Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 20 Dec 2013 05:27:52 -0500

Weather or Not

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday, this one from January 1988.)

Skilled writer that he is, Hal Higdon makes his points by telling stories. He does that even as he speaks.

His subject for this talk in Honolulu was the weather and how a runner reacts to it. In lesser hands it could have been a yawner.

Higdon told about an old radio/TV weatherman from Chicago who had come into the business before computers and radar and satellites took over. He still didn’t place total faith in high-tech gadgetry.

“If all else fails,” said the weathercaster, “I stick my head out the window. If it comes back wet, I call for rain.”

Higdon added that “runners may not understand the science of meteorology, but we know when it’s raining.” Or snowing or blowing, or getting hotter or colder.

We know because we stick our head out in all kinds of weather. Most people don’t. They go from climate-controlled house to car to office to store.

They don’t spend enough time outside to appreciate the changing weather. Runners learn to live with it, if not actually like it.

I’m a weather fan. To me the only “bad weather” is the type that never changes.

Change comes more subtly on the West Coast than in Tornado Alley/Snow Belt (depending on the season) where I grew up. But conditions here aren’t as boringly perfect as elsewhereians imagine.

Recently I wrote about adapting to extremes of heat and cold. A reader wondered, “What does someone out there know about extremes.” He implied that we have a benign climate without real WEATHER.

Does rain count? In Oregon it falls more days than not between November and May. This rainfall drives fair-weather runners indoors or into depression, but I delight in splashing through puddles and coming home with mud on my shoes.

Before moving here, I lived on the California coast where the climate seldom varies far from perfection. However, in that state’s interior I set PRs for the deepest snow plowed through and the highest temperature sweated out. Those are fond memories.

My coldest run came in Chicago, near Hal Higdon’s home base. I woke up to a 25-below-zero reading, chilled to minus-66 by the wind.

I’m weird about wanting to go out in extreme weather, but not stupid. I wore almost everything in my suitcase, took cover from the wind's full force and never ventured more than a few blocks from safety. But I ran and felt good about doing it.

My record low and high stand 140 degrees and a dozen years apart. For quick changes, though, none match those made last month. Within five days I ran in tropical heat, monsoonal rain and a near-blizzard.

I flew first into typical Hawaii weather: sunny, 80 degrees, humid. Fellow weather fan Hal Higdon and I went straight out to run together.

On the next evening’s news, the weather woman predicted “scattered showers and possible thunderstorms overnight.” The sticky air smelled and tasted as I remembered it in Iowa before a big storm.

I ran early Saturday morning at the storm’s peak. Palm fronds lay on the sidewalks. Surf swallowed up Waikiki Beach. Streets were flooded with calf-deep ponds for 100 yards at a stretch.

This run highlighted my trip to Hawaii, but this enthusiasm for getting wet wasn’t widely shared. Streets that had been crowded with runners and exercise-walkers at this hour the day before were now almost empty.

That storm caused the Honolulu Marathon to be run in what Kjell-Erik Stahl called “the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in.” The well-traveled Swede’s racing has taken him to all the extremes.

Arriving back in my Oregon hometown, a weather-guesser predicted “a slight chance of light snow.” I knew better. I could smell a sure thing coming.

The air recalled winters during college when I shunned the indoor track in favor of outdoor training. I loved plowing the first furrows on Drake Stadium’s track, or taking to the streets in spiked shoes on the icy days when no traffic moved.

Only six inches of snow fell in Eugene during last month’s storm. This amount would be a light dusting in a Snow Belt, but it nearly shut down this city with too few plows.

I put footprints in the new snow but found little company on the usually well-used running paths. This isn’t a smug, look-what-I-did-and-they-didn’t boast. It’s an invitation to fair-weather runners, who hide from these conditions, to join me at wallowing contentedly in whatever blows our way.


More than 25 years later, Hal Higdon leave Indiana for Florida in the winter. My wife Barbara and I desert Oregon in the wettest months for vacations in Mexico.

At home I still run in the cold and wet (while wearing more than before because the slowing pace generates less heat). I ask the students in my running class to do the same. Only twice in 13 years has the weather kept them indoors.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from; (2) as e-books from and; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Just released was Joe’s Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]

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