In the mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, at 7,000 feet, the sky is always close. Dense clouds float in what seems to be an arm’s length away, and the weather can change from sunny to apocalyptic over the course of a three-mile run. It turns out to be a mecca for distance runners, who come from all over the world to allow this wild place to make them elite competitors.
During my professional career as a middle distance runner, I spent the winters in Flagstaff preparing for the summer racing season. Those months were, without a doubt, the coldest, muddy, windiest and most unpredictable kilometers of my life. I can’t even reduce my memories to a certain kind of misery. I’ve run terrified by lightning strikes my heels, I spent hours grimacing in the wind and turning through the mud at a snail’s pace. There is a deep fatigue that derives from that kind of effort, a nervous exhaustion. When our pack returned to the team’s house, we would file in silence, stacking slippers to dry, and then cover our limp bodies on chairs and sofas inside.
Another US broker center UU. It is the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is also infamous. Hassan Mead, a 2016 Olympic in the 5,000 meters, hates running in the rain. Then, when he was recruited by the famous coach Mark Rowland to join the Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, he stopped. “I said to myself:” This is my dream! “” Remember Mead. “But do I have to be wet for that?”
- The answer is yes, and not only because suffering develops character. The science of exercise is a strong argument for difficult conditions. One of the biggest physiological challenges in the distance race is maintaining the correct body temperature. You want your muscles to be hot, so they are safe in full expansion and contraction. But when the core temperature is too high, the heart puts more effort to cool you than to feed the workout.
- So how do you keep your muscles warm but your core overheats? Fresh rain A couple of years in the Pacific Northwest turned Mead into a convert. “If I had it my way, I would always run in a cold rain,” he says. “It’s hard to get out, but those end the best races of your life.”
- Suboptimal conditions challenge your body in different ways. Steve Finley, a retired professional middle distance runner and coach of the Brooklyn Track Club, says training is about forcing adaptations, which means getting athletes out of their comfort zones. A strong wind that changes direction, a hail that scores a tempo race or a mud-covered descent forces you to reconsider your limits.
Bad conditions also improve race mechanics. When rain softens the grass, it affects the foot’s contact with the ground. Flexibility under the feet requires small supportive muscles in the feet and legs to work harder than usual, which helps to develop the stability and power of the soil. For those who adhere to the pavement, the slightly slippery sidewalk or road activates the muscles in the deep core, specifically the transverse abdomen, to tighten the posture and make slight balance corrections. And jumping over puddles, crawling from side to side through mud patches and running through heavy downpours turns a normal run into high intensity interval training.
I understand that these rewards do not always have the power to influence the internal struggle that occurs when the heavens become sinister and must reach a few miles. Now I am a coach, and I often see the same nerves and fatigue in my athletes that I felt in Flagstaff. I know how they feel at the moment, but most importantly, I know what they will add in months and years from today. I would not tell you this when you are trembling in Spandex before a hard effort, but I never feel closer to the sporting maximums than these cold and wet days. This is where the heart of the sport is.
However, I remind you that you will reap rewards for this work. Wind, rain, mud and cold serve to complete your physical condition in a way that I cannot program in a training calendar. Difficult conditions reveal the magic in the athlete. I hear it in his footsteps. Every time they pass me and my stopwatch, they bring a changing energy. His strides loosen. They stop preparing against the rain. The change is audible: a lighter tapping of steps, the breathing of the bodies that allows them to run fast. Hopefully the day they run for a PR is perfect: 60 years low at the start of the race, a weak wind behind them. But if race day is bad, they will also be ready for it.
Before my runners hit the track, I didn’t tell them to “have fun.” I would have hated to hear that. Wet, cold, about to run out: I was a warrior and I wasn’t there to have fun.
Even now, when I go out, I remind myself that I feel more alive when the wind howls and the road shines in the rain. Forget the time goals, forget the divisions. The only thing that matters in this climate is the effort. Bring the job.