I don’t know about your summer, but mine – most of which was spent on a lake north of Toronto, Canada – was not much of a summer at all, weather-wise. For the last part of June, all of July, and most of August the temperature did not rise above 30 degrees Celsius (86F) and many days, it barely hit 20 (68F). Most of July was spent under dark clouds and rain. Not ideal conditions for outdoor running (or outdoor anything, for that matter). Compounded with this was the rampant mosquito problem. This year they were positively vicious. Not only were they out in dense swarms, they were also quadruple the size much hungrier than other years.
But I was determined not to let this weather hiccup prevent me from doing one of the things that I love most, namely, running on long, winding, hilly, tree-lined country roads. The problem, however, was that I had to deal with these hungry little beasts. Rummaging through a closet, I found a full body bug suit, which included a zip-up over-the-face hood (see photo). The only part of my body that was not shielded by a dense screen of net were my hands, but the suit was large enough that I could fit my hands up into the sleeves, put the excess material into my fists, and be entirely covered. Zipped up, zipped in, and protected from the vicious pests, I was ready to go.
And off I ran.
Now indeed, the bug suit protected me from actually getting bitten. But even combined with some good old bug spray, it didn’t keep the bugs away. Few things are more irritating than the sound of mosquitoes buzzing in your ears and all around you. That high pitched sound is enough to drive anyone batty. So at my usual pace, I found myself running and at the same time flailing my arms around to keep the bugs out of my path. I must have been quite the sight. What I found, however, was that the faster I ran, the less the bugs bothered me. Apparently mosquitoes either don’t like, or can’t keep up with speed (probably the former since I’m not that fast).
I set out to go for regular, relaxed-paced runs where my goal was simply to avoid getting gorged by mosquitoes. But my July runs turned into impromptu interval training sessions, not in order to increase my speed or endurance, but really just to keep the bugs away. And it was a success (in terms of keeping them away, and maybe even on both fronts, but as I’ve written here before, I don’t track my speed).
What came to mind while performing this act was the last time I was forced to sprint against my will. In that case, the context was quite different. I was living in Cambridge, MA and it was winter. The temperature was sub-zero and I was dressed accordingly in my winter running pants, an over-sized windbreaker, a neck warmer that covered most of my face, and a large, warm hat. I was on my daily morning run along Mt. Auburn Street, en route to the river. I saw a man walking toward me. As I passed him, he gave me a penetrating stare and told me what he wanted to do with/to my body.
My heart started to race. I was horrified, petrified, and so taken aback that I just kept running, faster and faster, to get away from him as quickly as I could. As the pit in my stomach grew, I thought of all sorts of witty comebacks that I could have said, but of course, they came too late (as they always do).
As my heart returned to normal, I came to the point in my run where I turn around and head home. And on my way back, I saw him again: again, walking toward me. There was no side street onto which to turn and nowhere to cross the busy street, so I sped up, heart racing, all of the witticisms escaping from my mind. My goal was to pass him as quickly as possible without making eye contact. A part of me wanted to shout, but that would have required giving him a response (which is clearly one of the things he wanted) and more attention than he deserved, so I started to sprint, which I guess he liked because again, he repeated what he wanted to do to/with my body.
I sprinted home and never saw him again.
Alone on a quiet Canadian country road sprinting to escape the bugs brought this other involuntary sprinting exercise to mind. Both were obviously unpleasant, though while one is manageable and tolerable, the other is not.
One thing goes without saying: if ever I’m forced to sprint, I’ll take sprinting from bugs any day over sprinting from predators.