Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Running Blood Boils Hot

Part of the challenge of training for a spring Marathon, such as Boston, is battling the elements. Chances are you are increasing your miles and bumping up your training during the same months snow is dumping on your favorite running routes. This can make them dangerous and near impassable, and then add the wind and freezing temperatures, and there is certainly an extra barrier to fight to get yourself out the door.

We should all be this happy and free.

Don’t let it stop you. Layer yourself up with moisture wicking, and wind resistant layers. Wear double gloves, cover your face if needed, wear reflective gear, and use a headband or hat to regulate your temperature – meaning if you happen to get too hot taking off your hat instantly cures you of any overheating.

As we all know, once you are warmed up, the outside is refreshing and exhilarating. It’s just getting past the initial freeze. The typical equation is that 10 minutes into the run it will feel 20 degrees warmer than it really is, so dress for the temp plus twenty.  However, I do find that if your hands and ears are cold at the beginning of the run, this doesn’t change. A lightweight headband and easy to store in pocket gloves are essential.

Beyond that, winter running is special.

There is something kind of neat about running outside during times when most would think it is impossible.  A certain odd pleasure from getting strange looks running in zero degree weather where your cheeks are frozen red in a permanent smile.  Winter is a challenge from nature that you can meet head on.

Why did you climb the mountain?  Because it was there.

Why do you run in the winter?  Because my blood boils too hot to be frozen out.

While the temperature is an issue, and of course snow, it is the wind, I find, that is the biggest factor in winter. I have run in zero degrees on a sunny day, with no wind, and as long as there was a zillion layers on my hands and my face was covered, it was wonderful.

But when it’s a cold wind, that changes everything.  So yes, I have a treadmill in the basement, and tend to use it when gusts hit 20 miles per hour, when there is nasty snow (not the nice, fluffy easy to run through kind) or a cold rain.  The weather channel’s “map in motion” feature is a great function and my friend. It has sent me to treadmills even under sunny skies since I could see major storm clouds minutes away, putting off my  run and timing it just right when a clearing was on the horizon.

Treadmills are often called dreadmills for a reason.  They can be extra monotonous and repetitive and make you feel like a nutcracker rat.

Do something to make it interesting. Catch up on your Netflix que, watch those movies you DVR’ed, or plan a 3 hour long run during a 3 hour football game.

I had a surreal run on my treadmill this weekend during a wet, windy, snowy day where 14 miles would have been crazy to fit in. I watched the Red Wings/Chicago hockey game in a great overtime matchup, (Red Wings won) followed up by the Houston 2012 olympic time trials. Both of these were DVR’ed, allowing me to fast forward through commercials and only to the interesting parts.

Being in the same spot during hours of a long run is a bit of a torture.  It is much harder to ‘disassociate’ during the run. The processs where, as your body feels the tingle and sensations of the run, your mind loses its concentration and your stream of consciousness dissipates and scatters.  Your brain flows in all directions like lava and takes you through all your subconscious areas (or, as is discussed in "The Jade Rabbit"the collective unconsciousness of all humans history) and allows time to be suspended and unnoticed.

Compare this to watching the tenth of a mile tick tick tick slowly off the treadmill.

Plus, There are certain things you can’ replicate, No elevation, (although common wisdom says to add a .5 incline), and your legs don’t get used to the pounding of the pavement. Plus you don’t have to push to keep the pace, but instead just try to keep up with the pace chosen for you. I tend to recover quicker from a treadmill run, which is a benefit but makes me suspicious.

So, no matter what, you have to head out into the great snowy fields of winter to get your real training in.
Bumbles - The Abominable Running Snowman

In order to find routes when the snow just doesn’t cooperate, I look for large parking lots where I can do a half or 2/3 mile loop.  Parking lots of schools and churches are generally well maintained, regularly plowed and heavily salted, and often empty on a Saturday afternoon.  This allows you the freedom to run some loops, maybe venture out into some more snowy terrain for a change up, or a connecting parking lot, and return to your salt-covered, snow and ice-free loop.

There is a church across the street which I use, and get lost at times running 20 loops of 2/3 miles a piece, mixing it up a bit here and there. I have often found it ironic that I am going to the church for a spiritual experience.  Perhaps I can run my spirit hard enough in the churches parking lot for them to allow me entrance to the inside.  Or, what feels more true, is that God meant for the grand communication with his spirit and yours to take place in all states of nature.  What is going on in your heart and head is more important than where you sit your ass.

But I digress.

In my parts of Michigan, there are different kinds of sidewalk snow that cover the suburbia sidewalks.

The most dangerous, it seems, is the partially shoveled snow where the slight film of left over snow turns to ice. This is often the black ice variety, and top it off with a trace of snow, and a layer of ice with lubricant means you have to run carefully and as flat footed as possible or find yourself face planting on the pavement, your legs twisted out from under you and risky injury, or flat on your back with dangerous head-hitting landings.

 Other treacherous kinds of danger are when there is an inch or more of snow that has not been shoveled but has been treaded upon and the footprints are now dangerous caverns of ankle twisting, frozen footprints jarring your stride and it feels like running through rocks.

  1. Fully Melted
Maybe obvious, but..
The best seems to be the sidewalks that have been shoveled and then hit by sunlight, which then melts the remaining snow into the smooth pavement as nature and the local city hall intended.  It’s especially wonderful  when there’s a foot of snow on the ground or more, but in between there is a fresh, non-covered clear sidewalk. It has the feel of running through an ice tunnel.

Shorts in the Winter but with Hat and Glove

Second best,
2. SOFT Powder.

Second best, I feel, is an inch or two of fresh snow on pavement, untouched by human kind. I find that a sidewalk that is partially shoveled and then walked upon is more dangerous than fresh powder, which can provide a cushioning effect if it hasn’t been run through yet, and if there is enough, nullifies any ice that happens to be underneath.  This can hold true for sidewalks as well as quiet side streets.

Feel the burn in your legs and your lungs

.* In fact, a fresh powder run can be incredible. At times I even run through a field when there is a foot of snow, and it’s almost like a combo stair stepper/treadmill since you have to pull your thighs up high to keep running.  Try this at a football field with plenty of socks and waterproof pants, and run through foot high snow and get a great work out.  Your gait wont’ be the same-- its almost like water running or walking--but it beats a treadmill at times and is a great muscle cross train.  Run in the dark, under the moonlight when the Moon beams off the snow and glows in the air, and you create footprints back and forth across the huge field, with headphones blasting of course.  It’s mystical.

Don’t let the cold weather stop you, let it sharpen you like the dripping icycle off  the gutters of your house, growing and growing, getting more lucent and sharper as the season goes, because the time will come when it will thaw and the ice will break, and you may even miss it when it’s gone.

"The Jade Rabbit" - A story of a miraculous marathon run

Reviews of The Jade Rabbit

1 comment:

HollieisFueledByLOLZ said...

I agree Mark. Dreadmills are called that for a reason ha. Anyways these are such great tips as I know many of the bloggers/tweeters are gearing up for spring races. I know I am-I'm leaving for school this week where it is extremely cold to be running outdoors.

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