It’s that time of year when the temperature often breaks the 90 degree mark. Dew points routinely hover around the 70 degree range. This atmosphere creates the sensation of an afghan blanket soaked with hot water enveloping one upon stepping outside. What better time to take a nice long run through the neighborhood?
Please bear in mind that jogging in this sort of environment is dangerous. I’ve been running for thirty years. I always make sure to drink a lot of water and stretch properly before leaving. In addition, I stay on alert for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Most importantly: I stay close to home in the event I pull something or become dehydrated.
Before people applaud my vigilance, an old saying comes to mind. “Good judgement comes from experience. But experience comes from bad judgement. There’s the problem.” I learned this lesson the hard way a few summers ago in Louisiana.
Way back in the days of my youth—my late thirties–I engaged in some reckless activities. As a life-long runner, I thought I could do anything. I’d run in the snow with the temperature in the teens, and I’d jogged in hundred degree heat. The way I saw it, “Beowulf had his Grendel, I run in the elements.” When I got to Slidell, Louisiana for a September vacation, I had no reason to modify my running routine.
My Dad and I stayed at my stepmother, Pat’s, house. She lived in a cul-de-sac like I’d never seen before. The street stretched for three miles to a dead end. I didn’t believe Pat when she explained that. She then took my Dad and me for a ride to the end of it then back to her house. While I didn’t check the odometer in the car, the length and duration of our trip led me to believe her. My first thought: I’ve got to run this thing.
I’d jogged for thirty minutes many times back in the Philadelphia area. I ran steep hills in summer heat. This route was flat; scenic, too. Water surrounded the entire development. It would be a nice change of venue.
The next day I opted to change my daily routine. Most times I’d run in the late afternoon after returning from work. Since I had a full vacation day planned, I decided to head out around 11:00 AM.
“Be careful,” my Dad and Pat said. “It’s hot.”
I snickered. It was mid-September. I’d been running all of July and August back home. This would be nothing. I sauntered out the door and jogged down the road.
While into my trek I learned a few things. For one, distances seem much different on foot than they do from the back-seat of an air conditioned car. I coasted down the street admiring the nice homes and view of the water. In spite of doing half-hour jaunts for years, getting to the end of this road seemed much longer than I expected.
I also discovered that the Gulf Coast is much closer to the Equator than the Southern half of New Jersey. No clouds appeared in the sky, either. I’d run in Texas and Kansas in the summertime, too. Neither of those places prepared me for the heat and humidity of the New Orleans area.
My most interesting discovery during my jog concerned the State of New Jersey. While it’s known as “the Garden State” it has a lot of trees, too. While on the road in Pat’s development, I didn’t see one. I had no shade at all. Heat, humidity and abundant sunshine don’t have favorable effects on the human body.
When I reached the end of the street, I felt winded. Sweat flowed from every pore on my body. I’d only completed a part of the run. Now I had to make my way back to Pat’s house.
I thought about all the hills I’d run back in Jersey. I had one route that included seven hills; some of which approached a 45 degree angle. I never would’ve thought the toughest run of my life would take place on a flat surface.
While heading back to Pat’s the heat exhausted me. I thought about stopping and walking. I checked my watch. I’d only been jogging for 17 minutes! One thing I learned as an overweight teenager: long runs turn into much longer walks. I resolved to keep going.
Did I mention just how long this street was? I used the house numbers to keep myself motivated. If I had a better source of inspiration I would’ve used it; any other one would’ve helped. I watched them decrease from 620 to 618 to 616. Pat lived at 168. The numbers continued to fall. 604…602…600…598…What! I did a double-take. Yep. I read it correctly. 598….596…
At this point I became scared. I’d like to write that my pulse accelerated, my breathing increased and my palms sweated, but they already did because of the jogging. As the sun beat down, I thought I could be in a serious life-threatening situation.
I focused on my task. All those years of running hills in the heat served as conditioning. I was going to get through it. Every step was one step closer to my goal. I kept repeating that over-and-over in my mind until I arrived at house number 168.
As I entered my Dad asked. “How did your run go?”
I smiled and said. “I ran for 35 minutes.”
“Wow!” Pat’s eyebrows danced up and down.
“Aw, I always do that back home. Hey, mind if I finish off the sports drinks?”
I’ve been known to mix sports drinks with gin to make my own blend of “gin and juice.” I wisely opted not to do that in this case. As I stood in the shower with the handle cranked all the way to cold I still sweated. I thought to myself, maybe, just maybe I need to reevaluate my preparations for running in the heat.