30 August 2015
It’s one of those weeks when the way the article started just wasn’t working. I thought I’d have your attention with a title punning bear – as in the one that ran across my path a few weeks ago in New Hampshire – with bare – as in the attire in view while I strolled South Beach in Miami this past week. But no matter how I twisted my prose, it just wouldn’t work. Despite how much I wanted to slip in that ursine encounter, a first while running (though certainly not a first while hiking) as notable news, I just couldn’t get from there to the real tale at the top of the ticker, the absurdly hot, humid, and horrific experience that is running in Miami in August.
All creative writing aside, the bear part was exciting, despite lasting only a moment during my run in our favorite little berg of Franconia, New Hampshire. While cruising an obscure road in this obscure town, my attention was drawn to the passage of that most frightening of vehicles, the dreaded Rental RV, all the badness of a lumbering and ungainly box on small wheels combined with the inexperience of a newbie pilot. Smokey, a bear of notable girth, must have had a death wish to have dashed when he did, perhaps fifty yards up from me, but far fewer in front of the wily Winnie. All indications were that he made it back into the woods, where bears will do what bears will do, and I returned to our favorite White Mountain lodge with a fun story.
Oh that the presence of beloved New Hampshire-style mountains, or any elevation change for that matter, and the crisp forty-nine-degree air of my morning runs in their midst could have been even slightly in my presence this week. Sadly, that was not the case. Some months back, Corporate Employer laid out a selection of dates when I could sink my teeth into some compelling technology training. Of all options, only one week remotely fit between the maze of scheduling reality. The problem was that the venue was Miami, and the week was in August. I fully expected this combination to be a seriously suboptimal slating selection, but having no other options, I clicked that box. Had I realized just how suboptimal, I might have taken dire and irrational measures to have done otherwise.
Once arrived in Dade County, all creative writing aside, the bare part was a rather visually entertaining span, enjoying a stroll with Niece and Spouse on the famed South Beach with its remarkably low clothing-to-skin ratio. The heat was pressing but still novel and made bearable by wading knee-high in the bathwater-like surf. It’s notable that this excursion took place before actually trying to run in the area; before I learned just what I was up against. It’s also notable that Niece and Spouse – who are known to run at times – choose to live in this place. What I’ll be saying from here on, including commentary about humidity rotting the locals’ brains, is meant with no disrespect for said blood kin. It’s just, well, true.
That bare reality quickly gave way to Monday morning’s first run of the week, which quickly revealed a minor detail I’d forgotten about: Miami is a lot further west than you tend to think. In the summer months, it’s second nature to me that getting out early isn’t a problem daylight-wise. But in Miami in late August, sunrise has already crept to seven, a bit of a challenge when corporate breakfast starts thirty minutes later, and the real corporate fun a mere thirty after that. And it’s also the case that the closer one goes to the Equator, the faster darkness turns to day; there is no extended dawn. In short, sunrise at seven means very little light till darn close to seven, so one must rise in the depressing blackness of night and hit the mean streets under cover of sodium vapor lamps to cover any respectable distance before the bagels are gone. But in a land of heat and humidity, that would seem to be a good thing anyway. After all, it’s coolest before dawn, and that must be a comfortable time to run. Right?
In a word, wrong. While daytime temperatures never exceeded the low nineties – a level we top regularly in New England – the humidity and resulting absurdly high dew point made the mornings hover around eighty with literally saturated air – nearly one-hundred-percent humidity. Back home, early morning track workouts in the summer-damp low seventies are bad enough. It’s hard to describe the heaviness of the air when you set foot outside the climate-controlled confines of the hotel into the Miami miasma. It almost pushes you back inside. It’s so dense, it’s always on the verge of exploding. The old song says that L.A. is a great big freeway. Miami, on the other hand, is a great big thunderstorm, as the sky tries to shed itself of summer on a constant basis, with storms visible across the vast, flat horizon almost constantly for days at a time.
Yeah, big deal, I hear you saying. We’ve all run on those really hot days.
Yeah, big deal indeed, I say. Even those really hot days up north just don’t have this feel. And those really hot days don’t come one after another after another. And when they do, we (well, most of us) have plenty of gear to swap in and out to assure we start fresh the next day. On this weeklong excursion, travelling light, I’d brought one pair of running shoes. While I prefer to rotate a few pairs, I can get by without that luxury now and then. I really hadn’t thought it would be a problem. Ah, the things we learn.
