Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weather

Talking about the weather is one of the things that human beings are wired to do. Weather has two features that make it great as a conversational piece. First, weather is shared, not personal--we live in it together. Second, the weather is nobody's fault. It's a guilt-free topic of conversation, one of the few left.

In ancient times, almost every event was like the weather. It was seen outside of the frame of human responsibility. The gods controlled almost every aspect of life and we stumbled around here below, buffeted about by their arbitrary actions. While this way of framing the world seems perhaps naive and infantile to the contemporary mind, it was also liberating. People didn't have to choose sides. It wasn't BP's fault or Obama's fault or the Republican's fault or the media's fault. It was just fate, no guilt. The world's events--love, happiness, social harmony, war, death, sickness--were the result of complex and superhuman circumstances beyond our control, beyond judgment. To borrow a phrase from Nietzsche, they were beyond good and evil.

The weather remains beyond good and evil to us, which is why it is so pleasant to discuss and share. So we continue to talk about the weather. But one effect of contemporary life is to actually shelter us from the weather. We spend our time in controlled environments, dry and 72 degrees. Our air is conditioned, our living spaces sterilized. Our encounters with the weather are brief and passing. A steaming walk across the parking lot, for example. A few steps in the morning to pick up the paper. The weatherman talking about the daily high or a cold front moving in. A head-down sprint through the pouring rain to the shelter of our cars. Thunder in the distance. Or the occasional weather-related catastrophe that scrolls across the bottom of our television set, the recent floods in Nashville, Hurricane Katrina.



As runners, we enjoy a more intimate relation with the weather. The everyday runner actually feels the weather. It affects our practice in subtle ways. The weather is interwoven into what running actually is. We take it into account in our races and in our training to be sure, but beyond that our running allows us access to a kind of spontaneity and range of feeling that is rare in contemporary life. We run in sideways snow. We run in driving rain. We run in head-rattling, sock soaking heat. We run beneath high blue skies. We run through dense fog. We become connoisseurs of the weather. We know, for example, that 85 degrees in the evening is much cooler than 85 degrees in the morning. We know that 35 degrees and raining is much colder than zero degrees and snowing.

One thing our running teaches us is how truly remarkable our bodies are at adjusting to our environments. You would think that, given the incredible lengths we go to manage and control the weather, the human body is fragile and easily damaged by extremes. But the body only feels the extremes of weather as unpleasant when it is sedentary. The moving body warms itself in the winter. It ventilates itself in the summer. It sheds water in the rain, produces sweat in the sun. It is a highly intelligent system that can be comfortable in quite tremendous extremes of weather with the most minimal of clothing: a pair of skimpy shorts, sometimes a long sleeved shirt.

One of the consequences of the almost insane control that contemporary life exerts on the environment is that we forget the body's adaptability. Or better said, the body forgets how to adapt; it becomes stupid. Like every other form of intelligence, if the body's intelligence is not exercised, it is lost. That loss is not insignificant. All pleasure in life is the result of intelligent interaction, adaptation, a sort of harmonizing play. The body's adaptation to weather affords one of the purest and simplest forms of pleasure, and one of the tragedies of contemporary life is the elimination of that pleasure.

As my mom used to tell us when we'd roam restlessly around the house on a rainy weekend day: "Some people don't have enough sense to get out in the rain." Running gets me out in the rain; it allows me to live in the weather.

8 comments:

  1. I'm trying to think of some comment other than "that was a great post." But, well, that was a great post. It is only marginally compromised by the fact that my word verification for this comment is "bonin."

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  2. Hey Josh, thanks. I'm glad you are still reading. Work has kind of changed some of my habits, and so I am not updating the blog as frequently as I would like. Hopefully, I can get back into the rhythm of weekly posting.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

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  3. Another great one, Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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  4. I like the concept of body intelligence and needing to exercise it. I hadn't thought in those terms before.

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  5. I found your post through our pal Josh. Very nice piece. I am new to marathon running but the weather has dictated the experience as you might imagine. My first was rainy and cold, 40ish, but I ran in shorts and a short sleeve shirt and loved the challenge. I wasn't miserable until I stopped running. Then recently I did an evening marathon (6 pm to midnight in my slow paced effort) in almost 90 degree humid heat. I was more miserable before the race when I was standing around.
    One last ramble: As a child growing up in Chicago I loved being blasted by the winter. I remember clearly being much more tough in those elements. You are so right that we allow the body to lose it's ability to flow with the weather.
    Great Post.

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  6. Most of the time I run in shorts and a T-shirt. As you say, our bodies are good at coping with the weather when moving. I see other runners sometimes with lots of clothes on when it is a bit chilly but I think they don't need that many clothes on. The body is brilliant in the winter at keeping you warm and some novice runners forget this.

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  7. Great blog. I actually came across it while reading through training logs on RunningAhead. Found your blog link and followed it.

    I enjoyed this first post I read, relating to the weather. I have to second to Daniel's comment and add that newbies probably overdress due to lack of experience. In Oklahoma, 40 degrees might feel like 30 on some mornings and I'll sometimes start out in more clothes than necessary and shed as I get a feel for what the day will be like. But most of the time, I know from experience that I'll generally be fine in shorts and a long sleeved shirt or arm sleeves (Moben, etc.).

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  8. I couldn't stick to running until I got out of the gym and found a track at our local middle school. I have been in all kinds of weather during this past year of running outside on that track and I love it. I enoy being in the sun and the rain. I got my run in when it was 95 degrees last Summer here in Texas and recently my run put me in windy cold weather with a wind chill of 20 degrees. I'm new to thi so it is a challenge but that windy cold day, something happened. The leaves blew across the track and I was cold but suddenly felt so happy. I was running, and smiling. A big goofy smile and I was so proud of myself for being out there. On that day, running gave me something unexpected and special and I think it was from being out in the elements - being part of nature.

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