Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cold weather running is FUN!

At least, that's what I keep trying to tell myself as I push through the teeth-chattering miles of the winter months. I'm not sure if I believe it yet, though. These last few weeks, I've been doing a lot of indoor running for various reasons (such as safety, health, and general wussiness). Well, running indoors has spoiled me. This weekend, I took my running outside for a change, and, well, it hurt.

I started the weekend off with a race. How bad could it be?, I asked myself. It's just 4 miles. I'll be done before I even notice that it's cold! I carried these reassuring thoughts with me to the starting line. But as I stepped off the toasty shuttle bus and felt the bitter arctic blast on my face, those thoughts disappeared.

It was about 25º at the start of the FOLEPI River Trail Classic, with a wind chill of about 21º. This is pretty much my lower temperature limit for running outdoors. Any colder than this and I wimp out and take my run inside. I had on two layers of pants and two layers of tops, plus gloves and a hat. You would think this would be plenty. You would think wrong.

The course for this race is more-or-less straight-line point-to-point route along the East Peoria bike trail (which is fully paved). The race begins with a short section heading east before making a hairpin turn onto the bike path to head west for the rest of the race. As we rounded the hairpin turn, I could tell we were in for a real treat because the wind was coming out of the west... which meant the wind would be in our faces for the entire race. *begin sarcasm* Oh yay! *end sarcasm*

And so I ran as best I could with numb feet, foggy glasses and tears streaming down my face from the bitterly cold wind. I felt like I was running with concrete blocks attached to my legs; that's how numb my feet were. I wished I had electric socks. Well, actually, I wished I was at home snuggled under six blankets with a space heater aimed at myself. But since I knew I couldn't get home to my blankets and space heater if I didn't get to the damn finish line, I knew I would just have to suck it up.

I was told this was a downhill race, and that it was good for setting a PR because of the elevation drop. I was also warned that the downhill doesn't start until about a mile into the race. So my strategy was to run the first mile at a conservative pace (sort of a warm-up, really), then turn on all the engines when I hit the downhill. My previous best for a 4 mile race was 35:15, an 8:48 pace. I figured I should be able to run an 8:30 pace given the cooler conditions and downhill course.

As I passed the first mile marker and looked down at my Garmin, I saw that I had run my first mile in 8:30. Oops. So much for being conservative in the first mile. The course started to visibly drop at about Mile 1.5 and I felt like I was flying. Yes, my eyes were frozen open (better than frozen shut, I guess), my feet were still numb, and I had icicles hanging from my nose (aka, snotcicles), but I was flying.

The downhill section appeared to level off around Mile 3, but it was still a gentle decline. Which meant that I was still flying. But in order to fly at the same pace, I had to work a little harder. As I passed the Mile 3 marker, the discomfort of running fast has firmly set in and the race turned into a mental battle between the desire to back off to ease the discomfort, and the desire to keep pushing for a strong finish. Just one more mile to go. At the rate I was going, that was only 8 more minutes. Surely I could hold onto my pace for 8 more minutes.

In my final push, I cursed the three hills that were so close to the finish. They were small in actuality, but they felt like mountains to my fatigued legs. I rounded the final corner and I could actually see the finish line up ahead. I wiped the snotcicles from my nose, gathered every last bit of energy I could muster, and made a mad dash for the finish. I was vaguely aware of my in-laws standing on the sideline taking pictures but I did not have any extra energy to smile or wave or look remotely alive. I saw my husband at the finish line cheering me on. And in 32:34, I crossed the finish: a new PR, by over 2:30.

Incidentally, my husband also ran a PR, and finished about 50 seconds ahead of me. And our friend Niki also ran a PR. Coincidence? I think not....

As it turns out, there is a net elevation drop of over 250 feet. Check out the Garmin data, particularly the green elevation graph. Downhill, baby!

The post-race festivities were great and, thankfully, indoors. They were serving up yogurt, fruit, popcorn and pizza. All in all, a very nice race: well-organized, fast, and with nice amenities. Yes, it was freakin' cold. But I did eventually regain feeling in my feet, and my eyeballs did thaw out. So maybe this cold-weather running stuff wasn't so bad after all.

Feeling empowered by my success at the FOLEPI run on Saturday, I decided to take my Sunday long run outdoors as well. The Stashies were meeting in the usual place to run a 10 mile route, and that's exactly how far I was planning to run - perfect! The weather website told me it would be a bit warmer on Sunday morning than it was on Saturday, so I was thinking it would be a piece of cake.

Ha. Hahahaha.

As I started running down University Ave, I quickly realized it would not be a piece of cake. No, despite the fact that it was technically warmer than Saturday morning, it was a whole lot windier and consequently, felt a whole lot colder. My cheeks burned and my eyes watered and I was highly tempted to turn around, get into my car, and drive to the gym since nobody in their right mind would be running in this weather. And yet there I was, along with several Stashies, running against the icy wind. Clearly, none of us were in our right mind. It's the only explanation.

I did not dress warmly enough for this run. I didn't feel adequately warmed up until about Mile 6. And I think that even then, I only felt warmer because I was running with the wind finally. The snotcicle situation was far more dire than it was on Saturday. I lamented the fact that I had not brought any tissues along. I stopped at a Starbucks along the way for a potty break and learned that when you're wearing seven layers of clothes, going to the bathroom is a workout unto itself. The whole run, I felt slow, sluggish and tired. I had just raced the day before, so maybe I was still recovering from that.

I kept chugging along and before I knew it, I was high-fiving my fellow Stashies on a job well-done. I wasn't thrilled about the run, but hey, at least it was done. I rewarded myself with a peppermint mocha from Starbucks and headed home.

Upon reviewing my Garmin data, I noticed something interesting. I was not nearly as slow and sluggish as I thought I was. In fact, I ran at a faster pace than I would normally run my long runs. So my long run actually went a lot better than I thought it did.

It doesn't look like the weather will be warming up much for the foreseeable future. This means that I better get used to running in the cold, whether I like it or not. And I will also have to accept that these snotcicles are here to stay. I'll just think of them as a hot new running accessory.

Peace. Love. Train.

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