Morning One: About six miles, heading south. In the urban desert of the Hotel Zone, nestled against the south side of the airport, options for attractive running routes are limited at best. A couple miles of leg-crushing concrete (coupled with time-sucking waits for freeway-like traffic to clear at major intersections) brings me to the brief relief of a parkway-like drive in Coral Gables where I can enjoy a quiet and traffic-free expanse of leg-friendly macadam and puzzle at the wonder of locals out walking and running in long sleeves, pants, and even sweatshirts. Did I mention the humidity rotting the locals’ brains? By the time I’m plodding back hotel-ward, I’m in full drench with accompanying chafing, and am fully toxic and leaking heavily on arrival. Jerry, the hotel doorman, rushes to supply not just a bottle of water, but a well-chilled one, the first of what would become a daily kindness leading to some fun chats and I’m sure his amusement of their novelty of the week, el corridor loco. That small kindness was appreciated more than you know. Well done, Sofitel Miami. (On another note, the concierge actually did have a prepared map for joggers. Their two mile route wasn’t enough for my needs, but I can count on one hand the hotels I’ve stayed in that recognize and cater to people’s desire to run on something other than a hamster cage in the fitness center. Again, well done, Sofitel.)
Morning Two: Weather.com pegs the humidity at well over ninety percent and posts a ‘feels like’ temperature of ninety, and that’s in the pitch darkness a half-hour before dawn. I get an earlier start, not due to any temperature advantage (there is none) but to make it to the office closer to on time, yet somehow an extra mile soaks up that advantage. But I think I’ve got the system all figured out, stepping into the shower clothed, washing the togs, hanging to dry in the air-conditioned room. I should have suspected coming trouble when even a tech singlet wasn’t completely dry by evening.
Morning Four: I’ve now proven that salt does not evaporate, not that I didn’t know before. Sad shoes are somewhat dryer, lighter, but by no means dry, and downright slimy. I’m anticipating a planned evening run with a local club arranged by a co-worker, but knowing the way the week has gone work-wise, I figure that’s a gamble, so to be sure I don’t miss the day I head out on a short jaunt. (As it turns out, the evening run indeed does not happen, so it was a wise move.). Turning west for a change, I’m delighted to cross an overpass, the first hill I’ve encountered other than a meagre three-foot rise in Coral Gables and the ramp to the front door of the hotel. It’s not much, but my legs appreciate the change. (I can see a distant hill from my hotel window. It’s a landfill. Look very closely under the red arrow in the photo below… Otherwise there is nothing to break the monotony of the Miami topographical desert.) Even on a mere five-mile slog, I’m squishing in my shoes and my pointy bits are screaming from every morning’s soaked-and-heavy-fabric-induced abrasion. But Jerry has that cold one on arrival…
Morning Five: For my last hurrah (the sound I’ll make when the plane leaves the tarmac to head north), I re-study the maps so that even in the dark, this time I can find that golf course. I’m rewarded with a view of a grove of utterly gorgeous baobab-like trees (which may indeed have been baobabs, but I’m no botanist) [Ed note: No, silly, BANYAN trees, not baobabs!]. In the endless expanse of sameness that is Miami, it’s the first truly sweet view of a week’s worth of running. I stretch the last morning to eight miles, not really caring if I’m a few minutes late at this point. I know that without drastic action, the TSA won’t allow me to bring my weaponized footwear on the aircraft, so this morning I step in the shower shoes and all and bathe everything down to the insoles before leaving them for a final morning with my good friend the box fan till late checkout during my last morning at the office. By noon, they’re sufficiently disarmed and cleared for transport.
Six hours or so later, I step out of the terminal at Logan and luxuriate in reasonably dry, low seventies air that feels like nothing less than heaven. The next morning, back with my local peeps, our easy club run in mid-sixties is a joy. The preceding week seems surreal, a bad dream.
Those poor shoes, washed of their load of salt, are currently enjoying a respite in the disinfecting northern sun, but something tells me they will always whisper, “Squish!” on every future stride in memory of their southern trauma. Let’s face it, Miami is for winter.