Whitewater, Wisconsin is in the southeast corner of the state. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the Chicago area, and a friend once attended college there.
So we drove up the night before and avoided drinking for once. That was hard to do at that age, because Friday and Saturday nights were generally reserved for drinking when we weren’t racing. That’s life in your 20s.
It was April. Race morning broke clear and sunny. The gun went off and we raced along at sub-5:30 pace expecting (hoping, dreaming) to complete at sub-1:12 half marathon. At the halfway point we were right on time. We turned around, and then the wind kicked up.
Or so it seemed. We’d failed to recognize the wind that had built up behind us as the sun rose in the sky. We were sailing along on pace because it was helping us along. And like all athletes, we were all too willing to deceive ourselves with the wind at our backs.
It turned out this was not just a little wind. This was a wind as big as the sky. The hair I had on my head at the time stood straight back. The big race numbers pinned to our shirts were both flapping and flattened on our stomachs. Gusts hit us from the front and side like giant invisible brooms. It was hard to keep balance on the road. We careened, and then our group broke up like a flock of wayward birds.
That left us each to fend four ourselves against the wind.That gets comic at times. There is a strong little voice in your head that starts to bark bad thoughts. “This does not matter,” it says. But then you think of all that training and find a way to keep going.
We didn’t stop. At one point a friend recalls laughing out loud at the absurdity of running in that kind of wind. Yet the persistent wind swept that laughter away as well. It was like running in a sound chamber. The wind stole the voice and even your footfalls on the road. One moves through a strange void of light and buffeting air.
The finish line took forever to reach. I lurched home the last quarter mile through town grateful just to be completing such a trial. My time was 1:16 and change. It felt like three hours.
In good Wisconsin style, there was beer served after the finish line. Normally I did not drink so soon after a race. But that day, I did not care. Nor did it matter what brand of brew it was. The goal was to drink away that feeling of fighting the wind. Because the wind had won. So I raised a can of Miller Lite or somesuch and watched for my buddies to come trundling home. Perhaps one of that had beaten me that day. I don’t recall. God love ’em for their effort.
It wasn’t the windiest day on which I’d ever run, but it was close. The trophy for Windiest Day goes to a training run in college when sustained winds reached 60 mph. We had to line up like ducklings just to get back home on a 12-miler. That was a living hell. But we laughed about that too.
The wind always wins, you see. There is no defeating it. Even on a calm day on your bike, or running intervals on the track, wind resistance is always there. Without it, you’d die of course. Oxygen is the element that gives us life. So it’s a tradeoff. When nature dishes it up the air we breathe in a fashion that is a little too hard for our liking as cyclists or runners, it is a solid reminder that nature can kick our ass anytime or anyway it likes.
It’s a fact of life. We all think we matter in the long run. But we really don’t. Nature cares not about the difference between the quick and the dead. The wind goes searching for both. How will it find you today?
LOVE LIFE. TRAIN HARD. COMPETE WELL.
Do you have a story of a windiest day? Share in the Comments section below…