Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Archive for the tag “cold weather running”

Sub-Zero Treadmill Avoidance

I’ve probably shared my dislike for the treadmill before. In the past few months, I think these feelings have only grown stronger. I certainly respect folks that can hit the treadmill at the drop of a hat, and in some ways I’m jealous. There’s definitely something convenient about being able to squeeze in a quick run no matter what the weather conditions might be. However, I just can’t bring myself to do it. No matter what I have to distract me, I always find myself bored after a mile or two. This is clearly a problem when you set out to run 20 or 30 miles. Hence, I’ve embraced cold weather running this winter.

This past week, the country was, as you are no doubt aware, engulfed in a frigid blanket courtesy of the “polar vortex”. The result was a level of cold that put this Minnesotan on notice, which is saying something. The temperatures on Sunday and Monday dipped below -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and a nice wind blowing out of the north meant it felt like -35 outside. Naturally, I suited up and headed out for a run. I suppose that in some ways, I saw this as the ultimate challenge to my avoidance of the dreadmill. I would emerge victorious…and with all ten fingers and toes too!


The news broadcasters were sending out dire warnings about going outside, and reporting on the immediate risk of frostbite. These were valuable warnings, and I am thankful that I am in a position in my life to have a warm place to sleep, a hot meal to eat, and no other concerns with regard to the weather. This is certainly a privilege that I am well aware of and am reminded of even more so in times like these. I also have the benefit of a variety of winter running clothing items and accessories which made it possible for me to head out for a run.

Challenge accepted...suit up!

Challenge accepted…suit up!

What you see above is the full extent of my wardrobe for this particularly chilly run. On my head I wore a UnderArmor Thermal Gear balaclava, which is perhaps my favorite piece of winter running apparel. It is thin, but keeps the heat in like nothing I’ve ever worn. However, I still put a stocking cap over the balaclava, and pulled up a wind resistant hood as well. I wore a UnderArmor heat gear base layer. On top of this I layered a heavy wind breaker, and then an insulated running jacket. I wore a pair of rubberized glove liners and an essential pair of Seirus mittens, which I’m convinced would keep my hands toasty warm in the Arctic Ocean! I pulled on a thin pair of running tights, followed by heavy-duty running pants as well. On my feet, I wore a pair of winter Smartwool socks, and my trusty Neosocks as well.

It took my feet about a mile to completely warm up. However, the rest of my body was beautifully protected from the wind and cold, and I’m pretty sure I felt warmer during my run than I did the rest of the day! Now, the downside to so many layers is the sensation of running through a swamp with all of the extra weight coupled with the snow. However, even my tryout as the Stay Puft marathoner still trumped any treadmill I may have otherwise found myself on. In the end, Mother Nature tossed me her worst, and I ran right through it!

Stay Puft

The Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth

At any given time, the last 20 weeks or so either feel like they have blown by quicker than I could blink or crawled by at a pace that would make a 3-toed sloth laugh. This weekend, I tackled a sub-zero marathon on Saturday, and then slogged through a snow-covered follow-up run on Sunday. Each had their highs and lows, but they were good training runs and I’m feeling strong. More importantly, this weekend marked my last long back-to-back weekend, which means I now have the long-awaited joy of tapering! Did I say joy? Maybe I meant disdain. You see, the psychological and physical aches and pains that tapering, combined with a long and intense training season, bring, seem to have grown to proportions I haven’t experienced before. This obviously led me to wonder if there might be more to my extended tapering pains. The result is a theory that will no doubt win me accolades the world over, so I guess y’all should feel honored that I’m sharing it with you first!

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Perfect weather for a marathon, eh?

Aside from the vehicle-induced aches and pains I recently incurred, I’ve noticed that the phantom wandering pains that typically arrive during my taper period came much earlier this time around. I probably started feeling various issues about 5 weeks ago, and they’ve been flowing through my body ever since. My right Achilles was acting up, and then it was my left forefoot, along with both of my knees at various points, and my groin before that. I’ve monitored all of these issues, and they’ve gradually dissipated and then disappeared altogether. However, they seemed to begin around the time I really started to look forward to my upcoming trip to Arizona and Across the Years. I’ve written before about battling the injury gremlin, and this most recent ongoing battle led me to wonder if the fact that everything was happening earlier had anything to do with the increased distance I was running. I mean, I will be attempting to run longer than I’ve ever run before, and the entire race experience will be brand new. I’ll be stepping into uncharted territory, much like all of my other running firsts. Perhaps my body knows this, and it began making me hyper-aware of every ache and pain that much earlier as a result.

I think winter is finally here.

I think winter is finally here.

Over the last two years, I’ve pushed myself harder and further than ever before, and my endurance has certainly increased. My recovery time has also decreased, which has been a welcome development, especially considering my consistent back-to-back long runs on the weekends. As a result, my outlook on various distances has changed along with my goals, which is to be expected, I suppose. This has led me to contemplate the recent exponential growth of my tapering conundrum. It would seem as if the more I increase my race distance, the earlier my taper gremlin emerges to start whispering sweet nothings in my ear. In general, you can think about this Law of Exponential Taper Gremlin Growth like this:

Taper Graph 2.1

Now I should be clear that my sample (methodology) is one of convenience (me) and these results may be limited to my own well-being (limitations). However, it seems fairly clear at this point that the longer the race, the longer the tapering aches and pains. This wouldn’t be horrible, except for that fact that I’m still only tapering for the next three weeks, which means I have been left to deal with the drawbacks of a taper, while still logging long distances. This hardly seems fair! If a graphical representation hasn’t made this new, highly scientific discussion clear, I will also include a more detailed explanation (discussion). Ultimately, I think I can work through the following race distance stages.

