Heat, humidity, hills, and horseflies.
You reach a point where running for two hours straight is no longer a big deal.
Less than a year ago for me, two hour runs were still worth bragging about. Fourteen or fifteen miles meant that I was perfectly justified in spending the rest of the day on the couch like Jabba the Hut, immobile but for the turn of a page, the click of a remote, or the lifting of a fork to my mouth.
Now, I can run fifteen miles in the morning, eat a decent breakfast and find myself recovered by noon, seeking the day’s next physical activity adventure. Just the way I conquered 3-milers in seventh grade, 8-milers in my sophomore year of high school, and eleven-mile runs in college – formerly, distances that made me swell with pride when I’d tell people I’d done them – two hour runs just aren’t a big deal anymore.
Except for today.
Before I even stepped out into the driveway this morning, sweat was beading on my shoulders and the thermometer approached temperatures I expect might be commonplace in the hottest circle of hell, which I imagine is probably reserved for traitors and heretics or something, but today, apparently, had been extended to include earth-bound outdoor runners.
So, yes. It was hot. It was humid. It was hilly. Particularly hilly today, for some reason. It would be a stretch to claim that I thrive in these conditions, but all in all, I tend to tolerate heat, humidity, and hills better than many. Except for today. We’ve all had runs like this before, and they tend to be quite unforgettable, right? Back in Atlanta, I had a memorably awful run in 90+ heat, with a pollen count so punishingly high that my chest ached even more than my legs from the city’s notorious hills. I’m not going to forget that one any time soon.
Today’s run, in fact, could have been much, much worse. I was on dirt instead of asphalt. I was running in late morning instead of early afternoon. I was snatching up every step of shade I could leave a footprint on, and since there are plenty of trees around here, there’s also plenty of shade.
But dear god, the horseflies. I don’t know if horseflies are just a New Hampshire dirt-road specialty or what, but on every single summer run, I get bothered by at least a few of them, and today, it was as if the heat and humidity juiced them up and made them absolutely crazy.
Allow me a quick tangent in defense of the mosquito, who, in this age of malaria and West Nile virus, never has her praises sung, but with whom I became quite sympathetic during my run today. Mosquitoes are such weak, tipsy fliers, they can never really bother you on runs. They aren’t fast enough and don’t have the endurance. If one does bite you, it at least conducts its business with elegance: a bit of anesthetic, a tidy needle-like nip, and a mildly uncomfortable itchy souvenir. Unless you live in sub-Saharan Africa, God help the place, it’s really not an issue.
Horseflies, though, are a whole different story. First off, they are aptly named. They can buzz around you like well-trained thoroughbreds for miles without showing any sign of fatigue, and their bites are not the orderly incisions of the mosquito, but are instead big, messy, painful, bloody, chomp-generated wounds. None of which I can actually locate on myself right now, but I swear, wounds!
Like I said, something about today’s weather enabled the flies to be both exceptionally persistent and unusually numerous. There were at least five or six of them whizzing around me during the better part of this run.
I looked like Pig-Pen.
Flies. Everywhere. It was wretched.
Even more disgusting, they were biting me. A lot. But oh, I would have my vengeance. There were several points where I was sprinting down the road, swearing loudly because I was so frustrated. Every time I felt a bite, I smacked the sucker dead. It was easy because my arms, shoulders, and legs were so drenched in sweat that the flies were probably plastered to my body and drowning so that their reflexes were impaired.
About 65 minutes in (at which point I was openly suffering from the heat, humidity, and hills), an enormous, obnoxious MONSTER of a fly had settled into the buzzing circus of potential pestilence that encircled my head and shoulders. I’m telling you. He was Lord of the Flies. He was the king. He was approximately the size of a vampire bat and probably learned all his tricks from one. And he was the loudest and meanest of the entire lot. (Actually, I’m guessing the fly was female because they’re the ones who require a blood meal in order to reproduce, but let’s not get bogged down in any nerdy details.)
Okay, those other littler flies, I could sort of deal with, but not this guy, who was circling closer and closer to my head. What if he flew into my mouth? I pictured myself choking to death over a fist-sized fly on a quiet dirt road in the woods. No thanks.
I willed myself to breathe through my nose, which was becoming increasingly harder, and sprinted abruptly down the road in the other direction, hoping to lose King Fly and his dreadful compound-eyed buddies in a cloud of dust.
For a few lovely steps, I was free of flies. Dang, that was easy. I was just about to pat myself on the back when I heard the King roaring like an airplane in hot pursuit. Before I could even react, Fat Man landed on the side of my chin and chomped. Reflexively, I detonated him. I smacked myself so hard in the face that I saw stars. Or probably just flies, mourning the death of their leader, who had been reduced to a gooey mash of strings and wings and hemolymph on my fingers.
I had to stop my watch and crouch down in the road for a few long moments with my head in my hands. Running through heat, humidity, hills, thirst, and aching legs is challenging enough without punching yourself in the face.
Eventually I recovered enough to continue on, but the run had become a sufferfest. My eyes hurt, my chest hurt, my stomach was cramping, I was five miles from home, and all I could think about was orange juice.
The air was thick enough to drink.
[Which reminds me of another “H” word I didn’t address: Hydration. Or in my case, lack thereof. I don’t bother hydrating on long runs, ever, unless I happen to stumble upon a convenient water fountain. I should have taken a lesson from hitting the wall at the marathon and fixed this situation, but I haven’t yet. Perhaps on out-and-backs, I could just stash a water bottle in the woods or something; I don’t mind carrying things while I run, but I don’t necessarily want to carry anything. Any suggestions for hydration on long runs? Do you have a hydration method, or do you just gut through the run without one?]
Eventually, the flies abandoned harassing me and moved on to what I’m sure are more noble activities, and I found myself at my driveway. I wobbled inside, ripped open the refrigerator door, and chugged a liter of orange juice. Then I stumbled back outside and swam around in the lake for a few minutes. My head was pounding hard enough that I decided to get out of the water before I did something stupid and accidentally drowned.
Often, I’ll stretch (grudgingly) after runs, but not after an event like this. I didn’t even think about it. Hopefully my feeble swimming was enough to shake the junk out of my muscles.
And for the rest of the day? You’ll be lucky to catch me engaged in any activity that doesn’t involve either sitting at the table with a large plate of food or laying on the couch nursing a Nalgene.
Yeah. Two hour runs. No big deal.
Except for today.