Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time to Get Tough Again!

It's been a long, mild fall and now reality has set in, and I have to stop being a fair weather runner and get tough again. This is an adjustment I have to make every year. This year it's taken until the middle of November, so I can't complain about that. I love hot weather, but I also love seasons, and I wouldn't want to live and train anywhere else but here in Fort Collins, so I have to deal with a little cold, ice and snow for a short portion of each year.

I lucked out last week, we got our first snow and I was on my rest week, so I really didn't have to deal with it. But now it's Monday morning of my new training week, and I need to get some miles in, and I do have to deal with it. It's snowing this morning and I'm hesitating but I know once I get out there and get warmed up I will remember the world of winter running, that I missed so much all those years in Arizona!

It always amazes me when I'm asked how I train through the winter. Running in the snow and ice seem to be unimaginable to so many people. I don't like to be cold or wet, but I would go crazy if I didn't go outside for months. I have never owned a treadmill. There are times when I've wished I had one, but I can count the number of times I wish for that every winter on one hand.

I do love running in winter, even if the snow and ice make you slow down, run more flat-footed, and you have to watch your step. But it's so beautiful running in the white stuff, the ice crystals in the air, and the silence that the snow brings as it covers everything. I also love how refreshing the cool air is, and how good I feel when I'm finished with my workout.

I lived in Gunnison and Crested Butte for about 7 years, so I learned how to deal with cold weather. I happen to have great memories of running in blizzards and 20 degrees below zero, breathing air with so many ice crystals in it, it would make you gag. I learned to deal with it both physically and mentally, and it's much more mental than physical.

Like I've said before, you don't get extra points at the pearly gates for running fast, but for running outside during the winter, I'm almost 100% sure you do.

I hear a lot of complaints about winter running, and I think they are excuses. It takes time for your body to warm up. Think about it. Your body temperature is somewhere around 98 degrees. You live indoors in an environment that is probably 60-70 degrees. So when you step outside into 30 degree or colder air, it's going to be a shock. You have to give your body time to warm up.

Most people who "exercise" never get out there long enough to give their bodies time to adequately warm up and adjust to the temperature gradient. That's another reason why people need to sustain a workout for at least 30, preferably 60 minutes to really get fitness benefits. It takes a good 15-20 minutes, or more on colder days, to really warm up and adjust. There's an adjustment period. What a bummer that so many people never stay out long enough to make the adjustment, so they never get to the point where they can enjoy their workout.

I have tried different strategies for the coldest days. The most frequent problem/excuse I hear is: breathing the cold air hurts my lungs. First of all that means you are starting out too hard. If you have to gasp really hard and you're not warmed up, yes the cold air will be a shock to your warm mouth and throat and upper respiratory tract. Start out easier!

You can cover your face with some sort of mask or bandana if that helps, but then it gets wet and freezes, so it seems kind of pointless to me.

I only cover my face when the wind chill or air temperature are so cold that it freezes my skin. Some people like to put vaseline on or something to protect their skin. If it's so cold that I'm seriously risking frostbite, those are the days I consider staying inside and getting on my bike trainer.

Another problem/excuse I hear is: My feet get cold. Wearing thick socks keeps you from being able to move your toes around in your shoes, there's no room for a layer of warm air to build up, and your toes stay frozen, until they slowly start to warm up and become excruciatingly painful until they do warm up. I have tried all kinds of things: neoprene socks, putting chile pepper seeds in my socks and in between my toes, and wearing shoes that are a half size bigger. For me, wearing thin socks helps more than anything.

I think all these strategies work, except the chile seeds, they can actually burn your skin temporarily, which creates an additional source of pain. But some people swear by them.

Problem/Excuse # 3 My hands get cold. Try mittens. Allowing room for warm air to build up around your hands will help. Or pull your hands inside your sleeves. If you have gloves, pull your fingers into the palm of the glove until they warm up. Usually by the time you get warmed up your hands are sweating enough that you don't need the gloves anymore.

Problem/Excuse # 4 The roads are icy, the footing is bad. Running more flat footed helps, slowing your stride down helps, running with a slightly wider stance makes you more stable too. I use Yak Trax on the iciest conditions, and they are a pain in the butt when you have to stop and re-adjust them occasionally, but they work. I can run The Buffaloes on icy streets in the Yak Trax and even when they pull me, I don't slip at all.

In Fort Collins we have the bike paths, which usually get plowed before the streets. Also, if you run in the fresh, untracked snow, the footing tends to be better than running on tire tracks, which get packed down and slick. Just be careful of ice hidden underneath fresh snow.

Problem/Excuse # 5 I don't mind the cold, but the wind is so unpleasant. Here in the Front Range area we have an abundance of wind in the cooler months. It's something you have to get used to. I think wind is a gift from the weather gods. You have to look at it with a positive frame of mind. Running with the wind makes you faster, and running against the wind makes you stronger. You can't lose.

My friend Cat complained to me about the wind recently. I couldn't believe it came from her because she's one of the toughest runners I've ever known, and she never lets anything stop her from running. I am pretty sure she didn't mean it.

Problem/Excuse # 6 I don't like to be cold. Then why are you living in a cold place? The solution is to dress warm. Wear layers. It always amazes me to see people out in shorts and running bras or t-shirts when it's 40 degrees outside. If it's below freezing, I'm the one dressed up like a snowman, I've got six layers on top and three on the bottom, and I can barely bend my knees and elbows because I've got so much clothing on.

Seriously, if you spend a lot of energy trying to stay warm, you'll get tired pretty fast. I like to overdress, not only because I train for races in hot environments, but also because I like to conserve my energy. Yes you do sweat and no matter how high-tech your clothing is, you will have some wet layers close to your skin, but if you have enough clothes on, the wind won't cool those wet layers down and you'll stay warm.

Problem/Excuse #7 It gets dark too early, there's not enough daylight. WAAAAH! First of all, the snow reflects light, so it's easier to see at night, and there's less traffic on the roads, and in the winter, there tend to be fewer creepos and weirdos out and about, so find a training partner and make an agreement to keep each other motivated through the winter, and get out there when it's dark and run.

The other things to remember in winter: sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. The glare and the reflection make the sun equally if not more intense than in the summer, so don't forget to cover up any skin that's exposed. I need to do a better job of remembering that, everyone thinks I'm a skier because of my raccoon eyes from my sunglasses.

When they ask me if I was skiing, it always catches me by surprise, and I usually look at them like they said something in some language I don't understand. When I tell them I run, they proceed through every question I just answered in this post.

Enough about winter running. Yes, I hope it's a short winter. I'm looking out the window, seeing the blobs of snow fall off the trees, knowing I need to get out there, and I'm not moving too fast.

It's time to go practice what I preach.


Paige said...

I love the deafening silence of a fresh layer of snow, and being the first one to run through it :) I think winter running builds a lot of character! Go get 'em!

Alene Gone Bad said...

I can remember doing a long run with Cat last winter and it was so cold we had icicles hanging off our faces. If that doesn't build character I don't what does. I hope you have a great winter of running, Paige!

Lindsay said...

This is great to read! I have gotten "serious" about running in the last year and did my first half marathon in May. I have been slacking with the cold (and holiday and travels) and wishing I had a treadmill! So this gives me some motivation to just get out there and do it! Thanks!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Lindsay! Good luck with your winter training.