Headfirst Into the Wind

The Weather Gods sometimes like to torture us runners, and nowhere is this more evident than in Oklahoma City.  I’ve been reading about the experiences of several friends at this past weekend’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the cold, windy, stormy weather conditions, and it brings back memories of my own challenge there in 2009.   In fact, OKC 2009 holds top ranking as the Worst Marathon Ever for me–in particular because of the wind.

Oklahoma is where I was born.  My parents are from a little town in the southeastern corner called Broken Bow, but I was born in the next town over because it wasn’t big enough to have its own hospital.  I was brought home on a cold, icy night in early March, so maybe bad weather just naturally goes along with Big Moments in my life.  It certainly seemed to follow me on my first two marathons.

The fact that I live in north Texas means accepting that the weather can be dramatic at times, if not downright dangerous.  There’s nothing to break the wind out here on the prairie, and summers mean blazing hot temps and high humidity.  Sometimes the wind can seem unrelenting, and can blow for days and days on end.  I tend to do most of my running along the perimeter of White Rock Lake in the center of Dallas, which means there is usually a headwind side and a tailwind side.  People who run with me know that running into a strong headwind is my least favorite thing to do–especially in the winter–and may cause me to grow quite grumpy (which, as those who run with me know, is a huge understatement).

Rewind to December 2008, my first marathon.   Training  for the White Rock Marathon went well, and even though it was my first, I went into the marathon thinking I might be able to pull off a finish time just under four hours.   On race morning, however, the Weather Gods decided to give us a very warm, humid day, with winds gusting to 30 mph. This,  coupled with the usual rookie mistake of going out too fast, spelled disaster for me.  A large part of the course is along White Rock Lake (hence the name of the race), and at mile 13 we headed straight into the wind.  It was like pushing against a brick wall.  At mile 16 I was so beaten down I could not have told you my name, and by mile 19, at the start of the hills, I was toast.  I finished in 4:16:22, humbled by the wind and happy to be finished.  My more experienced marathoner friends felt bad that the weather had been so tough for my first marathon, but I shrugged my shoulders and started thinking about the next one.  I wanted more, and I knew I could do better.

I decided to try a spring marathon.  The 2009 spring training season was extremely cold and windy.  It seemed as if every week the weather would be nice and mild until Saturday morning, when we would wake up at an insanely early hour only to be met with cold, extremely windy weather.  At least it was good training, we told ourselves, and we knew we would be ready for anything in Oklahoma City.

The weather that April in OKC was almost identical to White Rock’s, with even stronger winds gusting to 45 mph and the temps in the low 70’s at the start.  The entire spring training had been cold and we weren’t acclimated to the heat and humidity yet.  Those of us who had run White Rock in December felt jinxed.  Looking out the hotel window that morning at the flag waving wildly in the wind, I felt disheartened and strongly annoyed.  I couldn’t believe it was going to be a repeat performance of marathon #1.

I decided to make the best of it and soldier through.  The first half of the race wasn’t too bad with the wind at our backs, but the high humidity seemed to sap the energy out of my legs.  When I reached the lake just after the halfway point and made a sharp left, it was like coming to a standstill.  My legs were moving but I wasn’t going anywhere!  I must have had quite a scowl on my face because a volunteer ran over to me at one point and asked if I was okay, and if I was “going to make it.”  I looked at him as if he were crazy and yelled out, “Of course I’m going to make it!” and took off.  It was just what I needed to get me around the lake.

There is a long stretch of gradual incline before the finish line at OKC that was like a death march that day.  The wind was full-on in our faces, pushing us back, and it never stopped.  I remember gusts so strong that I would lose my footing, and the wind blowing dirt from a construction site against my legs felt like needles against my skin.  The worst part was that almost everyone was walking at this point, which is my own personal achilles heel.  It’s always tough for me to put the blinders on and ignore those walking around me, especially the last few miles of a marathon.  My brain starts screaming why are you running, they’re not! and I start debating the merits of walking vs. running.  On this day my mind won, and I finally broke down and cried.  I didn’t want to walk, but I did.

One of the best things about OKC is the long finish chute, and I felt like I had earned the screams of onlookers as I crossed the finish line.  I had not enjoyed my second marathon, and wondered if I would ever try another one.  My friends assured me there would be good marathons in my future (they were right), but my first two seemed a steep price to pay for the privilege of a good race.

There’s no getting around it:  marathons are tough.  But that’s why we run them.  Good weather or bad, calm skies or strong winds, we take a deep breath and get the job done.  So congratulations to all those who battled the elements and won in Oklahoma City this past weekend, and here’s to the good stories that will come out of the struggle.

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