Small Wins in the Rain

At the finish line of the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon in 2022, I was inhaling a banana when I recognized a girl sitting on a rock. We had run the first seven miles of the race together. Because of an ankle injury, I had only trained sporadically for the last two months and blew up at mile ten, jogging the rest of the way. Chatting with her, I learned that her name was Sara and that she, too, was returning from an injury, but unlike me, she took off after those first seven miles, leaving everyone around us in the dust. She finished in just over an hour and 27 minutes, a full five minutes faster than it took me.

Looking noticeably less tired than everyone else, she mentioned that she was using the race as a long training run. “If your long run pace is just over six minutes a mile, the equivalent half-marathon race pace would be…” I tried to do the math in my head, as I asked her if she was going pro. She said that she was trying to, and would be running at the USATF cross-country championships later that year, in December. We exchanged numbers and I promised to go cheer her on then.

A month later, on a cold Saturday morning, I was regretting making that promise as I put on my trail shoes and a rain jacket, before stepping into the pouring rain.

For the first few minutes, I hop along in fits and starts like a baby deer, hoping to avoid all the puddles, still harboring delusions of keeping dry. The stages of grief play out in my head and soon, once I’m completely drenched, I’m running like it’s the most beautiful of summer days.

Those first few minutes in the rain never get easier. Earlier in the year, I ran down the pier by Aquatic Park – a C-shaped protrusion that sticks out into the Bay – during a storm. Above my head, seagulls flailed around unnaturally as the winds buffeted them in all directions, driving some of them almost straight at me. I was alone out there, navigating the veiled, shrouded light of the morning. At times, I thought I’d be blown straight into the water. The first few minutes of today’s decidedly calmer downpour felt just as ponderous.

I did get a break from having to dodge birds, and the challenges this Saturday are more mundane. My route to Golden Gate Park, where Sara’s race is taking place, runs about fifteen miles, and takes me through the Presidio and its surrounding hills. At some point, I have to find shelter because I’m lost and my phone is so wet that the touch screen no longer works. I try not to stop, but end up having to walk some of the steeper hills. The water streaming down the sidewalk doesn’t help.

A side benefit of running in the rain is that it acts like a filter: The people that make it out in the rain are just nicer, and we smile and wave as we pass each other.

At the outskirts of the polo field in Golden Gate Park, I begin to see racers loitering about. For a park, the landscape is surprisingly devoid of shelter, and we’re all taking refuge under any flora we can find. I spent some time with other runners taking cover inside a giant bush as the rain fell down from leaf to leaf and onto our heads. The difference between them and me, though, is that they’ve just arrived – I’m soaked to the bone.

As I walk further to the epicenter, I hear an announcement that the women’s race would be delayed and instead, start in about an hour and a half.

I felt warm enough while I was running, but it’s in the 40s (under 10 degrees Celsius) and I’m starting to shiver. Soon, I’m shivering so hard that my hands are completely numb, and when I walk up to a tent selling coffee, I can’t muster up the dexterity to undo the zipper of my jacket pocket, and the vendor has to help me get my credit card.

I’m also about 1,500 calories short, which doesn’t help the shivering. Thankfully, there’s also a food truck nearby. I buy some nachos and devour them before they get too soggy, but they do nothing for me. The hypochondriac angel on my shoulder tells me that this is how I die.

In the Uber, which thankfully has wipe-down seats, the driver and I chat about running for the fifteen minutes it takes to get me to my front door.

Come January, and San Francisco is flooding. The rich people who own the houses along the marina have barricaded their doors with sandbags. Or maybe they have staff who help with that. In any case, it’s a Sisyphean endeavor. The water is shin-deep and it’s getting deeper. The street is lined with cars that are now insurance write-offs, and the only people out are emergency services, people with big lifted trucks making waves in the floodwater, and a handful of runners, including me. We greet each other enthusiastically as we wade around and laugh at the absurdity of the scene.

I run one block inland, still spared from the floodwaters, and find that despite being completely immersed a few seconds ago, my trail shoes drain until they’re merely soaked through, and I can run normally again.

In that moment, I’m reminded of when I played tennis about a decade ago, and how the rain would soak the fuzzy yellow balls within a couple of minutes. They would no longer bounce, only land on the ground with a splat. Back inside, we stared wistfully at the court.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, mother nature always wins. We age, try to hold on to our faculties, but inevitably lose, become encumbered and old, and finally pass. But there are days like today, out in the rain, where mother nature hasn’t stopped me just yet, and I can be grateful for the small victories.