World class marathoner Bill Rodgers once stated that one of the benefits of being a distance runner is the ability to rescue yourself during an emergency. His point was thus: “If you’re stranded in your car in a snowstorm, you can always run to safety.”
Well, that’s a wishful thought at times, isn’t it?
I’ve tried out that theory of running or riding for emergency and practical reasons and it did not work out so well. It’s one of the tarsnakes of life that when you make up your mind to run for it, there is often a cost that comes with the decision.
Rainy days and Mondays
Emerging from the John Hancock building in Chicago one spring afternoon, I was about to embark on the trip to the train station a mile away when the skies opened up. It began raining so hard it sounded like ice breaking on the sidewalks. I tried to hail a cab as quickly as possible but they were all instantly taken. It was like a scene from some sit-com or movie about a guy with bad luck. All I could see were cab doors opening and people getting in while I stood under the awning of the Hancock with my jaw open.
I knew the train I needed to catch to make an evening commitment left in 20 minutes. So I did some quick calculations in my head to figure out whether the bus would get me there on time. Then like another scene from the Bad Luck Movie a bus rolled by that was just jammed with people. There was no way taking the bus was an option.
So I looked out into the rain and said to myself, “Maybe I’ll run to the station.”
There was just one problem. I had no raincoat. Rain was not predicted that day so I did not bring one. and I wasn’t about to go spend $150 on some North Face raincoat at the basement store of the Hancock. So I took a deep breath, tucked the computer bag under my arm and started running toward Ogilvie Transportation Center.
Within a block the rain had already soaked through my wool suit. It was a light wool suit at least. But it was wool. The fibers started to scratch my skin a little and a trickle of water somehow reached my nether regions. This was not going well.
At some point the puddles on the street became no obstacle. I could not afford to dodge them and keep making reasonable progress. So I ran right through. Fortunately I was wearing a pair of relatively waterproof Rockport dress shoes. They were actually comfortable for running. I’d once seen an advertisement for Rockport that showed a guy wearing their dress shoes to run a marathon. So the footwear was not a problem.
I always knew my running paces pretty well and I was trucking along at under 7:30 pace, making good time. People trapped in storefront coves stared at me running through the rain as if I was a crazy man. Of course they were right. What I was doing was crazy.
The suit was now soaked through completely. The rain had never let up. In fact it was blowing in sheets and whirling in visible downpours out of the sky. Litter and city detritus was tumbling down the rain-filled gutters of Michigan Avenue. But I kept on running.
Cutting through a building plaza there was a brief moment when the rain was blocked by some overhead structures. I could now feel how truly wet I was. It was silent and cold in those 100 meters. Then I emerged again into the falling rain and headed on to Wacker Drive. Rain struck my cheeks and I let out a laugh. This was really insane.
The race of my life
I’ve run some races (in fact many races) where conditions were uncomfortable. We once raced through newly fallen snow on a golf course at a national cross country meet. That was cold and wet and muddy and snowy all at once. And pretty uncomfortable.
I’ve also run the steeplechase when they had to chip the ice out of the water jump, and also when it was so hot out the track was melting in spots. And those were uncomfortable runs.
But nothing really compares to running two-plus miles in a soaked woolen business suit on a cold, rainy afternoon in Chicago. The wind kept whipping me and slowed my pace to a near standstill at some point. Time was ticking away and I needed to catch my train. I knew I had a five margin of error but somehow I’d managed to make a mistake and added a couple extra blocks by taking a wrong turn between buildings on the route. A surge of panic hit me. It was close in terms of time and I was getting out of breath.
Meanwhile the computer bag clutched under my arm was shiny and slack with wetness. I prayed the computer inside would not get wet. My arm pit was chafing as I ran. A mad thought of tossing the thing in the river and never going back to my job went through my head.
Saggy and soggy
Probably the worst part of the ordeal were the dress socks I was wearing. These too were a wool composition and now hung slack on my ankles. The tops had turned down and I began to imagine that overall I must look like the guy on the cover of the Jethro Tull album Aqualung. How appropos, anyway. That was pretty much the truth. I’d breathed in quite a bit of water. The faster I ran, the worse it got.
Finally I crossed a metal grate bridge and turned the corner for the one-block sprint finish to the lower level of Ogilvie Transportation Center. My suit now clung to my body like a heat vest in a sci-fi movies. As I entered the cool lower levels of the train station, steam rose off my body.
Climbing the final flight of stairs to reach the trains was a soggy, sorry close to the running portion of my commute. My bald head was shiny and my shoes matched. There was a squishing noise from my socks inside the footwear. My underwear sagged beneath the suit slacks. Everything was flopping around down there. It was, perhaps, one of the more humbling moments of my life.
Entering the train meant coming into a closed space. The air was humid and warm. I stood on the platform between trains and tried to cool off. That wasn’t happening. Plus I stank. Of wet wool. And was that sweat too? Yes, it was sweat. What a nasty combination.
So I stayed on the platform rather than go try to find a seat. There was no way I was going to foist my soggy, smelly self on anyone else on that train.
The train ride took an hour from Chicago to Geneva. I stood there with one hand holding the bright metal pool while the suit hung from my frame like the flag of a defeated army.
Finally the train lurched to a halt and I could walk to my car. And wouldn’t you know it? A small rain shower came along to soak me one more time.
At home it took several minutes to remove the suit. I hung it on a door hanger with the vow to take it to the cleaners the next day. Would the suit ever have creased again? Had I ruined its texture by running through the rain?
It all felt rather sorry and sad. Yet I was proud in some weird way that I’d managed to make that train through the rain. A month later that job was over. The promises the company had made; that I would only go through training in the city for a couple weeks and then not have to commute anymore had been strung out to months and then almost a year. Nothing they promised me ever happened. No remote connection to the database. No suburban office from which to base our sales operations.
That run from the Hancock to the train station turned out to be a symbolic one. Despite all the adversity I’d done my best to make it all work. But whether you make promises to yourself or someone else makes promises they can never keep, sometimes you have to just suck it up and run right through it. It may not seem to pay in the moment, yet years later you realize it was what you had to do to survive in the moment.