A light mist turned to steady drizzle as soon as I was half a mile from home. I had thought I would catch the last bit of evening light, but clouds soon blocked out what little was left, making it a truly dark and stormy night. Unfazed, I continued on, enjoying the solitude of the streets and the glow from the houses I passed. Already, many of the streets were filled with water rushing towards the storm sewer outlets that lead in short course to the St. Croix River. As I turned the corner, I couldn’t help remembering one of my all-time greatest ever runs, which also happened in the pouring rain.
A few years ago, my friends and I decided to head north to Jay Cooke State Park for a mini-camping weekend in April. I was training for a marathon at the time, and so I diligently packed my running shoes along with my sleeping bag and gear. It was the first of many themed girls’ weekends camping trips, and this time we were dressed in 1980’s apparel, complete with neon pink footless leggings, jelly bracelets and side ponytails. Despite a late night of dancing in the nearby town of Carlton, I set my alarm for 7am and prepared to do my long run, rain or shine.
When I first woke up, the rain was coming down in sheets and the lightening was crashing directly overhead. I calmly decided to sleep in a bit longer. An hour or so later, the rain had died down to a light drizzle, and figuring there was no longer an excuse, I scurried to the bathroom to change into my running clothes. “I’m only going twelve miles,” I whispered to my friend Amber, who was looking quite concerned. I showed her the loop I planned to make and then parted with the words, “Back by eleven at the latest.” Only one mile down the road, however, the rain had already resumed. By the time I reached the turnoff for the hiking trail a few miles further down, it was pouring so hard that I could drink water without even reaching for my bottle.
Unlike the road, which had only gentle hills, the trail pointed straight up with rocks and roots leaping out in all directions. By the time I reached the top of the first incline, lightening had started bouncing around in the forest. For some reason, though, I felt euphoric. Following the trail as it zigzagged back and forth, I ran on effortlessly as though I was in a dream. Alongside me in the woods, a deer bounded out from behind a tree and then paralleled my path for a minute or so. I was strong. I was happy. I was lost.
Looking at my watch, I realized that it was high time for me to meet up with the paved path that was only supposed to be one mile down the trail. Ten minutes more, and now there was no way I could not yet have reached the trail. Pausing beside a rain swollen creek, I pulled out the soggy lump that used to be my trail map and tried in vain to discern where things had gone wrong. Finally, I realized that I had no choice but to turn around and head back just the way I had come. By my calculations, it would take me about an hour to get back to camp but my watch already read – GULP! – 10:30am.
Struggling to make up lost time, I retraced my route back down the trail to the road, slipping and sliding in the mud and the moss. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally hit pavement, only to realize that it was already 11am and I still had four more miles to go. Inexplicably, I developed a bloody nose, which I tried to patch with leaves I scooped off the ground as I kept running, not wanting to waste any more time. Around the corner of that completely desolate forest road, a car finally came into view, not driven by my friends, but by a woman who took one horrified look at me drenched and covered in mud and blood and then hit the accelerator to drive away faster. I finally reached the campground a little after 11:30am in time to see my friends, who had apparently already been out looking for me, climbing into the car to drive over to the ranger station. “Wait!” I cried out, sprinting towards the car, “Everything’s okay. I was just a little lost and running in the rain.”
This week, when the first streak of lightening blazed across the evening sky, I decided to turn homeward, thinking how mad my husband would be at me if I got electrocuted while out on my run. Nothing dramatic happened, and no deer appeared to run along beside me. I did, however, get to see my new community from a different point of view. If you ever want a clearer understanding of the term stormwater runoff, or have perhaps been wondering lately, “Where does all that water go?” there’s an easy way to find out. Just strap on your shoes the next time you hear thunder and head out for a run in the rain.