Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Snow and ice and a polar vortex: keeping up the streak

So far, 2014 has been a challenging year for maintaining a running streak.

 A storm on the second day of January brought over a foot of snow, making the footpath on which I normally run unusable since the town’s budget doesn’t cover clearing the footpaths. This left me with the option of running multiple random laps up and down our long common driveway, from one house to the next to the next and out to the road, sort of a starfish shape, each complete tracing of the starfish earning me about three-quarters of a mile. Which meant I needed to trace the course at least twice even to earn the minimum one-mile requirement that keeps a streak runner on the USRSA registry. And since one mile isn’t really much of a workout, if I want any of the other benefits of running aside from remaining qualified as a streak runner, I needed to do a little more than that. Three or four laps along the branches of the common driveway gets very, very tedious in very little time.

But before the snow had any chance of melting, the polar vortex descended. I had never run in sub-zero temperatures before, but I did last week. Not for very long at a time, though. On the handful of days that it was under ten degrees, I put on as many layers as I could wear while still remaining upright and did just a mile. I found that by wearing tights, pants, a t-shirt, a heavy sweatshirt, and then a lined hoodie belonging to my husband, with sleeves that ran a good four inches past my fingertips and a hem that ended almost at my knees, I was plenty warm enough, at least when the wind wasn’t blowing directly into my face. But all the apparel gave me the shape and mobility of the Abominable Snowman. A mile was all I could manage before the sheer weight of all the clothing exhausted me.

Finally at the end of last week, the sun shone and the chill abated a little bit. It was warmer by only a few degrees, but that was enough to start the melting process.

Which, of course, meant ice.

So I put on my YakTrax, which give me decent traction in the snow but, like the layers and layers of warm clothing, also adds a certain ponderousness to the run. Yak Trax aren’t heavy or clumsy, but just cumbersome enough to make the run tiresome.

And then on Friday I tired of the Yak Trax and convinced myself that the layer of powdery new snow would provide enough traction that the ice wouldn’t be a problem. I enjoyed a pleasant run that day. It wasn’t too cold and the powder did feel nice on my unfettered feet. Until the last ten yards or so of the route, when I hit an ice patch that was invisible under the new snow and fell flat on my back.

My first thought was typical of a streak runner: I was within a snowball’s throw of the two-mile finishing point, so I’d definitely cleared my necessary daily mile and the run still counted. My second thought was that nothing hurt too badly.

But it’s hard to fall flat on your back on the ice and not hurt at all. Soon I realized how sore my tailbone was, and I’d wrenched an arm while trying to catch myself as well.

So it was a tough week for running. But on Saturday, the temperature was well into the thirties by the time I was dressing for my run, and the ice was gone from the roadway. I ran a warm, comfortable, safe, easy ten miles, savoring every step all the more for all the weather-related travails of the preceding days.

“Doesn’t a mile on the treadmill still count toward the streak?” a friend asked on one of the coldest days last week.

Well, yes. According to the rules of the United States Running Streak Association, running on a treadmill is just fine. But I consider being outdoors for at least ten minutes part of the challenge along with completing the mile, I told her. I like having a streak of not only running every day but spending at least a small interval of time outside very day. No matter what the weather. In snow. On ice. During a polar vortex.

Still, this week is better. The air is milder; much of the snow has melted. We’re not even halfway through January; more winter weather will probably occur before the season ends. But days like the ones we had last week remind streakers that it’s almost always possible to get that mile in, one way or another. It gave me a chance to become ever more creative at dressing for the cold weather, and it reminded me of the value of Yak Trax.

The streak continues, and my tailbone has mostly recovered from the fall on the ice. I’ll be grateful for milder temperatures this week. Wind chill isn’t a particularly good feeling, and neither is a bruised tailbone. But persistence feels good, and I’m glad to have made it into another week of streak running.

1 comment: