Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

No Really, How Am I Supposed to Run in This?

We had our first snowfall here in Aachen last week, and like any good Texan, I ran outside with my camera and took about 800 pictures of the fluffy white stuff. (Only 400 or so were a chronicle of The Doof’s first encounter with a snowball.)

Cold stuff is falling from the sky! And it’s not rain! This is novel! This is exciting! This is a real winter!

That was last week. This week was reality-check time. It started snowing Sunday, and it didn’t stop until sometime Tuesday morning. And then it snowed some more that night. Tomorrow and Friday? More snow. In fact, the current “Topnachrichten” in the Aachener Nachrichten is NRW: Kältester Winteranfang seit 1973. (North-Rhine Westfalia: Coldest Winter Start Since 1973).

Holy crap, I’m going to die here!!!

I’m doing a lot of deep breathing right now, trying to maintain my tenuous grip on calm. Or at least  “panic that comes in waves”.

After marathon training through two brutal Texas summers in a row, I really thought I could run through anything. I mean anything. It honest-to-God never occurred to me that there might be weather conditions that could actually make running impossible. Which is why I set out on my usual 6-mile run to work this morning.

My attire for the cold:

  • Long-sleeve running shirt
  • North Face wind-resistant shell
  • Fleece-lined running tights
  • North Face winter hat
  • $1 cotton gloves from Walgreens
  • 6 for $8 cotton running socks from DSW Shoe Warehouse

Okay, so my closet doesn’t exactly scream “ready to tackle Everest”, but two North Face items isn’t bad for someone who lives in Central Texas and is too cheap to wear the brand for its fashion cache. (I’ll admit, they were both gifts.) Also, I’ve found it to be an extremely delicate balance between “warm enough” and “sweating”. The first few times I ran with gloves and a hat, I ended up stuffing both into my pockets…and then losing a glove…and then finding it in the street the next day…but why rehash old tales?

Things started out okay. Our apartment is on the edge of the city, and the first two miles follow the outermost ring, a main drag for commuters. Thanks to its relatively heavy use, decent portions of the sidewalk were salted, and the parts that weren’t were pretty fluffy. The only real problem for those two miles was that running through fluffy snow is not unlike running through fluffy sand. Torture. But, I told myself, good exercise. Especially given that I’ve been enjoying our Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day since Sunday.

I hit a bit more challenging terrain when I turned on to the big road that heads out of town and to the office. There’s a bus stop right at the corner of this road and the ring road, and I quickly learned that in places where lots of people walk on packed snow, the snow hardens into a rock-hard sheet of ice. I started to wonder if perhaps I should invest in trail running shoes for added traction.

I could maintain a mostly-uninterrupted jog for the next two miles, albeit a slow jog. But as I got closer and closer to the office — hence deeper and deeper into forest and cow pastures — the snow, too, got deeper and deeper. The number of lines from bike tires slowly dwindled, and in my mind’s half-frozen eye I could see the cyclists giving up the dream and hitching a ride on a passing bus. Would that I had brought bus fare.

The last two miles were an adventure in running the likes of which I have never experienced in my life. First came the 6-inch deep snow, which quickly altered my future investment in trail running shoes to an investment in snow shoes. (I was pretty sure I’d once read a Runner’s World article about snow shoe raees…)

Next came the 4-inch deep snow that was really just early-stage solidification of 6-inch deep snow. In other words, some parts were rock hard, some parts were sinkholes, and in between the two were fist-sized snow rocks that twist your ankles and cause you to fall into said sinkholes.

At this point I was hit with the realization that the marathon they run in Antarctica every year (so a handful of crazy runners can say they’ve run marathons on all 7 continents) must be really really hard! Okay, sure, maybe a normal person — or at least a person from a place that has actual seasons — would have put the pieces together a bit earlier that running 26 miles on an uninhabited block of ice wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but from the pictures I’ve seen, I thought it just looked like a long run with really monotonous scenery. And then you got on the boat and went home.

