Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | December 5, 2012

Weather-Induced Schizophrenia

I love traveling to California. It’s like going to a foreign country, but without having to change currency or bring a passport. Everything is just a little different. The freeways. The socks with sandals. The dreadlocks. The composting. It’s all so funky and interesting. And of course, I love the weather. Chicago is plagued by extremes, both hot and cold. But California is the Even-Steven of the country, weather-wise. It’s Goldilocks-land. Sure, there might be some fog or a small spell of inclement weather, but for the most part, it’s just right.

Except, apparently, the weekend of the California International Marathon.

I started checking the weather for Sacramento 10 days before the race. Around the same time, I began showing symptoms of psychological problems, namely anxiety and multiple personality disorders.

The forecast for race day was grim. A major storm, dubbed the Pineapple Express, would be raging through the area. It would bring rain, yes, but worse, there would be wind. Lots of it. 15-25 mile per hour winds coming from the south/southwest. The CIM course is point-to-point heading, you guessed it, south and west. We’d be running into the wind. The whole time.

I sat in my kitchen in Chicago hitting “refresh” on and fretting over what to do. I was going to CIM to try to qualify for the Boston marathon, but I needed all the help I could get. I knew a headwind, even a slight one, would make that goal impossible.

A voice in my head told me that going to Sacramento was a huge mistake. There would be wind! Floods! Maybe even a plague of locusts!

But another voice pointed out that weather forecasts are notoriously inaccurate. It probably wouldn’t be nearly as bad as they said. The folks at The Weather Channel were just being alarmist and trying to make themselves seem more important. Kind of like the people on cable news shows.

My stress level rose higher each day. Should I cancel my trip and try for a different marathon? Should I go and hope for the best? I clenched my jaw. I scowled. I snapped at my family.

“Is this what it’s like,” I asked my husband, “to be uptight? Those people who seem so unhappy and tense all the time, the control freaks – is this what it feels like to be them?”

“Yup,” he replied.

“Wow. This is horrible.”

I started obsessing over what to do. One minute, I decided to forget Sacramento and switch to the Tucson marathon the following weekend instead. The weather looked more promising, plus I had a friend running Tucson. It was the perfect solution! What an obvious choice!

The next minute, I decided that was a terrible idea and I should to stick with Sacramento because really, how bad could it be? It’s California, after all. Think of all those songs about how great the weather is there! They can’t all be wrong, can they?

Then I saw yet another news report about the predicted strong winds and flooding. I booked a hotel room in Tucson.

A few hours later, I cancelled the hotel room in Tucson.

The next day I checked the forecast again. I booked another room in Tucson.

Finally, it was decision time, the morning of my flight.

I decided that I had to go. Not only had I made plans to visit friends in northern California before the race, but my parents were flying all the way to Sacramento from the East Coast just to see me run. I couldn’t leave them stranded by themselves in the middle of a California monsoon.

I canceled the Tucson hotel – again – and headed to the airport.

As I stood at the gate, the news blaring throughout the boarding area included a segment on the severe weather and devastating floods hitting northern California.

I started shaking with nerves.

When the flight landed in Sacramento, I was thrilled. It wasn’t that bad! Just a little drizzle! Perfect running weather! I’d reach my goal time, no problem!

Then as I drove on the highway (or, to use the local vernacular, “the freeway”) from Sacramento to Oakland to go visit friends, I passed through a massive band of wind and rain. Gusts blew my car all over the road. Depression hit.

My conflicting personalities battled each other for the entire 2-hour drive to Oakland.

Fortunately, I had a visit with some college friends to distract me. I had dinner with my former house-mate Stacey and spent the evening catching up with her and her family. The next morning, I was honored to attend her daughter’s school presentation about Buddha. As she and her classmates recited Buddhist teachings, they seemed to be speaking directly to me, encouraging me to be strong. The only time the cynic in me reared her head was when I thought that the call to “end suffering” might mean I should skip the typhoon marathon and go to a warm, dry spa instead. Buddha would approve of some yoga, no?

After being centered and inspired by the adorable budding Buddhists, Stacey and I met up with my old college dorm-mate Matthew Zapruder. As always, his calm, solid presence was relaxing and reassuring. And no wonder he has the ability to soothe the savage, or at the very least anxiety-ridden, beast: he’s a poet. (A fabulous one, by the way. You should go buy his books right this very minute. Seriously. Go do that and come right back.)

There’s something special about spending time with friends from college. It’s almost like getting in touch with the potential nugget that exists, even if dormant, inside, revealing who you used to be and what you could – even still – become. There are no filters imposed by your day-to-day life, no viewing yourself through the frame of the labels you currently wear. It’s like taking a time machine back to that moment when anything was possible. It’s reinvigorating.

Needless to say, as I left Oakland to drive back to Sacramento, my manic personality was fully in charge. I can do this! I’m strong! Who cares about the weather? It won’t be so bad!

I drove on the highway (aka freeway), through rolling farmland, singing along with the radio. Then the news came on. Another severe storm, the worst of the current weather system, was on the way and expected to hit its peak on Sunday morning, causing severe wind damage and flooding.

I started crying.

And so it continued, with the disparate versions of me battling for control of my mind. A devil saying “It’s going to be horrible, the wind will decimate you.” An angel saying “You’ll be fine, it’ll be an adventure.” The completely delusional part of me thought “Maybe the wind will switch around 180 degrees and there will be a 25 mph tailwind. That would make me even faster!”

But I knew my speculation and mood swings were a waste of energy. Short of getting medicated, the only thing to do was wait for race morning and hope for the best.

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