Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I hate about cold weather running & why I keep doing it, anyway

If you're just (insanely?) dedicated to distance running or you're already training for the local favorite Lincoln marathon, then odds are you have encountered the abysmal reality that cold weather running is a necessary precondition for putting the required training time in for those spring marathons and summer road races.  Here's a short list of some of the things I find to be persistently pestering about cold weather training - those December - March Nebraska runs that require you braving bitterly cold conditions:

1. Frozen eyelashes.  Betsy Barent pointed this one out the other day.  So true.  The eyebrows freeze and the moisture from your eyes eventually seals your eyelids shut...making it oh so much harder to, well, see.  Not to sound like a running snob, but, well, seeing is one of those things that really helps to facilitate the running experience.
This many pairs of gloves and
I still can't feel my fingers?
2. First, when your fingers go numb. And then, when your fingers start to throb.  Eventually, though, if you can run through that....your fingers won't hurt again until you warm up and try to get back to 'room temp' post-run.  Then you will experience several minutes of excruciating pain.
3. Layering.  Lots of layering is necessary when the temps are bitterly cold.  So you pile on the layers, get hot, then . . . turn to head back and feel those 3-4 layers freeze into a crusty captured container of chilled sweat while you become a human+fabric ice cube.  Don't tell me about all the great gear available to combat this. The Nebraska winds laugh in the face of the niftiest wick away "keeps the heat in while lifting the sweat away" thermal running gear out there.
4. Treacherous trails.  There are stretches of the path (and also the Rock Island Trail) I typically run right now that I have affectionately begun referring to as "ankle breakers."  Obviously some of our fair citizens have assumed that their civic duty is to create extreme trail run conditions on the frozen tundra that, prior to snowfall, served as a...sidewalk.  The snowpack is so hard and the ice beneath so thick and glistening that you must gingery step across it in order to nimbly avoid twisting an ankle or wrenching a knee.
5. Numb jaw.  The numb jaw becomes a clenched-frozen-in-place jaw.  The lockjaw / icejaw thing is not a big problem, except that runners know that you always want to 'stay loose.'  Once the jaw is tight, you can feel the neck tighten; subsequently, the trapezius, the shoulders, the arms, pretty soon - you are a frozen shuffling running zombie.
6. Ice-Jaw Part 2: You come up behind some bundled up walkers on the trail and, in an attempt to show proper trail use etiquette and dignify their presence, you'll announce yours and your intent to pass.  Except, because your jaw if frozen and your lips and chin are numb, it comes out like "Wunnuh on your weft" in some sort of bizarre parody of Elmer Fudd - or it is even more incoherent!
7. Other runners who appear to be unfazed by the elements.  These shiny happy people are entirely too perky and appear to be bouncing and bounding along the trail, gallivanting over the ice without a care in the world, able to pipe a sing-song "good morning, fellow runner!" in a joyful, chipper tone.  I usually encounter these people just after I've faceplanted about an eighth of a mile back and am wondering if both of the lenses are still in my glasses.
Running in cold weather might suck, but it's not the dreadmill!
8. No real sense of pace.  I'm sorry, but I lose a sense of pace-per-mile when I am climbing over snowbanks at every intersection and skating down a sheet of ice on the trail head at 14th and Old Cheney in order to climb down from the pedestrian bridge.

What are some of the things you find most challenging or the setbacks you have to battle through for cold weather workouts?

Despite all of the above, you know what the very best thing is about cold weather running, and the one thing that makes it absolutely all worth while for those of us who love to run?  It's not the treadmill!  Hooray, we are running outdoors, in the elements, getting that visceral experience, rather than stuck like a rodent on the wheel in his cage.

By the way, when I say cold weather running, I'm not talking about temps below 50.  At the start of this morning's 15 miler, it was 9. 9 degrees. Of course, it was a "dry" cold - not a lot of wind added to it!

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