That Old North Wind Should Begin to Blow

The white ravens have been released from the Citadel. Winter is here. I looked at the extended forecast and cried. The high on Christmas Day is -5 F. I took next week off from work and was looking forward to some long runs, but now I just feel despair.

Tuesday I was determined to run outside. Monday it was snowing hard enough that I decided against an outdoor run, but I want to get in as many outdoor runs as I can when it’s not frigid, so I resolved to make it up on Tuesday. It was in the mid-20s F so I figured it would be okay. I also thought it would be ok to leave my headlamp at home (I did wear my reflective vest). I headed down to Minnesota Point, because I knew it would be a relatively safe place to run. It’s not hilly (I’m always afraid I’m going to slip down a hill while running in winter, or slip off an uneven sidewalk into traffic) and I thought that it would be light enough from streetlights, house lights, and ambient lighting.

It wasn’t light enough, and I was constantly afraid that I was going to slip on black ice – so much so that I actually walked on clear spots in the sidewalk because I thought they were black ice, rather than pavement (since it was too dark to tell). Every time a car went by, its headlights cast everything out of their narrow beams into shadow, so I couldn’t see what I was traversing. Long stretches of sidewalk weren’t shoveled, so I ended up running in the street (which also had icy/snowy stretches).

The wind was brutal. It seemed to swirl around me and come at me from all sides, especially on the way back. I ran 7 miles and it went pretty slowly due to the sidewalk/road conditions and visibility issues, so I was out there for over an hour and a half (yeah, it really sucks to be a slow runner in winter), and for half that time, I was getting bombarded by icy winds. Even with Warm Skin slathered on my face, my cheeks were still frozen.

I couldn’t get warm when I got home. I was so cold I ended up having to take a shower after dinner, and then sat with a heating pad in my lap. Somehow I wasn’t able to generate enough heat to truly warm up on my own, even with cozy clothes, a bathrobe, and a blanket on. Someone suggested last year that I drink hot tea after a run, but I don’t have any tea, because I forgot about that suggestion. I did end up utilizing this suggestion yesterday at work when I was so cold at my desk (I sit by the window) that I was having trouble typing.

It’s only December and I’m already anxious about the cold weather to come. I mean, it’s been cold already, with little reprieve, since late October, but not cold. Not bone-chilling subzero Hoth-level cold. I’m worried about how long this cold snap is going to last. Weeks? Months? When will I see a temperature above freezing again? It feels like it was barely summer.

I’ll figure out how to cope, eventually, but right now all I want to do is whine and worry and wonder if it’s a mistake to try to run a spring ultra.

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A Conversation With My Boss

Via email

Me: I ran by your house the other day!
Boss: Cool, did you see the coyote, it’s been hanging around.
Me: Um, no, but now I will be much more nervous about running on the Lakewalk!

Great. Now I’m going to feel super safe running the upper part of the Lakewalk after dark. I guess I should be thankful to her for the warning! I’m running out of reliable routes, between wild animals, unshoveled sidewalks, and poorly plowed streets. I’m starting to wonder what will break me first this winter: the cold or the monotony?

Things I Took For Granted

I love winter in some respects. I love the frigid days we had here in Duluth last week, with a bright orange sunrise and sea smoke in the harbor. I love watching snow fall. I love twinkle lights.

Running in the winter just sucks, though. There are so many things I took for granted this summer, that I’m realizing as winter progresses. Yeah, I ran last winter, but I wasn’t training for an ultra. I started to list them all in my head during my long run on Thursday.

