When spring seems like a distant memory

When Mark showed up for our run this morning, I wouldn’t have recognized him if Pollo hadn’t been in tow. Face mostly covered, an extra jacket, and sweatpants, Mark looked more ready for an arctic freeze than our workout. Granted, it was around 18 degrees at 7:30 this morning (2 degrees warmer than when I left my house!). But I think Mark likes the cold even less than I do – which is saying a lot.

The following originally appeared in Mark Stickley’s column “On the Run.”

16 degreesYou know it’s cold outside when it takes longer to get dressed to run than to actually run. And this winter I have spent a lot of time getting dressed to run.

This has been a particularly trying winter, made worse by how mild the last few winters have been. In fact, it’s been so cold I’ve only seen a few other hard-core runners out there with me.

But I’ll have to say even I am getting tired of my eyelashes freezing to my wool cap. Or of trying to decide whether it would be warmer to drink a hot cup of coffee upon my return or pour it on my head …

… I actually don’t mind running in the cold. I think the key is having lots of layers of clothing and keeping my head and hands covered.

But it’s hard to keep my face covered. And when the wind is really blowing, well, that’s when winter running isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So far it’s been the kind of winter where you’re afraid your face will freeze into that funny look your mom warned you about.

A bandanna or neck gaiter can help keep your face warm but invariably it will fall off your chin or nose. Or it freezes solid from your breath. I’ve found the best thing to do when it’s really cold is to smear Vaseline on my face. Sure it’s messy, but at least it keeps the heat in and cuts the wind.

Sunglasses can help cut the chill, but they always seem to fog up immediately in cold weather. Especially if you’re wearing a bandanna or neck gaiter. Then not only are you cold and miserable, you can’t see on-coming traffic.

As if the cold and wind aren’t enough, there has been a lot of snow and ice to deal with this winter. And that has made for some slow going on a lot of runs. The only thing worse is darkness – cold, icy and dark – the winter trifecta.

At least I haven’t fallen down this year. Not yet anyway. I can only imagine what drivers think when they see me running along gracefully one minute, arms and legs flailing the next. It’s rather embarrassing …

… But I don’t think it’s the coldest weather I’ve ever run in. That would be every winter I spent in Blacksburg.

While there is no truth to the rumor that Blacksburg summers are colder than our recent winters, it’s no rumor that Blacksburg winters can be brutal. That’s why we called it ‘Bleaksburg.’ It always seemed to be grey and damp there, even in spring. And the wind was always blowing …

… The worst it ever got in Blacksburg that I can remember was 59 below zero with the wind chill. But did that stop us from running? Of course not! We had a long run scheduled for that day and long run is what we did.

OK, I’ll have to admit, I only ran four miles outside with some of my teammates. We did another 13 miles or so inside on a tight indoor track switching directions every mile or so. I got dizzy anyway and I got a bad blister on my foot to boot …

… And believe it or not, we never froze our lungs. OK, it’s just a myth that running in cold weather can freeze your lungs (unless it’s much colder than 59 below I guess) since air warms up by the time it gets to your lungs. Frostbite is a more realistic concern.

But I figure the cold winter only makes us appreciate spring all the more. Sunshine, warm air and dry roads – it seems like a distant memory, like running in shorts.

And when spring does come there will be more time to run because it will only take about two seconds to get dressed.

– Mark