Acts of Transgression

Last week, I ran five miles home from my education workshops – five miles in the rain.  And not just a drizzle, but the wonderful sort of torrential deluge that can come out of nowhere in the summer, drenching pedestrians everywhere and flooding intersections ankle deep in minutes.  I wasn’t taken by surprise; the forecast had called for rain in the early afternoon, and in fact I’d spent the whole day hoping that the rain would hold off and unleash itself just in time for my run home.  I wasn’t disappointed.


I love running in the rain, especially the sort of warm, soak-you-to-the-bone downpour that I was caught in last Tuesday.  I’ve written about how I love running in the rain before, and it’s come up more than once on the Run Smiley Collective: most recently Troy was singing in the rain, but also Zapamamak and Tri-Living have rhaposized about wet runs and puddles under foot.  It makes sense that my fellow collective members would love being out in a downpour: running in the rain is one of the smiliest ways to run.  I always enjoy my runs, and they (almost) always make me smile, but when I’m running in the rain, I usually have a ridiculous grin plastered across my face.  I literally laugh out-loud, raise my fists like skinny antennae to the heavens, leap into puddles, even skip once or twice.

Why?  That’s what I was pondering last week (there has been a lot of pondering during my few-and-far-between runs this week) as I ran in the rain.  Why is running in the rain just so darned fun?

For one, there’s the pure sensory nature of it; like barefoot running, running in the rain engages so many nerves and surfaces of your body that don’t normally get used during the day.  Every inch of your skin comes alive, and even if you do have shoes on, suddenly your toes are shocked awake by a puddle full of cold water.  If you don’t have shoes on, or are wearing hauraches, its even better.

But its more than the sensual joy involved.  Running in the rain is like jumping in puddles, or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, or climbing a tree, or running barefoot: they are all activities that we were supposed to leave behind in childhood, things that mature adults don’t do.   Other serious grownups will frown at you (“Put some shoes on!” “What are you doing up that tree?” “You’ll catch a cold!”) though honestly just as many adults will smile at you with a bit of wistful jealousy in their face.

Running barefoot, or climbing a tree, or running in the rain is an act of transgression.  It’s breaking the unspoken rules of adult behavior, which is to be responsible.  Running barefoot will get your shoes dirty: put on shoes.  Climbing a tree you might fall and twist your ankle: don’t climb trees.  Running in the rain will get you wet and ruin your clothes and you might get sick: don’t run in the rain.  Being responsible means avoiding risky behavior, but it also means to do everything for a reason, to be purposeful in all one’s actions.  None of these activities have any purpose other than to be fun, which contains a strong wiff of irresponsibility about it.  And that is exactly why they are so fun, because they are, in a sense rebellious, wildly individual, even self-indulgent.

At its essence, since there is no real need for it in the modern world, running itself in this day and age is trangressive.  That’s why so many responsible adults feel the need to shroud it in purpose with GPS watches and heart-rate monitors, lap-splits, PR’s and BQ’s.  To make it a responsible act, something that makes sense and can be justified.

Q: “Why are you out there running at six in the morning?”

A: “I’m training for a marathon.”  They nod knowingly.

Q: “You’re seriously running the 13 miles home after school?  What are you training for?”

A:  “Nothing.  I just want to.” Long, blank stare.

There are easy answer to the question, “why do you run?” and some of them are true for me: to loose weight, to lower my cholesterol, I’m training for a race, I hope to qualify for Boston, to raise money for cancer.  These are reasons: they add purpose, people understand them.  But the truth is, if you waved a magic wand and I could be 175 pounds with 2% body-fat and perfect blood-pressure without ever running again,  I’d still run.  If you eliminated every race from the future, so there would be no competition for me to train for, I’d still do my long-runs on the weekend, still aim for an ultra distance in the next year.  Because when it comes down to it, I run because I like to, because I want to, because it fulfills some need in me that nothing else can, a need that I can’t even quite put a name to.  There is no need for my running, no logical place that it holds in my life.

I run because I want to.  I run because I can.  I run because it serves no purpose, it helps me break the social contract of always being responsible and productive.  And I run with a smile, because I’m having fun, and enjoying your run — really just enjoying it — is an act of rebellion.

To run.


In the rain.


About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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One Response to Acts of Transgression

  1. Sally says:

    Awesome…I have always run b/c I can…and rarely race… 30years this summer! I so enjoy your writing!

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