Are you running in a winter wonderland?
Idiomatically a four-letter word is a swearword, considered rude and unacceptable in certain contexts.
Today is February 14th 2021 and its 23°F (-5°C) here in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. I was ‘supposed’ to be running a 10K race today, but it was postponed until the 28th due to safety concerns. The recent heavy snowfall has left many city streets narrowed down to single car widths with few accesses from the curb to the sidewalk due to the mounds of snow. Even where streets and sidewalks are cleared, there are still patches of snow and ice. So road races are not very safe under the present conditions.
Last Sunday, I drove 27 miles in a blizzard to run 11K (6.75 miles) up and down a snow covered mountain. Mount Penn is a small mountain in Berks County where Pretzel City Sports holds several trail races during the year. I ran up this mountain last year for the first time for the UGLY MUDDER 13K back on Feb 23rd 2020. It was warmer then, and there was no snow. This time the mountain was covered with two feet (66cm) of snow, it was still snowing, and it was much colder. This was my first snow-trail run, the CHILLY CHEEKS 11K.
193 runners showed up for the race that day.
Whenever I do trail runs, I swap out my Nike Initiator running shoes for my Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.
I always wear Mud Gear brand socks. I’ve run in cold weather, but I have never run in snow before, so I had no idea how the Inov-8s would perform. The aggressive cleats built into the sole of the shoe worked great on mud and dirt, and ‘should’ work as well on snow and soft ice. They also meant that I could not wear STABILicers ,YakTrax or any other brand of ice spikes. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying out a pair of electric socks to keep my feet warm, but opted instead to wear two pairs of socks.
While the Inov-8 X-Talons 200s did indeed work, the double socks failed to keep my toes warm. I SHOULD have purchased toe warmers, but as with doing anything the first time, you only discover these things after the fact.
Several of my fellow runners also used trek poles, a set of folding walking sticks that resemble ski poles and can help with navigating tough terrain. Unfortunately I have zero experience using these, so I had to rely on grabbing trees as I made my way up or down steep climbs. More than once, I chose to slide down the icy landscape feet first in the seated position like a sledder without a sled.
For half of the trek, I fell in with a group of 3 other runners led by Barry Elder.
We were the last group of runners on the mountain, and three of us were Clydesdales. People come in all sizes and shapes, and there is nothing wrong with being a Clydesdale. We may not be as fast as ‘the skinnies’ , but it takes a lot more physical effort for larger runners to maintain that pace. At about mile three, I could no longer keep pace with Barry, and stepped to the side and let Erin and Vanessa pass me while I took a breather. I almost managed to catch back up to the group twice, but eventually I lost sight of them and was alone on the mountain.
Once again, I had come to a new challenge, only to discover that I had way underestimated the difficulty level. CHILLY CHEEKS is the toughest trail course Pretzel City Sports has developed. When you run with a buddy, you motivate one another to keep pace. Iron sharpens iron! Alone, you begin to play mind games with yourself as you begin to experience mounting levels of self doubt. If you’ve done something before, you know you can do it again, but the first time really tests your metal.
Just as I had hit the point of giving up, one of Pretzel City’s employees showed up.
Jules’ job that day was to remove the trail markers at the conclusion of the race. For the last half of the race, she managed to keep me motivated to press on and not give up. If she had not shown up when she did, I would probably still be up on Mount Penn sitting in the snow like a frozen Buddha. My quads were beginning to cramp from the effort, I was out of water, and my toes were numb from the cold. I was also sweating profusely since I had worn several layers but couldn’t really remove them because I had no place to stash them.
Now DFL is not a palatable position for me, I hate being last. Yes, I know ‘someone’ has to be last, but I’d rather that someone not be me. It’s a matter of personal pride. Of course DFL is much better than DNF, or DID NOT FINISH. This was only the second time I’ve ever come in last, the first was my 1st ever trail run, The Chobert Challenge 15K in 2019. That was in the summer, and here I was in mid-winter forcing myself to dig deep, being prodded onward by Jules as she keep telling me “you’ve got this, you’re almost there!”
And after 3:34 minutes, I did crawl up the final hill to the finish line, to cheers of Helene Horn calling me a rockstar, saying that she’s proud of me, and telling me I’m awesome!
The moral of the story? If you don’t push yourself to the limit, you will never know how far you could go. Many of your limitations exist only in your mind, and you will never have a positive life if you have a negative mind. So instead of saying ‘I can’t’ TRY, and if you struggle, don’t quit! There are people watching you and rooting for you that you are unaware of, and your accomplishments fuel their hopes, dreams and aspirations. No one wants to emulate a loser, so be a winner! If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for THEM. Like Sir Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through Hell, KEEP GOING!”
If you have additional cold weather running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races:
Arctic Blast 5K February 20 @ 10:00 am Reading, PA (Relocated to Trooper Thorn’s)
As always, I wish you success and happiness!