You gotta know when to run: a very windy day.

Since noon, I’d been watching the weather.  The winds were howling, they’d been howling for days, and black clouds hovered on the horizon.  I’d wait, I thought; it was school holidays and I had until dark to fit in my 15km run.  I set some butter out to soften, had lunch, picked up the kids from their play-date, and then made our favorite Vanilla Swirl Cake (really banana bread but my daughter hates bananas so we don’t tell her they are in it; she loves the cake).

Still, the dark clouds lingered.  They moved along with the howling wind, closer, threatening, and then, as they do just before a really torrential rain, they lightened.  The storm hit.  I watched the heavy rain pit the pool water.  It was peaceful from inside, cozy, the smell of fresh-baked cake in the air, the kids not fighting too much, the cats happy, my husband brewing us fragrant cups of coffee.

Still, I watched the sky.

I had seen a quote earlier in the week on Facebook, linked to a photo of a runner in the snow.  “There is no bad weather.  There are only soft people.”

I was not going to be one of those soft people.  Not me.  I went upstairs and changed into my running tights and my favorite, ten-year-old orange long-sleeved running top.  Underneath, for good karma, I wore the yellow singlet from an Adventure Race series in Hong Kong.  I gathered the laundry to bring downstairs, killing time, waiting for the rain to stop, and as I was walking out, I saw a gleam of sunlight.  Sunlight!

I raced downstairs, grabbed my Garmin, slid into my Inov-8’s, said some loving goodbyes to my family, and fled into the wet sunshine.  Already, I could breath again.  Fresh, green, alive; the world shone in the sun and I knew I’d waited for just the right moment.  Down the hill I sang, crossing the street to the coastal track, stripping off the long-sleeved t-shirt already in heady jubilation of a glorious run.

The first hint that it might not be so glorious was the fallen tree blocking the track just one kilometre in.  Pah.  One tree; big deal.  I glanced out over the whitecaps of the bay, noted the sun shining.  There was one single, big black cloud just on the horizon.  Look away, I said to myself.  You’re out now.

And out I was.  Puddles abounded; I skirted them with joy.  I raced myself, using this shorter run to push it a bit faster.  Oh how I love to run, I kept thinking.

But I noted, with increasing uneasiness, just how many trees were down.  Some were lying across the path.  Others were toppled in the bush nearby.  Many appeared dead and dried out.  Most were heavy enough to do damage if they landed on a runner.

I began to hum a song that came into mind once in Hong Kong, when I ran just after a typhoon.  Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.  “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…”  Over and over, just those four lines.  Because sometimes it is right to pull the plug.

I kept going.  I was going out 7.5k and back the same way.  I was up to 6k when the wind began to howl again.  I certainly wasn’t going to quit there.  Was I?  I looked out at the bay.  The whitecaps had become waves, and the sky on the horizon had darkened.  It was coming back, this storm; I was just going to have to outrun it.

I reached the top of Red Bluff, and didn’t allow myself to look out, just scrambled down the hill, skirting my favorite tree roots, noting, just by a tricky section, a fallen tree that wasn’t usually there.  I took care.  By Black Rock, the wind had become a gale but it was behind me, pushing me forward.  I resisted the extra pace, wanting control.  Up along the cliffs I ran, the dead trees appearing like spears extending towards me, the wind howling, me trying to remember First Aid and what to do if one is impaled by a sharp object (don’t let anyone pull it out, wrap it, and get to the hospital – pulling it out could kill you real quick).

There is a concrete path down by the water.  I run down the bottom of a set of bluestone steps, to do my last one kilometre.  Usually, the bay is calm, the sea bed visible.  Today, the waves crashed into the rock wall, spraying over onto the path.  The bay is a mass of white water, brown sand, and seaweed.  I watched the waves and tried to time my dash between the bigger sprays, mostly succeeding.  It was all fine and good with the wind at my back – it was almost laughable, my legs were going so much faster than usual I felt like the Road Runner.

It was when I turned around to head back – that last 7.5k to get me home – that it really hit me.  The wind, that is.  It was head-on, in my face.  I was running as hard as I could, but it really felt like I wasn’t moving.  It was then I began to get scared.  There was no one else out (surprise, that!), and I could almost picture objects flying in the wind at me.  That sign there, it could blow right off.  That tree.  The sea did not want me there; the wind was angry in some primitive way, and I had displayed terrible hubris in coming out.

Instead of a run, it became a battle, an adventure, a live-or-die quest to get home.  I made it to the stone stairs, then along the wind-swept cliff tops.  I cringed each time I ran under a spindly tree waving madly in the wind, had my arms ready to protect my head if it fell.  I sucked down a gel quickly, to give myself more strength in the face of the terrible wind.  More trees had fallen since I’d run this trail a few minutes ago; it felt like more could fall at any time.  On and on I ran, praying to myself, thinking of obituaries and my family mourning my impaled-while-trail-running-in-the-wind death (“At least she died doing something she loved.  The idiot.”).

I battled and battled that wind.  At times it eased, under cover of the trees; at other times, it nearly blew me off my feet, and I thought to raise my arms to see if I could fly.

I had one ace up my sleeve: I’d noticed on the way out that the wind was in my face for the run downhill from home.  So it was going to fly me back for the last stretch, if I made it that far.  I pushed the pace as much as I could against the wind, contemplated motivational thoughts from other runners (running in the wind requires 20% more effort; some runners run in wind tunnels on purpose; if it is windy on race day, you’ll be prepared), and somehow, I made it back to the end of the trail unscathed.

When I crossed the street, the wind did, indeed, blow me back home.  As if it were saying, now go on, get out of here you dummy, and stay in your warm house for the rest of the day.

By the time I got back, my wonderful husband had made dinner for the kids.  They didn’t really get what I had to say about the wind.  It was kind of hard to put into words.

We all had a wonderfully piece of Vanilla Swirl Cake, and I said a silent Thank You to the wind gods for letting me make it all the way back home.