In my day we had to run fifteen miles in the snow. . .

. . .and we didn’t have none of them fancy heated fuel belts or traction-control shoes, neither!

January 30, Frozenman Part 2

We’re starting to get into doing some of the serious longer runs as part of the marathon prep.

So I woke up and reached for. . .

No, not my wife, my other life-partner, my iPhone, which helpfully told me that it was twenty degrees outside with a real-feel of four.  Just the sort of thing you want to read when you are facing up to an 18 mile run.

Snow was forecast, and there was a good chance it would start falling before the end of the run, but wasn’t supposed to get really heavy until later.  Why I believe weather forecasts anymore is beyond me, but there you are.

I undertook the long, laborious, five minute drive from my house to Haine’s Point where the Team Z clan was gathering to commence its assault.  It was a surprisingly good turnout considering that it was, oh, what’s the word, abso-fucking-lutely bone-chillingly cold.

I was wearing four layers on my torso, wool socks, balaclava and a wool hat.  One big concern was that the liquid in my water bottles was going to freeze, so I tried a cycling trick I’d read about: adding a little bit of scotch to the water (not a lot, just a splash), since alcohol has a lower freezing point than water.

[Sidebar 1: This raises an interesting issue.  What kind of scotch is best for athletes?  You want to avoid the blends of course and go straight for the single malts: you don’t want to mix your nutrition and its best to keep the number of additives to a minimum.  But what kind of single malt?  I strongly recommend Islay malts: the extra protein from the strong peat component helps with overall carbohydrate uptake.  And if you go for one of the coastal Islays like Laphraoig, where the barrel house is regularly inundated by the sea, then you get some added electrolytes as well.  Other malts work well for shorter distances but for endurance training, go for the Islays.]

I settled in to a comfortable pace with Wanda and Kat and we set off on the usual route round the National Mall. It was cold–no kidding–but we were moving at a pace (about 10:00) that seemed to keep us reasonably warm.  Surprisingly the threat of snow seemed to have served as no deterrent at all to the area’s running population and there were several groups prancing about the Mall.  By this time Kat, Wanda, and I had decided that if we coupled today’s run in the snow, with last month’s bike ride in the snow, and next weekend’s Polar Plunge we would have an official Frozenman Winter Triathlon, just spread out over a period of time.

We left the Mall and turned made our way towards Haine’s point and that was when the few flakes that had been drifting down turned into a steady fall, propelled by a forceful crosswind.  It was not pleasant.  On the other hand Haine’s point was quite beautiful.  Gone were the tour buses, the cars, the rollerbladers, the raging hormones of the cycling peletons, the sharp “tink” and muffled curses from the golf course.  In fact there was no sound but that of our feet shushing through the accumulating snow.

[Sidebar 2: My new shoes were holding up fine.  I’d been feeling like my existing pair of Saucony Triumph 6s had been breaking down rather faster than they should, so I’d tried out a pair of the Triumph 7s (since they have stopped making the 6s and I want to be able to wear something that I’ll still be able to get hold of later in the year).  They proved to be the worst experience I’ve ever had with a shoe.  Ever.  It wasn’t just the normal adjustment issues.  I felt as if I couldn’t run in them at all, as if I was fighting the shoes the whole time.  I’ve never felt anything like it.  So I consulted Vergil at the Tyson’s PRR and eventually walked away with a pair of New Balance 1046s.  Now, ordinarily the last thing I would attempt is an 18 mile run in brand new shoes, but needs must when the devil drives.]

A little over 9 miles into the run and we were back at the carpark to restock nutrition and adjust the clothing that we were wearing.  Then we were off for another 9 miles.

That plan lasted about a mile.

The snow was falling much more quickly than we anticipated.  And when we turned up the Mall toward the Capital building the wind was straight into our faces.  I felt as if I was being sandblasted, and Kat, without glasses was suffering.  I was congratulating myself on having worn my cycling glasses to cover as much of my face as possible–and it was right about that time that they began to freeze over from the inside.  I attempted to warm them up inside my jacket but as soon as I put them back on again a layer of ice immediately formed once again on the inside.  So I got to experience everything that Wanda and Kat were experiencing, which mainly consisted of blindness and pain.  I’d only worn the vest portion of my outer shell, and as a result snow was caking into the creases of my wool top layer.  The remaining liquid in my water bottles had turned into an icy slush, so clearly the single malt hadn’t helped (or maybe there just wasn’t enough scotch in there: note to self. . .)  But the biggest problem was the snow itself.  Even after we turned back down the Mall, with the wind at our backs, the snow was already close to a couple of inches deep in places and it was like running in sand.  All three of us were starting to feel it in the lower part of our calves (where you don’t normally feel anything unless, well, you are running in sand for an extended period).

Rather than push a bad position, we decided not to head off around Haine’s point again and instead took the shortcut back to the car.  Kat and I decided that 14.5 miles was more than enough, while Wanda, incredibly, headed back out for another 1.5 miles.

Kat and I instead joined the remnants of Team Z huddling around the back of Ed’s truck.  True to his word, Ed had set up a camp stove atop the wall of the parking lot and there was plenty of coffee, hot chocolate, donuts and fruit.

With the aid of coffee and hot chocolate, some semblance of humanity is restored.

I was by that point wearing every piece of spare clothing that I had brought with me, including flannel-lined jeans and a swanni, and I was still cold.  So it seemed like a good time to call it a day.

I figure 14.5 miles on a freezing, snowy day, probably equals 18 miles under normal conditions.


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