Recent Roads and Those recalled: Running, the ‘tough love’!
The path back to respectability as a runner is not an easy one. I discovered this as I have found it increasingly hard to motivate myself for long runs in particular as this smothering summer heat continues unabated. Morning short runs have ceased due to the pressures of a new job and evening runs hinge largely on whether the heat drops below 90 degrees and there is some decent cloud cover. Of course, cloud cover in Florida invariably prefaces storms, dazzling lightning shows and heavy rain!!!
I often find myself telling people that I live in Florida partly because I like the fact we can run all year round. This is essentially true, but whether we can run well is a point that promotes much discussion at my South Florida running club – this year more so, it seems. While I have no doubt that the science supporting climate change is real, there certainly seems to be much local anecdotal evidence that the earth is getting warmer, at least when I am out running !!!!!
All of this has left me sometimes to recall with fondness the days when I ran in London and the Sussex South Downs hills before my eventual emigration to the United States in 2003.
When I lived in England I thought nothing of adding leggings and a second layer to my attire, donning gloves and heading out for a cross country trek over Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park where Henry VIII once famously hunted. In winter the perennial heathland puddles froze over and farm tracks hardened into ankle turning ridges. Not to worry. We simply took care and got on with it. On days when it was so cold that five lungs full of air would preserve them for all of eternity we stayed inside and drank fine ales at the 17th century inn near my apartment.
This ‘training’ method seemed to work and was warmly supported by all and sundry within the club, although I secretly suspected that some hard nosed individuals actually took their training seriously and ran in all weathers. We, the rank and file, of course drank their health, told stories alongside high piled log fires built in Jacobian hearths and looked forward to their exploits in the upcoming Olympics. Yes. We had Olympians. Shady characters with medals, silly PR’S and no evident desire to support the local brewing trade at all!!!!! We were drinkers with a running problem it seems. The Wimbledon chapter of this worldwide phenomenon no less.
We competed only sparsely and ran on clement days, an occurrence not always guaranteed. November afternoons of grey, bone leaching drizzle were enough to deter all but the most intrepid aspiring racer, but as we were not really training for anything in particular it was ok to take a day off and head to the pub. My club, Belgrave Harriers, one of the oldest in the world condoned such attitudes. It was ok to run for fun and race from time to time. I wonder sometimes if this is still the case, especially when I see the times posted in the Park Series 5 K races wherein the first 50 runners all come in under 18 minutes. Times are changing my friend when the English seem to give a damn! Do they actually train now, I muse?
On those dull, cold Saturday afternoons when we got back to our clubhouse, an old Victorian building with meeting rooms, basic changing facilities and communal showers with, of course, a place for making tea we would slowly wait for the sensation to return to our hands and feet while our noses indicated a semblance of function by starting to run again. This was where the cotton gloves we often wore came in useful or better still that long sleeve of the light rugby shirt worn for the run with the club vest on top of it. Mr Hen would walk round shaking a wooden box fixed to a flat wooden handle as we stiffly moved our fragile, chilled limbs and changed. As he passed each of us we would rather unskillfully drop a few coins in though the slot on top of the box. A collection for club funds was the purpose of these grubby pennies and shillings gladly proffered. Ah happy days. You see, we knew no better!
Naturally, there were warm days. As I recall we had about seven of these in any given year. They were to be enjoyed and talked about in the months when the darkness gathered more tightly than eager runners clumped together on the start line ready for an autumnal 5K.
Then I moved to Florida……………………………………………
Things changed when I joined my first running club here. A Fort Lauderdale outfit that actually sponsored and held races. I had lost a fair amount of weight in recent months and was in much better shape. What a brilliant idea it might be to see how fast I could run these races. It was tough at first because I lacked fitness and I was totally bamboozled by this warm air that seemed to follow me everywhere. Consider that I had never started a run before 10AM in England and then imagine my surprise at lining up for a race At 6:30AM in the dark. This is the Florida way.
Indeed, I have to remember to tell any English friends that come here looking forward to a race that things kick off in the earliest hours or they will pitch up when the age group awards are being given to the over 60’s or just as the last of us has headed home!!!
Things are taken a lot more seriously here in Florida. People talk of regular races, their progressive improvement of times and all they are doing to be better still. If you were unaware of it at the start you soon become familiar with the extent of your competitive spirit by joining a club in Florida. No matter what your age or ability there seems to be something other than humidity in the air. It is the inescapable joy of being outside, in the warm weather, by the ocean and alive!! Welcome to Florida running at its best though beware the dog days of summer training !!!! They sap the strength and flatten the will, but we plod on in soaked, squishing running shoes because we know that soon the balmy days will return.
I have written before about how best to handle the hot weather and humidity, but have only touched on how demotivating this can be. Carrying a persistent nagging injury doesn’t help, but we are runners and we famously press on through the aches and pains because that is what we do!! Right? We run! That said, the almost sauna like characteristics of the atmosphere and its lung soaking humidity seem to strip the last vestiges of pleasure from long runs in particular.
As September advances many of us are heard to plead both publicly and privately ‘when will it end, when will the cool weather return?’ Of course, by ‘cool’ we Florida based runners mean anything close to or under 70 degrees. To us that is a winter blast, though personally I would welcome anything in the 50’s, a temperature that sends my fellow Floridian athletes scurrying for the closet in search of that long sleeve running vest that we know is in there somewhere. Color is not important nor style, so long as it protects them from the imaginary frosts they believe lie in wait for them.
Florida living softens the soul and thins the blood many say and the array of warm swaddling clothing suddenly adorned in these parts when more temperate weather settles on our roads bears clear testament to this.
Even when it is cooler the time hardened habit of convening before the dawn remains for many of us. Perish the thought that we might get up an hour later just because it is cooler. Arising at such silent hours is all part of the ritual of being a runner. A Florida runner. You see it’s hard, running, and not for the faint hearted. Apparently.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.