When you run outside, you become very interested in the weather. It dictates what you wear. It demands you move your run or put off your run until the rain lets up or the lightning moves out of the area. Sometimes, the weather is powerful enough to throw out your training plan, your money invested in a race-centered trip, and your race goal itself.
Yesterday was that day.
I had suggested the Berry Half Marathon to my husband way back in late 2012. I ran it in 2011 and it was great. He was coming off Ragnar Tennessee and looking for something to carry that momentum through to our next Ragnar in June. Berry fits a lot of our criteria: Saturday race, not too expensive, and close-ish to where we live. It also happens to be held on the campus where we both went to college, where we met, and where we got married. In fact, the race benefits the campus elementary school where his groomsman teaches, and where the kids of my bridesmaid attend. Easy choice.
David trained hard for this race. He’s had a rough couple of halves and wanted a good race, especially on his old turf. Along the way, we recruited most of our Ragnar team, and a couple of friends, to come and have a mini-reunion for the race.
We all had our goals. David was on track to set a massive PR (In my opinion, he had the potential to break it by 20 minutes). Katie was using it as a race-day practice and long tempo run as she prepares to qualify for Boston. Her husband Jason could’ve been looking at an age group award. Aron was returning to the half-marathon after a decade off. Sara wants a redemption race after a disappointing first half in the fall. Jan and Cris were running the 10k, just because they cared enough about being with us to fork over money for a race and drive all the way to Berry to hang out.
As for me, I wasn’t actually running the race, but instead watching our children and Katie and Jason’s kids while everyone else ran. I was looking forward to a lot of things. I wanted our Ragnar team at least partially together for a post-race lunch. And I was so excited to give Katie and Jason a chance to run the same race, And since David is unfailingly supportive of me running and racing and traveling to race, I wanted to give him the chance to run one. I also had hoped that when Jason finished I’d be able to find a friend/teammate to keep an eye on our kids, and to run David in to the finish line.
Our kids were excited, too. On Thursday, they made signs to cheer on the runners and we read to them the history of Martha Berry and the school. On Friday, I took Katie and all the kids on a tour of Berry/course tour and showed them the school landmarks, and the landmarks of David’s and my relationship. The kids (ages 4-7) collected cowbells and snacks at the race expo, excited to put them to good use to cheer on their family, friends, and other runners at the race.
But none of it happened. NONE of it. A line of storms moved through the Rome, GA area early Saturday morning. We awoke to thunder and lightning. Before we left the hotel the race was delayed from 8AM to 9AM. It was raining hard. It wasn’t letting up. The runners went on and Aron’s wife and I wrangled kids into the car and to campus. We walked a long way to the race staging area at the Ford buildings, and along the way heard some kiddie whining and complaining about being cold, wet, and tired (all true, and probably true of the runners, too!) Along the way we got word of another delay–9:30.
Vine video of the gym:
Then finally, the race director appeared and told us it was over. There would be no race. He cited safety concerns and expressed his sadness over it. The disappointment in the room was palpable. Runners dispersed quickly, and our group huddled. Sara had to leave as she needed to go to a funeral. I called Cris and Jan and they were already back at their car. But Katie, Jason, Aron and David all agreed-they wanted to run on Berry’s campus that day. I told them I was fine to watch the kids, and to go!
As the kids and I left the gym, the sky was a glorious post-storm blue, and the temperature was perfect. What a great day to run. Our group was not the only one to decide to run a bit that day. The kids got out their signs and cowbells and as we meandered back to the car they stopped for every runner and cheered for them. We even drove part of the campus looking for our group and the kids hung cowbells out the window for them. We caught Katie and Aron as we headed toward the now-deconstructed finish line and
annoyed them cheered for them, too. As they headed toward the finish a race worker caught them and hung a medal around their necks.
Afterward, we showered and had lunch, and dissected the morning. Here are my thoughts:
1. There are just times when the weather is a punk.
Berry is, as school literature once read “nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.” I was a reporter in Appalachia and the stories I remember most vividly are the flooding stories. Flooding in the mountains is real, and it’s dangerous. Weather Underground says Mount Berry got over an inch of rain Saturday, and it all fell by 9:30 AM. If a storm dumps a huge amount of rain in a mountain area (about 4 miles of the race are held on Berry’s “Mountain Campus”), it can do damage. Damage to roads, damage to trails, damage to poorly rooted trees, and damage to people who are insistent enough to be out in it. Weather is some powerful stuff, and it will humble you. Sometimes you just have to accept that it is more powerful than what your plans.
2. Race officials have more information than you do, and sometimes you just have to trust them.
I had the opportunity to speak with and observe the race director during the time our group was out running. He was talking to runners, he was facilitating the clean up, and he was busy. But more than once, I saw him look around at the empty area that should have been brimming with success and achievement, and saw him take in the emptiness of it. He had had to make a difficult decision.
When everyone walked out of the gym Saturday, the storm had broken. The lightning was gone. From what we could see, the threat was over, right? Well, we were on main campus, not on the mountain where there are portions of trail—dirt and rock trail. The race director said that in the time they’d waited for the lightning to pass, the storm had dumped enough rain on the course to wash out the trails.
Honestly, those trails had looked rough on Friday, before the storm. In fact, Katie and I had plotted some running strategy for them and talked about the need for caution as we drove on them. Damage from rain + thousands of pounding feet + runners focused on their race and not necessarily who else is running around them would’ve been a recipe for disaster. I pictured anything from twisted ankles, to falls, to a trampling situation.
No race director wants to cancel a race! But, this time, it had to be done.
3. Sometimes God answers prayers in ways different than the ways we might answer them.
In being with the four kids all weekend, I heard them pray more than once “Please don’t let any of the runners get hurt.” In my adult, runner-brain, that always means, “Please don’t let anyone have a heart attack at the finish line.” Because isn’t that the story we tend to hear? I actually even had a conversation with the kids, telling them that they didn’t need to worry about Mommy or Daddy getting hurt; that that’s why we train, to build up our muscles and bodies, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t know what danger the kids were envisioning, but what a timely prayer that was for this race! And it was answered. I emailed this to Katie Saturday night:
“I also thought about how much they (the kids) prayed for y’all’s safety and how… you’re safe. No one struck by lightning, crushed by a tree… No twisted ankles, no broken bones, no being trampled on by a herd of flighty runners… not even a defeated attitude from running a potentially discouraging race, or being worried about an unexpectedly technical course. Their little prayers were answered.”
I tell my kids all the time that I make my rules to keep them safe. Sometimes, I have to throw out our general rules to keep them safe in extreme situations. In this case, the race director was our parent, and made the decision to keep runners safe, even though from where we stood, there didn’t appear to be danger. I choose to respect and trust that decision.
So, going forward, what should Berry do? They don’t offer refunds, and honestly I’m fine with David’s race fee going to the schools—I know it’s a good cause, and furthers Martha Berry’s vision of well-educating students in Northwest Georgia.
I do think they need to remove the ‘rain or shine’ portion of the wording about the race if they continue to run the parts of the course on the trail. It’s an unfortunate un-truth if you have parts of the course that can be washed away.
I think the other option is to change the course. That would mean re-routing it away from the Old Mill, which is Berry’s landmark tourist attraction—it holds the title of being the most photographed place in Georgia. I’d hate to see that happen, but there are other roads on main campus that could make up a new course—including one that leads to Martha Berry’s original “Gate of Opportunity.”
Berry Half Marathon, you got handed a raw deal by the tremendous power of the weather God made. But you handled it well. You communicated with the runners, and you kept us safe. And we plan to be back. All of us. Thanks for making a potentially horrible experience one that was merely disappointing and humbling.