Between a Shock and a Hard Place
One of the few times in my life I truly believed I was going to die: exposed on the only trail through a gator-filled swamp, as a thunderstorm rolled in.
Early in my training for the Palm Beach Marathon, I hadn’t quite figured out just how long a long run takes; the weather you get to start off your workout isn’t necessarily going to be the conditions you finish with.
Good trails that don’t flood are few and far between in the Sunshine State. My chosen training ground was no exception. Imagine two squares, almost touching at the corners to form a boxy number 8. Then trace a line around the edges of your shape, and you get the running trail.
There used to be a bridge around the four mile mark where the trails almost pinched together. But a particularly rough hurricane brought it down into the bog.
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Mistake in the Flatlands
I’d just passed this halfway mark when I smelled ozone, and felt the air change. Leaves rustled. Clouds seemed to manifest from nothing but the stored mugginess in the August air. Then the first rumble of thunder came.
Far off, at first. I picked up the pace, knowing there was no way out but through. At this point, I still thought I’d be back at my car before the real party started.
The storm was on top of me by the time I reached the final leg of the trail. If you’d like an approximation of what that sounds like: pick up three or four cookie sheets and drop them on your floor. Then imagine that sound right behind your ears, rolling into a big boom of thunder.
The last stretch carried me across a completely exposed berm with no cover. My options off to the side of the trail weren’t much better:
I decided I’d rather be the highest point around than soaking wet with the gators, opting to sprint for my life. Incidentally, I clocked my best split time ever and found safety in my car.
If you find my misfortune funny, why not tell a friend?
I got lucky.
When you skate on luck in lieu of proper prep — be it in the bog, woods, or the mountains — your number is bound to come up eventually. Next time, I might not be so close to the trailhead; it could be four miles instead of one.
Learning this lesson early on, and in a location I was familiar with in, only made it more eye-opening for me. Due diligence is critical before every trip.
It doesn’t matter if you’re up at 14,000 feet, or 14: being out in the open during a thunderstorm is terrifying, believe you me.