Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter training

The other day I did some research about running outdoors in the winter.  You know - articles and opinions about how cold was too cold, what kind of clothes and shoes to wear, etc.  Most of the dialogue centered firmly around running in temps  within a stones throw of freezing, though there were a few hearty midwest souls that regularly seemed to train in single digit temps if necessary.  No one really seemed to offer up advice, however, for the sort of cold weather training I was contemplating. 
 It was saturday and sunday was my long run day - 13 miles.  My 'training window' was from 10-noon, and the gym didn't open until 12 (not that 104 laps around the track was enticing).  The forecast was for highs around -10 F with a Wind chill advisory in effect (wind chills -30 to -40).  This would be interesting.
I set off around 10:30, clad in my Craft running pants, Nike compression Short sleeve top, Icebreaker Longleeve top, and Craft running jacket.  I wore a fleece balaclava for a hat, windstopper fleece gloves, lightweight wool socks, Goretex roclite 312's, and the new inov-8 gaiters, and my Ipod shuffle blasted a good mix of midnight oil, flogging molly and jimmie's chicken shack.  
It was a good run.  I hit the river a couple miles in and followed snow-mobile tracks as i headed south.  I tried to shortcut one of it's oxbows and ended up wading through thigh deep snow and jumping down a 10 foot cliff to regain the river (didn't get snow in my shoes though!).  Soon after this I was chased by a dog along the vast openness of the flat white frozen plane of the river - a surreal experience for sure.  It almost felt post apocalyptic - a scene from Day After Tomorrow - enhanced by the otherworldly emptiness that only extre
me cold and sunday morning in the midwest can bring.  
After about 4 miles on the river i headed back to a paved greenway trail - the sand-like consistency of the snow machine churned snow was making my progress slower than i wanted it to be.  I ran the rest of the way along the greenway and then back through quiet neighborhoods.  
I have found my favorite winter running is along the sidewalks.  It feels like trailrunning.  This time of midwinter they almost always are covered with firm snow which provides a feeling underfoot something like good packed dirt or clay.  The terrain requires enough attention to feel engaging without being extra exhausting (like the snow-mobile trails). And then the 2-3 foot high hurdles at the end of every block - packed snow and ice from the snowplows clearing of the streets - adds extra excitement. 
I timed the last several miles through town and then later looked up the distance on google maps to get an idea of my pace.  It was about 7:25/mile, although undoubtedly a bit slower on the river. I was about 10 minutes late getting home, but was forgiven immediately based on my appearance.  The ambient temperature when i started was minus 14.  it was minus 10 when i finished.  Wind chill was consistently around minus 25-30, but occasionally down to minus 40 or below at some critical plac
es along the river that served as wind channels.
Lessons learned about running when it's very cold:  1)  If you're actually going to be running, then you can be reasonably comfortable in this type of extreme cold.  My feet were never cold.  I suspected this would be the case, as this isn't my first (or coldest) run of this type, although it is my longest, mileage wise.  I contribute this to superior footwear  (:   2) You're going to get wet.  really wet.  what this means is that if you STOP, you're going to freeze (literally).  good incentive not to stop i guess.  3)  Fleece or wool boxers are a good idea (especially when running into the wind)  I don't have these (come on guys!  hook me up already!!!), and so it's a good thing i already have two kids 
and don't really want any more.   4).  Mini-gaiters are a good idea.  the inov-8 jobbies i had worked great..  This was the first run i've used them on.  Although even in past runs without them my feet were always warm, my ankles were usually cold because i'd be using them to melt snow whenever i stepped in anything deeper than a few inches.  5).  Goggles should be required gear.  I didn't take them.  By the end of my run i had enough ice around my eyes to  make a small snowball.  I also couldn't easily open or close my eyes - and was reduced to peering through the small ice crusted slits to see the road.  my eyeballs were also actually quite cold, which didn't do anything to improve my vision, which was probably damaged from looking directly at snow for over 100 minutes.  My wife asked why i didn't wipe them off.  seems like a good question.  but the entire exterior layer of clothing was also essentially ice - so while i still had some dexterity in my hands - i wasn't about to take my gloves OFF and wiping the ice off of my eyelashes with the ice on my gloves just didn't seem to make sense.  i also didn't think it would do much good, and in a strange sort of way, kinda thought it was cool (although again, probably really dangerous and stupid).  6)  You will (unless you've arranged otherwise, which you may find it difficult to do) probably not see another soul. Enjoy!

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