  1. Seemingly endless daylight.
    I could dawdle around the house for a couple hours after work and still get in a decent run before dark.
  2. Minimal clothing.
    I have to pile on the clothes in the winter, which means more laundry, fewer options for what I can wear, and less freedom of movement. I don’t have to wear gloves in the summer, which means I have more dexterity for opening gels, adjusting my clothes, fiddling with my watch, etc.
  3. No fogged-up glasses.
    When it’s really cold and I’ve gotta cover my face, my warm breath fogs up my glasses. So then I have to uncover my face. And then I get frostbite, which reminds me…
  4. No frostbite and less risk of hypothermia.
    Hypothermia is of course possible even on warmer days, but no one can get frostbite in 55 degree weather. My skin is miserable right now.
  5. Less mucous.
    My nose runs while I’m running in any weather, but it runs a heck of a lot more in winter. Then my snot freezes.
  6. I’m not tired and cold for hours after running.
    Sometimes in the winter, I just can’t get warm. I’ll feel fine while running, but then I get chilled once I come inside. It makes me sleepy, and then I’m basically useless the rest of the day. I feel that way right now, in fact.
  7. Trails and sidewalks are accessible.
    Certainly, after a big rain, trails get muddy or water crossings get treacherous. But some trails or trailheads aren’t reachable due to snow, roads are icy, and people don’t shovel their sidewalks. Yesterday I ended up having to run on the road on Woodland because the sidewalk near Glen Avon rink was completely unshoveled; I’d have been running in knee-deep, filthy snow. Most of the sidewalks on Arrowhead between Woodland and Kenwood aren’t shoveled; they’re passable, but it’s tough going. My route options are getting more and more limited as winter progresses.
  8. So many races!
    There are multitudes of races in the spring, summer, and autumn, but nothing in winter. Obviously because it’s cold, and clearing the course is a pain, and fewer people are interested, and there are greater liabilities for race directors; I get why there aren’t more races. But I wouldn’t mind having a tune-up race in late February/early March. It’s possible, of course, but I’d have to travel somewhere warm, and I’m not going to do that just for a race.

I’ve still got about 4 months to go before it’s warm again (and that’s being optimistic!), so I’m just going to have to deal with it, but next time it’s 90 degrees and cooler outside than it is in my house, I need to pull up this post and remind myself of how much worse it could be.

Winter Wish List Rehash

I guess it’s technically spring, although the weather in Duluth has been decidedly un-springlike. While outsiders all know the winters here are harsh, most people don’t know the springs are depressing. It sometimes feels like it’ll never get warm. I looked at the extended forecast and see one mild day (tomorrow) followed by highs in the low 40s to high 30s going all the way into April.

Anyway, I felt like whining a bit about the weather because it’s cold and my cold has come back again. Wahhhhh.

In December I came up with a gear wish list for cold weather, similar to the one I did for summer last year. In September I looked back at the summer list and evaluated what I’d acquired and what I hadn’t.

My cold weather gear wish list was as follows:

High Priority:
A new pair of gloves nope
Heavier-weight running tights nope
Head lamp yup
Superior Hiking Trail Membership yup
Upper Midwest Trail Runners Membership yup

Medium Priority:
A new sports bra nope
New hose for my hydration backpack nope
A heavyweight running hoodie yup

Low priority:
Another pair of shoes nope
New socks nope

I didn’t spend a lot of money on running stuff, which is a good thing! Especially since I had to spend a ton of money on other stuff. I got a headlamp, which I love, and I also got a reflective vest, which is not on the list but is a good safety item to have. I spent a decent amount of time running outside since it wasn’t absolute zero outside for weeks on end, and I felt a lot safer running at night with the headlamp and vest.

For Christmas, I got the medium weight Bulldog hoodie I talked about in the initial wish list post. I like it but it’s not really that warm. I ended up running with like four shirts on. I really did need to get new gloves and I didn’t. I’ve had a few instances where my hands have gotten extremely cold and a heavier-weight glove would have taken care of that.

I haven’t used my hydration backpack at all so there was no need to get a hose. I wanted to get new shoes and just… didn’t. I might get new shoes after Zumbro. Maybe. I ended up just wearing regular old socks all winter and my feet never got cold. I suffered through with the same old crappy sports bras I’ve always had, and I just wore tights over other tights instead of getting tights with a lining or long underwear or something. Next winter I really need some more advanced gear. I was getting sick of wearing so many layers.

I joined the UMTR and Superior Hiking Trail. So far I haven’t done anything with the memberships. I did get a sweet buff from UMTR that I wear all the time. I wore it at the airport, which was a mistake, because I ended up getting a pat-down from security. The UMTR has a set of race series that provides friendly competition throughout the year. I joined the Trail Run Series since it fits in with most of the races I have planned. The only outlier is the Wild Duluth 50K, which actually isn’t on any of the Series.

I didn’t do a winter running “bucket list” like I did for the summer, because I didn’t know what would be accessible and what wouldn’t be. I’m really looking forward to ticking off some items on this summer’s list. I’m really looking forward to it being warm enough to run without layers and without feeling chilled to the bone afterward. Maybe in May…

ZUMBRO 17 TRAINING: WEEK 4

Now 33.33333% of the way there! With excessive significant figures.

