don't need this.  Find the flow and ride the current.  Smooth stride."  But then I kept looking at the sky in front of me and my legs churned even faster.

As I rounded the corner into the neighborhood (.4 to go), there was a moment similar to the one in the Perfect Storm.  You know, they've turned the boat around to ride out the storm in calmer waters and suddenly the clouds part and the sun peeks through, one brief glimmering moment of serenity...and then disappears again. Well, the sun poked through for that moment and disappeared just as quickly.

The yellow speed bump was in sight.  I churned harder, pumping my arms...clicked the watch.  "It's the last time you will."

I waited two-and-a-half more minutes, bracing for the onslaught.  But it never came.  Not then anyway. I banged out my 200s and went inside for some much needed gatorade.  I stretched in our living room, letting the sweat trickle down my face and enjoying that soaking, summer time exhaustion I think you can only appreciate after running in the heat.  I'm talking the looks-like-you-just-got-out-of-the-pool-type soaked and that tiredness hits you all at once.  Sweet, satisfying exhaustion of a job well done.

I came to the kitchen to make my recovery drink.  I watched the trees whip on their sides, the chairs on our deck blow askew, and finally, the deluge of water and flashes of lightning that I'd braced for came.   Only this time, the panic and urgency had subsided and I just stared and enjoyed that serene sound of the rain lashing outside.  Summer running is here.

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