My record for running in the cold is twenty seven below zero. My eyes froze shut that day. Had to stop and thaw them out with warm hands pulled from thick mittens. That run only lasted two miles. it was relief from cabin fever however. Sometimes that’s all you can imagine.
It’s been cold but not that cold in Illinois the last few winters. Even at ten or twelve below you can pretty safely run without frostbite if you dress appropriately. Your lungs do not freeze.
I’ve even gotten six or seven cycling trips in this winter when temps have gotten over thirty degrees. My bike needs a really good wash as a result. There’s grit in bad places. I finally had to take the mountain bike over to the car wash and spray it down at the start of a ride. On a 20-miler the trip home required about four miles on a soaking wet limestone path. That bunk was stuck everywhere. It took a power sprayer to wash it out.
Now we have 14″ of snow and the streets are still a sloshy mess. No great rewards in riding in that slop. About 5 years ago I went out on such a day and wound up lying on my side while trying to cross a giant ice patch on ground where a mall once stood. As I slid to the ground my Motorola Razr phone flew out of my pocket. But I had not noticed. At home I checked for the phone and panicked. So I went back to the spot of the fall and found the phone lying in a puddle of water. I dialed out and connected. “Oh, it works!” I chortled. That was the last call that phone ever made. It died a few minutes later.
So there are risks to getting out and about on the run and on the bike in winter. You must be prepared to cut short a workout if your equipment gives out or the weather turns on you. Sometimes it’s even hard to get out the door when the cold blue moon is shining its light on the snow outside. Nothing makes it look colder in winter than that unforgiving bleak light of the moon on a smooth layer of snow.
When you actually do head out the door, it’s never really as cold as your imagination makes it out to be. The benefits of running under a full moon are pretty great. You can see the road and the beautiful sight of your own breath in the frosty air. What’s not to love?
Living in Lincoln Park in Chicago during the early 1980s, I was running tw0-a-day workouts to prepare for the spring season. One February evening I carefully considered the benefits of heading out for an eight mile run from 1764 N. Clark Street up to Montrose and back. It was eight below zero. The wind was whipping from the north. It was damned cold.
On the return trip I was hugging the lakeshore and somewhere near Fullerton I think it was a giant wave crashed against the sea wall and flew twenty feet in the air. The cold lake water came sloshing down on my head, shoulders and back. It stopped me in my tracks, which was bad because there was a second half of the wave that caught me standing still.
At that moment you seriously wonder if you’re going to freeze in your tracks and die. Even my half Gore-tex top was soaked through. The rainproof pants did not keep the water off my socks and up my legs. “God. Damnit!” I yelled. Then I started up running again.
That was a long three miles from home. But it’s surprising how quickly your body heat helps you cope with the freezing temperatures and half-frozen water dripping down your ass crack. Actually I kept a brisk pace the rest of the run.
That shower back home felt really good. But the landlord was cheap and the temps inside our apartment were just under sixty degrees all the time. Sit around in that and you start to shiver.
So every time I think about running outside in cold weather, the memory of that really cold night and the violent wave that nearly took me out come to mind. I pull my gloves a little tighter and my balaclava up over my face and head out. I no longer live and run or ride near a lake. Just a sluggish cold river. And I tell myself, “It’s cold. But I have a little less fear of winter.”