Monday: 5 mi, treadmill, 137 bpm
Tuesday: rest (I went to a hockey game and pigged out on the world’s largest carrot cake serving from Bellisio’s, It’s more like 6-8 servings, and delicious.)
Wednesday: 4.5 mi, treadmill, 134 bpm
Thursday: 6.06 mi, treadmill, 137 bpm
Friday: rest
Saturday: 6.06 mi, treadmill, 139 bpm
Sunday: 11.1 mi, road/paved trail (Minnesota Point & lower Lakewalk), 138 bpm
Total: 32.7 mi

Hooray! Another great training week. I still managed an increase in mileage, despite taking two rest days. My workouts are really boring lately, because it’s been a lot of treadmill work, and they’re all done at MAF threshold, so there’s no variety. It’s warming up again, so that should change.

Thursday and Saturday I ran til the treadmill ran out of time, or as close to it as possible. Saturday’s HR was a little higher for some unknown reason.

Sunday’s long run was the first double-digit run of the year for me. It was ok. It wasn’t as warm as I would have liked, and it was icy in a lot of spots. My heart rate was all over the place due to the cold and wind. A week ago, I did 9.4 miles at 16:07 pace with an average HR of 135 bpm, and that included a very deliberate 2 mile warm-up and 2+ mile cool-down which involved walking. Sunday I did fewer than 2 miles additional distance, with less walking to warm up and basically zero cool-down, but at at 16:51 pace and a HR of 138 bpm. Granted, I did the 11 mile workout a day after a 6 mile workout, rather than after a rest day like the 9 miler, but it just goes to show how much of a factor the weather is when running by heart rate.

I smeared Vaseline (hey, free advertising for them!) all over my face in an attempt to stave off frostbite. I didn’t feel like it did all that much. Not running into the wind did more. My hands were really cold from carrying my water bottle. It’s not insulated, so the cold water was chilling my hands, and I had to keep switching back and forth. I ate an energy bar in increments at Mile 5, 6, and 7, and then I ditched my water bottle at my car at mile 7.5. I had to in order to keep from completely freezing my hands. I need some better gloves/mittens still, because once again they were red and puffy at the end of the run and I had to sit in my car for awhile with the heat going until I regained enough dexterity to drive.

It was a bit risky to toss the water bottle, not because I was thirsty, but because I didn’t bring along the other energy bar I’d stored in my car aid station. I suppose I could have grabbed just the bar, but I didn’t want to risk it falling out of my pocket. I took a big swig of vanilla Coke before I left the car, and that was all the food I had for the next hour. Because I am slow, I have to be really careful about eating on many of my runs. Most people wouldn’t have to worry about a bonk on an 11 mile run, but most people aren’t running as slowly as I am. It ended up being ok but I probably could have used a bite or two to eat. Once I got back to the car I didn’t feel like eating but drank some more pop. It’s not that much worse than sports drinks, right? Whatever, I like pop, IDGAF. I am going to make sure I have a bottle of vanilla Coke in my car for after Zumbro. I will drink it in my hotel sitting in the in-room whirlpool tub, trying to warm up.

I ran 17 miles between Saturday and Sunday. It took 4 hours, 47 minutes. I think that might bode well for me to race under 5 hours at Zumbro. First of all, it’s 16.7 miles, not actually 17. While it won’t be on a treadmill and won’t be on flat road, it will also (I hope) not be 18 degrees and windy, and I won’t be restricting myself to a heart rate of 142 bpm (though I won’t be going wild and letting it skyrocket, either), so I am kind of hoping I’m on the right track here. Plus there’s 8 more weeks of training coming (6 more that really matter, since it takes awhile for fitness to take hold, or so I hear).

ZUMBRO 17 TRAINING: WEEK 3

25% of the way there! Holy crap.

Monday: 5.3 mi, road, 136 bpm
Tuesday: 4.5 mi, treadmill, UMTR hill challenge, 136 bpm
Wednesday: 6 mi, treadmill, 137 bpm
Thursday: 3 mi, treadmill, 134 bpm
Friday: rest
Saturday: 9.4 mi, road, MAF test, 135 bpm
Sunday: 3.4 mi, paved trail (lower Lakewalk), 134 bpm
Total: 31.5 mi

Another great week. I literally cannot remember anything about Monday’s run, so it must have been boring.