Stage 1 (Half-Marathon): I’m ready and feeling good- let’s go!

Stage 2 (Marathon): I could sure use a massage, but let’s knock this out!

Stage 3 (50K): I think my knees could definitely use the rest.

Stage 4 (50 miles): My back, knees, and shins are definitely feeling the training, but I’m ready.

Stage 5 (100K): Thoughts of seeing a PT or podiatrist creep in a few times a week.

Stage 6 (100 miles/ 24 hours): Those thoughts are happening daily. Can I just taper in the hospital to be safe?

After what can definitely be called an exhausting training period and academic semester, I’m definitely ready for my taper, as well as a bit of rest before January hits. Ultimately, I know the various aches and pains come with the territory, and I’ve put my body through a lot lately, so it has earned a more relaxed schedule. My endurance is up, and I’m as ready as I’m gong to be for this race, so focusing on the planning, organization, and nutrition will gladly fill my thoughts for the next three weeks. In my free time, perhaps I can shop this “law” around to various scientific journals. This publication showing up on my vita would definitely turn some heads!

Race Recap: Living History Farms 2013

I should probably use the term “race” very loosely when describing this iconic Iowa off-road running event. However, what this race lacks in a traditional sense, it more than makes up for in a crazy, friendly, energetic, history-filled experience! This year marked the 35th anniversary of this piece of Iowa culture and history, and I couldn’t have been happier to don my superhero mash-up costume, and toe the line with close to 6,000 of my closest friends!

Nestled on several acres of undeveloped natural habitat just outside Des Moines, Living History Farms was created to as  “an interactive outdoor history museum which educates, entertains and connects people of all ages to Midwestern rural life experiences.” For the last 35 years, folks have been running this cross-country race which resembles many of the trail races I’ve done far more than a high school cross-country meet! This was my 4th time participating in this event, and it lived up to expectations as always. From the beginning, the organizers sum up the race with some common questions:

Will it be cold? Probably!

Will I get wet? Probably!

Will I get dirty? Probably!

Do I need gloves? Yes!

Exactly how far is it? 7 miles

I arrived around 8:30 and parked, with plenty of time for the 9:00AM start. In previous years, I’ve gotten down there earlier for some tailgating, but it’s been a busy fall season, and planning was minimal. I believe it had warmed up to 10 degrees by the time I got there, which was clearly balmy by November standards in Iowa (in actuality, the temps were unseasonably cold, but they seem to do that a lot!). I found some friends on the trek from the lot to the starting line, and took in the scenery as I made my way to the giant corral teeming with costume-clad runners. One of the best parts of this race is the fact that runners dress up to the extreme, sometimes more elaborately than even the most extravagant Halloween parties. The temperature is never a deterrent for exposed skin, but plenty of folks find costumes with a bit more fur for warmth. I could spend an entire post dedicated solely to the diversity of costumes, and they truly make the race. When else is slogging through creek beds and corn fields in a giant yeti costume acceptable? Ok, so maybe filming one of those documentaries would be an exception, but I’m still convinced that Bigfoot is legit!

Cold and ready to run!

Cold and ready to run!

The “gun” went off at 9AM, and the packed crowd surged forward. Now, I indicated earlier that it was a bit of a stretch to call this a “race”, and that is mainly due to the mechanics of squeezing thousands of people onto a very narrow path. Unless you are at the front of the pack and take off sprinting, you are going to do your fair share of walking and dodging other bodies along the route. Needless to say, this would not be the place to be during the Zombie apocalypse!

I warmed up fairly quickly once I started moving, and proceeded along the snow and ice-packed trail. You spend the first few miles winding through relatively open fields, and then the fun begins. As you hit the wooded portion of the course, you are greeted by the first of seven (or eight…I lost count) water crossings. I made the mistake of bothering to try to stay relatively dry by walking on walks across the stream, but the ice-covered rocks had other ideas, as did the next stream, which was wider, deeper, and only about 50 yards further down the trail. In previous years, these water crossings have ranged from bone dry to completely flooded. The water levels weren’t insane this year, but certainly high enough to get me nice and soaked up to my knees or so.

Super Hero Mash-Up!

Super Hero Mash-Up!

Running on cold, wet feet isn’t high on my list of favorite activities, but somehow I always find myself enjoying it during this race. We made our way up and down steep, dirt-covered hills, sometimes moving up under our own foot power and other times relying on ropes to pull ourselves up and help those around us along the way. Part of the enjoyment of this race is truly the friendly environment. Everyone is out there to have a good time, and always willing to lend you a hand to help you up our down, no matter how muddy you might end up in the process. The ground was actually cold enough this year, that even with a light dusting of snow, the dirt stayed pretty solid and held the mud at bay.

The entire route twists and turns for seven miles, but it always seems to be the quickest seven miles I ever run, despite it actually being the slowest seven miles I’ll ever run. This year was no exception. As I reached the last water crossing and pulled myself up for the final stretch, it hardly seemed like I had been out there for over an hour already. Everyone was cheering and reveling in the delight of a wonderful romp through the woods as we crossed the finish line. There were even medals this year to commemorate the 35th anniversary, and then we headed up to the excellent post-race spread for various delicious snacks. The cold reality revisited me fairly quickly and I was ready to take off my soaked shoes and socks and thaw out my hands, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop smiling the entire drive home. Another enjoyable LHF off-road race is in the books and I can start planning my costume for next year!


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