Le Frosty Runs
Down on the bike path, by the canal, the ice is two inches thick and slick.
Posted Wednesday, 31 December, 2003
Le Frosty Runs
Quebec City, Canada
It is lumpy and uneven from fossilized footprints. Any attempt to plant your foot will inevitably end in your planting your butt in the snow bank or the river. This makes speed work on my normal training route fairly perilous.
The temperature was hovering around 3 degrees when I left the apartment this morning. It was brisk, but there was no wind and it was not uncomfortable. It was dark and the city was soundless and lifeless at 5:30 AM. The mercury would eventually climb close to double digits as the sun crested the Chateau Frontenac around 6:20 AM, on my way back. Quebec city is on the far eastern side of the time zone so that even in the dead of winter the sun comes up relatively early.
My marathon-training plan called for 6 fast 800’s as a work out. My biggest challenge was finding a patch of bare tar or cement long enough to fit the bill. It’s ‘challenging’ to come careening into the end of an interval and hit an ice patch in the dark. I managed to find a relatively quiet industrial park with a good 600 meters plus of snow and ice-free surface, and proceeded to work out. I was like stampeding muskoxen on the tundra, blowing great clouds of breath into the chilly atmosphere, clumping down the road.
Now, I’m a New Englander, so I’m use to the cold. 5 degrees is not too bad, as long as you’re dressed for it and you keep moving. Once you break a sweat, you don’t want to stop and walk. If you had to stop and walk for some reason, you’d freeze.
Synthetic clothing is a must. You have to move the wet away from your skin expeditiously to retain heat. My kit is simple. I have basic winter tights, a basic long sleeve tee shirt and a fleece sweater. When it’s windy or below 10 degrees I layer on an additional tee shirt. This morning it wasn’t uncomfortable or surprising, but it was still pretty cold.
The most important accessory to have when the temperature drops into single digits is the balaclava. A fleece balaclava will keep your whole body warm by keeping your head warm. Almost as importantly, “balaclava” is really fun to say. I have a black one. I look like I’m running from a bank heist when I wear it. If you don’t own a balaclava, get one. It is like tights for the head. Sure, you look goofy, but you’re toasty warm.
When it’s that cold out, the moisture that is wicked away from your skin by the synthetics flash freezes upon contact with the air. It’s not uncommon to see the balaclava clad runner with intricate castles of crystalline ice riding on their shoulders. One can return from a cold run quite fetchingly adorned in natural frosting.
I have a beard and a moustache in the winter months. It keeps the remaining patch of your face, (left exposed by the balaclava), protected from the elements. But your facial hair also grows icicles. Like beads in a Rastafarian’s dreadlocks, the ice decorates your beard. You can come back from a run looking like a picture of an Antarctic explorer. One time returning from a run, when I was wearing headphones, I looked in the mirror to discover that I had a 6-inch icicle dangling from my left ear like a chandelier. This morning wasn’t so bad. The only interesting cold side effect I noticed was that my eyelids were sticking together from the ice.
I got my workout done, and it put a positive glow to my whole day. Let’s face it, what in the business world could possibly be as challenging as speed work on the tundra in the wee hours of the morning?
My advice is this; don’t be afraid of the cold. Dress for it. Respect it. But don’t use it as a lame excuse to stay snuggled between the sheets when you should be out training. There is nothing better to earn confidence and self-respect in the spring racing season. You know you’ve paid your dues.
When, in warmer times, you need assurance, you can always think about that time you could have stayed in bed. No one was there to push you out, but yourself. You did it. You got up before the sun in a strange city in a foreign place and ran your scheduled workout in the sub zero weather, in the ice and snow.
That, my friends, is yours and yours alone. No one can take that from you. That is one more little badge of courage that makes you a better person. That is one more day that running has been a little bit of your salvation.