Tuesday I ran the UMTR hill challenge, which I’m not officially registered for, but I’ve already run twice now (first time in week 1). There are two separate treadmill challenges: the first is 15 minutes at 15% incline, which official participants are doing 3 times, so I will also. The second is a “Leadville Hill” challenge, which is 3 miles at 15% incline. That’ll be the final one, I guess. The first time, I did 0.71 miles in 15 minutes, and this past week, I did 0.65 miles in 15 minutes, both while doing my best to stay under my goal heart rate of 142 bpm. I was disappointed to cover a shorter “distance” in my second challenge, but it’s not that big of a deal.

Wednesday and Thursday were general treadmill runs of no consequence. Friday I enjoyed my rest day and went to a men’s hockey game. Saturday was the MAF test as previously discussed.

Sunday was not good. I was planning on doing 4.6 miles, but I felt off the whole time I was running. My heart rate was kinda funky, and I felt strange. I thought I was dizzy or light-headed, but then wasn’t having and vision or equilibrium problems. I also thought maybe I was nauseated, but I wasn’t. I maybe had a little bit of heartburn, I guess, but my stomach wasn’t upset. I felt so strange that I ended up abruptly turning around at 1.71 miles (I was looking down at my watch so I know this for certain) and walking most of the way back. It was cold and windy, and I felt a bit under-dressed even though I was wearing the same stuff I normally wear.

This upcoming week is going to be COLD, so I guess I’ll be hitting the treadmill for most of my workouts. That is so depressing.

MAF Test #2

I decided to do my second MAF test as part of the 9 mile run I had planned for the weekend. I’m really glad I chose to do that run on Saturday, when it was warm and sunny, instead of today, when it’s warm but there’s a wintry mix coming down.

My last test is documented in full here. It went badly.

I did the test on Minnesota Point again, although since I was running a longer distance, the “course” was a little different.

Warmup: 1 mile walking, 17:46, 125 bpm; 1 mile “jogging,” 16:48, 130 bpm

I think the longer warm-up helped. It was definitely warmer outside than the last time I did the test, but it was windy, which affected my heart rate. I had a spike up to 147 bpm when walking at an 18 minute pace, which I can only imagine was due to a gust of wind or something external.

Mile 1: 14:53, 141 bpm
Mile 2: 15:15, 141 bpm
Mile 3: 15:17, 140 bpm
Mile 4: 15:03, 141 bpm
Mile 5: 14:54, 141 bpm

Okay, that’s not exactly how the test is supposed to go, but the results are all kind of clustered together. I ended up averaging a pace of 15:06 and a heart rate of 141 bpm, right on the edge of where I’m supposed to be. It’s better than the last test, which had each mile getting faster and my heart rate nowhere near the max. My last results were:

Mile 1: 16:52, 137 bpm
Mile 2: 16:03, 134 bpm
Mile 3: 16:00, 133 bpm
Mile 4: 15:27, 134 bpm
Mile 5: 15:43, 135 bpm
Avg: 16:02, 135 bpm

I can’t say for certain that I’ve improved, because while the results are faster for the second test, so is my heart rate. It was also colder, I think, when I did the first test. I think I can safely say there’s been a slight improvement, but if I was asked to prove it, I couldn’t. I think it’s logical that running a minute per mile faster in the second test over the first test cannot only be explained by weather and the 6 bpm higher HR average. I definitely think the longer warm-up helped, but I think I still need to tweak the warm-up a bit. There’s too much walking, but that’s the only way to gradually increase my HR right now. My slowest running paces still keep me in the low 130s range; once I’m better conditioned, I’ll be able to run at HRs in the low 120s, and won’t need to walk to warm up. So while my heart and lungs were warmed up, my legs weren’t as warmed up as I’d have liked.

Cooldown: 1 mile walk/run & snack, 16:31, 133 bpm; 1 mile walk/run, 17:23, 128 bpm; 0.4 mi walk, 18:43, 125 bpm.

I would have liked to have had a snack sooner, but that would have affected the results of the test. I didn’t mean for the cooldown to be so long, but I ended up going a little past the 4.5 mile mark on the way out. I crossed the lift bridge and ended up going a block down to the corner of the Paulucci building in order to put some space between a group of people crossing the bridge and myself.

I feel confident that my second attempt is good enough data to use for comparison. I should be doing my next MAF test on March 5th, right before I go on a short business trip, and right after I return from my Florida vacation. We’ll see how much my vacation throws off the results.

I feel kind of crappy today. I had some general hip soreness during the run and felt a bit creaky the rest of the day, and a little into today. I still need to get out for a medium-length run today, so we’ll see how I feel. I can always take Monday as a rest day if need be.