One afternoon after school, back in the pre-Gore-Tex days, my friend Tim and I set off on what we thought would be an easy six-mile run. Nothing but a routine maintenance workout on a relatively mild New Jersey day. Chilly - maybe 40 degrees - very cloudy, and with just a little drizzle, so we were wearing standard school-issue sweats.
At the two-mile mark, the drizzle turned to rain. We figured it wouldn't get worse, so we kept on. At mile three, our halfway point, the skies opened. Within minutes, our shoes were soaked through and our sweats had become noticeably heavier. Our typical constant chatter had come to a halt. We were running on a heavily trafficked back road with no shoulder, so we focused entirely on avoiding both puddles and cars. It was a true loop, so the fastest way back was to finish the course. By the fourth mile, I remember my sweatpants sinking lower and lower, as the sheer weight of the water began to drag them down. My socks and shoes had devolved into unified spongeballs.
We slogged our way back to the locker room, and were able to joke about the experience for weeks to come, but I had no idea that it would become an unforgettable episode, a lifelong cautionary tale. It had been - and remains - the worst training run I've ever taken. Worse than running in 26 degrees below zero, one winter Wisconsin morning. Worse than a foot of unplowed snow (that was actually kind of fun). In the 30 years since, even as Gore-Tex and spandex have made bad-weather running much more comfortable, the only kind of weather that can genuinely alter my workout routine is cold rain. I hate it, hate it, hate it.
Meanwhile, over the past six or seven years, I've become reliant on my iPod as a training partner. Music and the measurement capabilities of the Nike+iPod system eventually evolved from valued companion to necessity. Some days the first five "American Idiot" tracks get me through a quick workout I never really wanted to do. Other days, the prospect of listening to an entire Beatles album uninterrupted inspires me to set off on a longer run.
Cold rain, my old nemesis, attacked me again about a year ago. I was about two miles away from home and running with an iPod nano protected with a silicon skin. But that thin covering was no match for the heavy, windswept sheets that arrived suddenly and continued until I reached home. My iPod stopped playing near the end of the run, and although I hoped it would dry out and recover, it never did.
This past weekend in North Carolina we've received an uninterrupted drenching of cold rain. Between the caution with which I now treat an iPod in the wet weather, and my own reluctance to run in these conditions, I've had every excuse to stay home and give my legs a rest.
But, about three months ago, I ordered a hard plastic case for my new iPod touch. And for some reason, the online store I bought it from offered an iFrogz iBagz for only an extra buck or two (it normally retails for $11.99). The iBagz is a thick plastic pouch with plenty of space for an iPhone or iPod touch. But it's not just a glorified baggie. Running through a seal in the pouch is a headphone connector; on the inside is the male end, which plugs perfectly into my iPod's headphone jack. On the outside is the female end, which seals solidly with my Koss SportaPro headphones.
Thanks to this connector, I can completely seal my iPod inside the waterproof and transparent iBagz. Near the top of the iBagz, there are three Ziploc-style seals that close with a reassuring snap sound. The top of the bag then folds down, three times, after which you secure the enclosure with a strip of Velcro.
This may sound like a clunky, heavy, and perhaps overly complex solution, but here's the thing: it's not. It's easy to see your iPod after it's sealed in the bag, and almost equally easy to access all of the iPod's controls, both on the exterior and on the touch screen.
After a few short light-rain trial runs with the iBagz, from which I emerged with a perfectly dry iPod, I began to have real trust in it. Yesterday, after two days and two runs that I delayed and cut short because of cold rain (I used the iBagz both times and it performed flawlessly), I decided to give the iBagz its toughest test yet: an hour of running on a muddy trail in a constant downpour.
I wanted to run, but I was unenthused, to put it mildly. So I promised myself to take it long, slow, and relaxing - no pressure. I put on the Beatles' compilation album "Love," and I ran. There was no way around some of the puddles, which resembled nascent fishing ponds, and my socks and shoes were soaked through within 15 minutes. While my water-resistant gear made the hour-long outing immensely more comfortable than my unforgettable sweatsuit slog of decades past, it couldn't prevent me from becoming mud-splattered and drenched by the midway point.
But the Beatles - protected, without any worry on my end, by the iBagz - kept me keeping on. There was a stretch in my run when I had a chance to cut it short. I was passing by my car, which I had driven to the trail. I was faced with about two miles to finish the run I had planned, or two minutes to be ensconced in complete warmth and dryness. And then "Help" kicked in - the symbolism didn't escape me.
Neither did the great dependability and utility of the iBagz. After my soggy struggle, as I plugged my iPod in to sync, I put the plastic pouch next to my iBook and promised myself that I would write about it. "An ode to a plastic bag," I thought. Silly, in a way, but it's helped me through some tough workouts, and if you like to exercise while listening to your iPod, and have avoided doing so because of rain, I highly recommend you try it. Even if you aren't a runner, the iBagz would be worthwhile for anyone who spends enough time outside to risk a soaking, perhaps at a summer festival or while walking home from work. The iBagz may be one of the simplest iPod accessories I own, but it's also the one I treasure most.
[Jeff Merron is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in North Carolina.]