All I ever needed to know about running in the cold I learned in Iowa.
You might be inclined to assume that, having grown up in the arctic tundra of the midwestern united states, I might be more inclined to enjoy the cooler weather for physical activity. Most of us in the Midwest are proud to be of a somewhat stronger stock than the rest of our neighbors, smirking with smug satisfaction at the displaced southerner who somehow made a wrong turn on his way to grandmother’s house and ended up in a snow storm in Iowa. As he’s staring perplexed at his feet and puzzling over the inexplicable numbness in his toes, we are not so discretely laughing at his inability to figure out that a pair of wool socks and waterproof snow boots might be a more intelligent choice than his favorite flip-flops. Honestly. Who does that!
However, I have to admit that, in spite of my obsessive love of snow…I hate the cold. I would rather sweat in 105 degrees than shiver in 45. And living in Houston, I do a lot of sweating. In fact, it’s so second nature to break a sweat every time you walk out the door, you almost get a weird sense of having entered the twilight zone when that first day arrives when the temperature drops into the 80s.
I love running. I have run most of my life for all of the typical reasons: exercise, stress relief, challenge, being in nature, to clear my head. But in all of those years of running, I never really challenged myself. The idea of pushing myself to run in an event like a 5K repulsed me. It brought back memories of running track, which, ironically, I hated. But in the last couple of years the idea had been crawling back into my mind. There was something enticing about the idea of pushing myself and seeing how far I could go. I secretly wanted to wake up with leg cramps and not be able to wear shoes for a week because of painful blisters. To me they sounded like war wounds…something you earn after months of hard work and discipline, each ache, bruise and blister having its own thrilling story. But I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it. That not only would the training be miserable, but that I would come in dead last should I choose to run a race. That I would trip and fall and the other more ‘experienced’ runners, who look so cool in their overpriced special running paraphernalia, would smirk and breeze past me thinking, “Newbie. Get outta my way.” That I would chicken out and give up half way through, even more embarrassing than tripping and falling on my face. So it was this fear that I decided to challenge. I signed up to run a half-marathon. I trained and loved every minute of it. and on race day I beat my goal of 2 hours, coming in at 1:55:55.
So that brings me to the marathon.
Similar to a road trip when you are flying past a road sign that blandly reads, “Childhood home of John Wayne, exit now. 23 miles” or “Home of one of Elvis Presley’s teacher’s friend’s sister’s hairstylist, take exit 2. 45 miles.” You really don’t want to do it because you know deep down that those 23 miles really start to feel like 123 when you realize you just took an unnecessary detour to see a teeny tiny little house that really looks just like every other teen tiny little house you’ve ever seen except this one took you 3 hours off your course on a boring little side road with nothing to look at but a few cows chewing their cud while watching you speed by a second time pushing 90 mph, trying angrily to make up for lost time. Remember those times? It’s like a sick fascination with the idea of “well, I’m already this close. You can’t be this close to Elvis Presley’s teacher’s friend’s sister’s hairstylist and just NOT GO. I might as well just do it and get it over with.” And so it is with the marathon.
After running the half marathon, I didn’t really have a strong desire to run a full, but kept thinking, “Well, I’ve come this far. I’m already halfway there. You can’t get halfway to a completing a marathon and just NOT DO it. I might as well just do it and get it over with.” So I’m doing it. But once I made the decision, my attitude has improved and now I am actually looking forward to the challenge again, with all of the same doubts, worries and questions as before.
My initiation run started on Monday of this week. It was 35 degrees. In Houston. My last run a week earlier was 78 degrees. This was going to be rough. Now, being raised in Iowa I of course knew that 35 degrees is not really cold. It’s not even below freezing! However, my blood has thinned out over the last 3 years and I trained for a half marathon by running in 95-104 degrees for the first half. Now I’m running in 35 degrees…it’s a whole other animal.
As I turned my hairdryer on high and rested it on the bathroom counter, I changed into my newly purchased long running tights and layered up, just like I had read about when I googled “running in cold weather”. Dropping over 40 degrees from one run to the next had me a little worried. I dug around and found a pair of light mittens, but realized I didn’t have a hat or scarf. No one does here. So on my way to the park I had to swing by target. I didn’t know how I should feel: stupid for being an Iowa girl and admitting that I was cold, or smart for knowing that I would be the only runner out there really prepared, thanks to my Midwest common sense.
In the parking lot of the park, I blasted the heat on in my car and got my toes all nice and cuddly warm and found the most base pumping, adrenaline rushing song I could, then jumped out. Normally I would spend 10 or so minutes stretching, breathing deeply and calmly taking in the beauty the last light of the evening, however, it was pitch black out and I had hardly stretched a hamstring when I started to shiver, so off I went.
It only took the first mile and a half to warm up but it felt more like 5. I wasn’t sure if I should run hard to warm up faster (and face the inevitable increase in cold air flow up my jacket and on my face and neck, making me even more uncomfortable) or go slow to minimize the wind chill effect. In retrospect, I’m not really sure what I did because I was so shocked at how cold it was and how my nose was already like ice and that my legs felt naked despite my fancy running tights covering every square inch. I kept going back and forth between giggles and angry grunts. My mind kept thinking with incredulity, “Oh my god! Who does this?!? WHO does this??!?!?” And then I passed the old man running in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Really? Again, I couldn’t decide if I should feel stupid for looking like a wimp who couldn’t handle the cold, or smart for actually checking the weather forecast before heading out the door that night. I quickly concluded that I was the smart one. In two days I would still be healthy, running in the next warmup to 70 degrees and joyfully ditching my running tights for my favorite shorts, whereas that scantily clad old mad would be fighting off pneumonia, probably still in his same shorts and sleeveless shirt, wondering what hit him. Texans.
I finished my run and was proud to say I even broke a sweat! It was not visible to anyone but me as it was hidden below 3 layers of tops, a hat and gloves, but it was still there! Needless to say, I survived. I still hate the cold, but I made it. Now all I have to do next is figure out how to survive running in the snow and sub-freezing temperatures of Iowa over Christmas!