By Christopher Cudworth
A recent weekend full of fun obligations kept me from any serious time on the bike. I did get out for a couple 6-mile rides with friends and family, but nothing to build any real fitness.
By Tuesday I was aching for a ride but the skies were low and wet. Thankful for the rain however, I stood looking out at the garden soaking up needed moisture and considered whether it was worth suiting up for a ride or a run.
Actually running was not really an option. Not until I solve the achilles tendon soreness that cropped up two weeks ago. That means a trip to the pedorthist and a pair of new shoes at least. Like so many things in life, when it rains, it seems to pour…
Not that I don’t like running in the rain. I love it. Always have. By the time I was nine years old I can clearly recall running barefoot on the short wet grass of Meadia Heights Golf Club outside Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
We lived next to the course, and I’d grab a set of golf clubs; 3-wood, 7-iron and putter to play the remote holes when no one else was around on a rainy day. Lacking a cart or bag, I’d run the distance from shot to shot. Often I could find my golf ball by tracing the little lines it left on the damp fairways. Putts would throw up little rooster tails and often the cups were filled with clear, cool rainwater. All told the experience was actually something more than golf. Everything shone and hummed in the soft light of a rainy day. And I ran and ran and ran from hole to hole.
I knew the course so well I could play 14 out of the 18 holes without being seen from the clubhouse. It was my private country club in that sense. I was connected to that property more intimately than many of the golfers who paid thousands of dollars to be members of the club. There is no greater privilege than running barefoot on the cleanly mown grass of a golf course during a rainstorm at dawn. I’d be soaked to the skin and slightly out of breath after two or three holes. And man was I alive.
Every summer I’d run and golf in the rain. There would be deer running through the wet forest some mornings. The pelting rain made noise on the leaves and springs bubbled up from the Pennsylvania ground.
During one long rainstorm those springs ran for hours and my friend and I stripped naked on the 17th fairway where he lived and we turned the fairway into one long Slip and Slide. We’d run headlong and dive into the cold clear stream ahead, or ride on our naked butt cheeks as long as our momentum would take us. We were twelve years old and had no worries about what others would think. His sisters came out to watch and we cared not one whit that we were naked. And that, my friends, is how life should actually be lived.
By the age of 12 I had learned that my running ability was better than most. I dominated the training runs in baseball practice and led the 12:00 minute run in gym class. But the formal training that would follow never diminished that love of freedom and joy at running in the rain.
We’d get caught in thunderstorms as a team in high school and come trundling home from a wet practice laughing and splashing each other in deep puddles along the curbs. Really, we were still just kids.
In college one spring we set out for a 13 mile run and the skies opened up at three miles and never let up. Our cotton sweats got heavy and baggy. The crotch of the sweat bottoms sagged to our knees. We had to run like Oompa Loompas. Our shoes were heavy too. After the run we weighed ourselves and realized there were six to seven pounds of water bogging us down. “Training effect!” my teammate laughed.
Running in the rain brings out the kid in you, which may be why I specialized in running the steeplechase in college. The chance to splash through the water was too much to resist. And everyone would gather near the steeple pit secretly hoping someone would go down in the drink. It’s human nature. A baptism of sorts. Even Jesus got dunked when he was ready to begin his ministry. Water is like that. A cathartic force in this world.
Even as a supposedly mature adult that feeling of liberation at running in the rain is still familiar and joyful. A few years back when a hurricane swept up through Illinois from the Gulf of Mexico, the rain it brought was so prodigious it called me outside to run. Wearing a pair of older shoes I took off into the gusts and giant raindrops ripping across the landscape. At times the rain was so loud it hurt your eardrums as raindrops the size of ping pong balls bashed down on my hat and struck the ground. The street was alive with cats and dogs and there were really no puddles because everything, everywhere was a puddle. Then a stream. Then a river. Running water. Life water. Crazy, happy water.
Drivers honked their horns at the sight of a crazy runner piling through the rain. It even stopped me cold at times. The drops hurt so bad I had to stand under a tree to gather my wits, chuckling like a madman.
But it was fun and I was laughing and even perhaps crying a couple times at the joy of nature’s force and frivolity. The skies had pulled out all stops and the feeling of running in those conditions was like being in a race where you lost your fear of pain and were just letting it all go. It was raining so hard you felt like a winner and a loser at the same time. And man was I alive.
In recent years the joy of running in the rain has been transferred to cycling. Of course early memories of riding a fat tire bike through puddles after a rain storm feed the mind with memories of rooster tails behind a rear wheel with no fenders.
So standing in the kitchen looking out at the garden yesterday I decided to go for it. The rain was coming down solid and steady as I pulled on my best-fitting cycling kit along with a day-glo green rain jacket and headed out for a ride.
One could take the sensible advice and avoid riding in the rain. It’s not safe, people will tell you. Those road tires can slide or skid. Tarsnakes can take you down. Drivers won’t see you through rain-slick windshield.
Out we go
Blah blah baaaalaahh. I rode 20+ miles with no problem and averaged just over 17mph despite a strong north wind and a hilly route. The tires shone and the road hissed as I rolled downhill and back up. 17, 18, 19 miles an hour. Let it rip. Have some fun. Be a kid again.
Riding in the rain really rules
I don’t care about getting wet or being wet. I’ve gone out into the rain to ride before and the fact of the matter is, once you’re wet, you no longer notice it. Not if you use some equipment to keep warm in some intelligent way. Plus riding in the rain is actually necessary to gauge the full range of experience in cycling. Just ask any pro rider in the Giro de Italia or Tour de France. Riding in the rain tests your character. Makes you live in the moment.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.
That’s a pretty eloquent way of capsulizing our madness. Or is it sanity? Because life is much too short to try to ride or run between the raindrops. Better to go straight through them and actually feel what it means to be alive. And that is why I went out the door into the rain. Life requires more than just fair-weather participation. It’s a law of the universe: If you don’t do out in the rain, the rain will come find you. Guaranteed.