I was around mile 5 at this point, and I tried to picture myself running 21 more miles under the same conditions. Which lead me to picture myself jumping around flapping my arms like Tom Hanks in Cast Away when he sees a tiny search plane. Handsome J hadn’t passed me yet with the car, and I was cursing the fact that while we’ve talked about the need to come up with a visual “SOS” symbol, we’ve never actually agreed on one.

As a matter of fact, he DID pass me just after 5 miles, but by this point my iPod had crapped out and my arms were too numb to flap, so I soldiered on in a sort of stoic self-flagellation.

Things get a little more populated right before you reach the office, which meant the return of the packed down sheets of slippery death. At that point, I perfected a strategy of lunging for any little tuft of snow I could see atop the ice. I was like an animal in a conditioning experiment with a negative-reinforcement reward system: If I step on snow on ice, I’m much less likely to bust ass than if I step on just ice!

The real kicker was the final .2 miles, because that’s the distance I have to run east from the main road to get to the office. And the wind was coming from the east. And the wind chill was -18C. The wind literally burned my fingers through my little cotton parodies of gloves. I thought I might cry if my tear ducts weren’t frozen shut. The crying was especially tempting when I reached the office door. I had finally reached the promised land, but I couldn’t dig out my key fob because it was in a zippered pocket that my hands were too numb to open. I was too embarrassed to ring the bell (these Germans already think of me as “crazy running girl” as it is), so instead I pulled my glove off, wedged my thumbnail under the zipper, and used the other hand to pull down from the wrist.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the ensuing shower scene (lest all of you start picturing me in the shower, which is just creepy) but if I thought cold wind burned, WELL…

Cold wind has nothing on hot water that comes into contact with partially frostbitten skin. Soon my entire body was bright red and itching like I had run through 6 miles of poison ivy. I decided if my joints every loosened up enough to get to my desk, I’d Google “nerve damage from cold” as soon as I got there.

So really, how am I supposed to run in this? And if I can’t run, what am I going to do???

No, no, runners live in all climates. Surely there are products I can buy that can fix this. In fact, a girl at the office told me about a colleague who has metal spikes in his shoes for running in winter. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll pay him a visit.

Happy trails!

4 comments on “No Really, How Am I Supposed to Run in This?

  1. Jeanine
    December 1, 2010

    When it was this cold in Rhode Island, I invested in these babies….yaktrax. Go pro, they'll get you there! you!! Oh, I dropped from the full to the half for the Austin 3M race. Did a 9 mile run which turned to 8 and my body just isn't ready to start busting out 15's this weekend, which is where the full is at. Figure that my next full will be after biking 112 miles. Joy. Said biking is going awful. did 20 miles today and thought I would die on Parmer. 9 miles an hour is top speed. Pathetic. Boy do I have some work to do!ok but for real – get those yaktraks! I ran in 6 inches of snow every day and only fell 5x on ice, which was better than the year before where I fell well over 100x and nearly shattered my knee. These babies are worth the money.

  2. Chris
    December 2, 2010

    Fascinating! I tried out their store locater, and it looks like you can buy them in Austin — where I won't be until July — but not in Winnipeg — where I'll be in just a few weeks. (Oh, the irony.)Ah well, they are definitely on my Amazon Wish List! And are you seriously feeling bad about biking? Did you read my biking post?? At this rate, if I ever do a tri, I'll have to see if Big Wheels count as bicycles. =) Keep at it, friend!

  3. Robin
    December 2, 2010

    I'm sure the Running Room in Winnipeg must have *something*…I know I've seen crazy runners out there in the winter. Just as I have read about snowshoe races atop the mountains in Vancouver…I don't understand the appeal. Just ski. Seriously. (this from the person who also doesn't understand the appeal of running when there's a perfectly good bike that will get you there faster…like brother like sister?)

  4. Jeanine
    December 7, 2010

    oh, I went to the run store and found another shoe that you may want to try – Solomon or Saloman or something like that. MISS YOU!

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This entry was posted on December 1, 2010 by in adverse conditions, snow.
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