Ultra Cold

This past weekend I attempted an ultra marathon with a great group of runners. Someone suggested it a few weeks ago and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course, at that time the daytime temperatures were comfortably in the double digits, with highs in the 20s and sunny skies. I needed miles for my Goofy training and hadn’t been having good weather-long run luck. After missing a long run to sickness and one to an ice storm, I needed miles badly. And an ultra seemed like the perfect way to get those miles. A group of similarly crazy people, running ten 5k loops around a park. An ultra sounds fun, I thought.

As is the way of many good plans, this one started to unravel early in the week. The weather took a turn for the worse, with temperatures dropping into the single digits. We were lucky to get a high temperature of 10 or 11 degrees. By anyone’s standards, that’s some cold running. By mid-week the winds had picked up, ensuring sub-zero windchills. The forecast showed a major snowstorm heading toward the East Coast. Just in time for my ultra.

For those of you who don’t know me, I get cold easily. I usually don’t run in temperatures below 20 degrees. I just get too cold and warming back up is an all-day ordeal. I have a boiling hot shower, a hot drink, and even sit under an electric blanket. No matter what I wear, I get cold. So the impending snowstorm was not welcome news. This winter I’ve had to suck it up and run in single digits and sub-zero weather, but I draw the line at blizzard conditions. The rest of the group was going to run. And if they were, I was. I spent the entire night before the race praying to the weather gods and imagining myself dressed as Ralphie from Christmas Story.

The morning of the ultra (Seth’s Fat Ass 50for the record) I woke up to 5 degrees on my thermometer. The one that is sheltered by the house. Sigh. I geared up in layers upon layers and microwaved my water to slow down freezing. I packed my little hand warmers and set off.

At the race start, it was 10 degrees. Double digits. Score! But the windchill had the real feel temperature at -3. Yikes. Being outside for even a few minutes was terrifying. It. Was. Freezing. But I was determined. I told myself I would tough it out for at least three laps. I could run 10 miles and be happy. The course was lovely. It was a series of 5k loops in a very nice park and adjoining neighborhood. The view was pleasant and the course mostly flat, so I really liked it. The loop set up was perfect for a freezing cold day. I overheard lots of runners plan their escape after a loop or two.

Three laps came and went and I was freezing, but knew I could do one more. About halfway during the fourth lap, it started to snow heavily and I started to think. I wondered what frostbite felt like. Could I have frostbite? I hadn’t been shivering or had any goosebumps for at least an hour. (Side note – I now know this is a pretty bad sign. Oops) I knew it was time to call it quits when I had difficulty stepping up a small curb. I couldn’t move my leg the three or four inches. It was simply too cold and too numb to move. I was done.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish. I know I could have on another day. My legs (aside from feeling like they might snap off from cold) felt strong and I was running well. But it wasn’t meant to be. It was simply too cold for me. And in retrospect, I know I made the right decision. I have broken blood vessels on my legs and it took me a full day to fell normal. It was definitely the right call to DNF. This experience has made me more determined than even to run an ultra soon. Know any good ones? The only requirement – temperatures that don’t begin with a 1.

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