Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | December 4, 2010

Winter Running

Winter finally arrived here in Chicago. Suddenly, a cold wind blew in and pushed our mild fall right out into Lake Michigan, leaving it to flounder and drown. Before I even had time to dig the hat and gloves out of the closet, we had snow. In fact, on Wednesday it snowed all day, and yet no snow accumulated. While I have seen this happen sporadically in other locations, it seems to happen regularly here in Chicago. All day long, we will have a steady light snow, but by the end of the day, it hasn’t managed to cover the grass. Even after 8 hours of snow falling, there are just a few thin lines of white in the cracks on the sidewalk, maybe some faint circles around the man-hole covers, perhaps a small bundle of flakes resting up against the curb. A whole day of snow, and not one decent snowball to be made. Gray days like that were made for sitting on the couch drinking hot chocolate.

Instead of lounging with mug in hand, however, I found myself bundling up to go for a run. First snow of the season, and at 23 degrees possibly the coldest day we have had yet, and there I was, loading on the layers. Why? Why would I not just crawl under a blanket and stay inside? Well, because although I am ashamed to admit it, I am still in training. In a moment of what can only be described as Athletic-Event-Induced PsychosisTM , I signed up for a half marathon in January. In Chicago. Along the Lakefront. Yes, I realize that perhaps the time has come for me to be institutionalized because there is something very seriously Wrong With Me.

I hate winter. Anyone who knows me knows that. I can’t stand the cold. I am always freezing. My feet get chilled starting in October and don’t warm up until June. My fingers are so cold that often I can’t activate heat-sensor elevator buttons. My favorite winter-time activity is shuffling around the house in my wool socks and fuzzy slippers, muttering to myself about wanting to move to California. So why would I voluntarily sign up to run a half marathon along the windy frozen lakefront during what is bound to be the coldest week of the year? I have no idea, but I did.

Therefore, I have to keep running. I can’t stop just because it has gotten cold. The challenge, of course is finding the time. Not finding the time to go running, I mean finding the time to spend 45 minutes putting on all those darn layers. First, I have to put on the base layer: UnderArmour tights and long sleeve compression shirt. Then the mid layer: another pair of tights and a long sleeve shirt with a high neck. Then the third layer: windproof pants and jacket (with hood). Then one last layer: a warm vest. Plus the accessories: the Mizuno Thermo gloves and socks (maybe 2 pairs), the neckwarmer, the earwarmers, the hat. Maybe two hats. And all that still isn’t enough. I would like to run with a full face mask, but I worry I might frighten small children. When I am fully equipped, I feel like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story: “I can’t put my arms down!” On Wednesday, the entire process took close to an hour. And it was still snowing. Without accumulating.

I did some dynamic warmups inside the house and then headed out to begin my run. I turned the corner and found myself running straight into the windblown snow. I am not sure what Julie Andrews was talking about with “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,” because let me tell you, they don’t stay. They melt. The ones on your nose dribble down and tickle; the ones on your eyelashes melt right into your eyes so you can’t see a damn thing.Why in the world would that be one of your favorite things? Julie Andrews must have been on something. I’ll bet the hills were alive with more than just the sound of music.

The wind blew snow straight into my face. It was cold. It was gray. I longed to be home on the couch drinking hot chocolate, or some kind of tea. Yes, even drinking tea would be preferable. As I turned onto the running path, however, the wind died. I was no longer blinded by snowflakes that melted on my nose and eyelashes. I looked around. It was quiet. It was peaceful. Dare I say it? I was not miserable. I might actually have been enjoying myself. The running trail was deserted. At about the 2 mile mark I passes another runner. We practically hugged each other. Our mutual enormous, goofy smiles seemed to say “How cool are we? There is no one else here! They are all a bunch of wimps. Ha!”

Then I got home and had to spend another 30 minutes peeling off all the layers I had so carefully put on earlier. I also had to wipe off all the snowflakes that most certainly did not stay on my nose and eyelashes. I was soaked. But, truth be told, I felt pretty hard-core. Sure, I could have stayed home on the couch and been a lot warmer and drier, but instead I braved the elements and lived to tell the tale. California is for wimps.


  1. Sue, you rock! Congratulations on stepping up to the challenge and meeting it (even though I think Julie Andrews is not the only one on something for you to sign up for a marathon in January in Chicago! I’m getting cold even thinking about. Brrr!). Your descriptions of your multilayering and Ralphie’s little brother not being able to put his arms down was so funny I had tears in my eyes.

    Thanks for a great laugh on a dreary, snow day in Chicago.

    ~ Cheryl

    • Thanks Cheryl! But just to be clear, I signed up for a half marathon in January, not a full. Even I am not that crazy. Or am I?

  2. You ARE hard core! I signed up for the same half marathon in January – it will be my first, so I’m not quite sure I fully understand what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m still learning the layers game, and half my runs I’m too hot, others I’m freezing. But I signed up for the half largely so I would have to get out and run in the cold!

    Tomorrow I’m running an 8k Cross Country Challenge in Gilberts. Through mud. And snow. And standing water, which may or may not be iced over. I really think I may have lost my mind. How do you layer when you know you’re going to get wet?!?

    Look forward to meeting you at the half!

    • Glad to hear you are also doing the Freezing Half – misery (insanity?) loves company. The more the merrier; we can all cluster together for warmth. Good luck at the 8K Cross Country – and check out Mizuno Thermo socks, if you don’t already have them. Supposedly they warm up when they get wet; great for running in snow and slush. I don’t know if the warming technology really works, but they do keep my feet toasty. I look forward to seeing you in January. Look for me – I’ll be wearing the full face mask!

      • I’ve got the Mizuno Thermo gloves, and they’re fantastic! They really do convert sweat into heat. Very odd, but it’s a nice tingly warmth. They did well on the Cross Country today – even when they got wet, my hands were warm and dry. I’ve been wearing SmartWool socks and love them.

        Look forward to meeting you in person! Happy training!

  3. I’m happy to see that you’re keeping up your training despite disliking the cold snow. I must be crazy like Julie Andrews but I got excited when I saw the snow yesterday morning. I enjoy winter running tho. It’s pretty and at least for me, feels wonderful.

    You had a different experience that I had yesterday too. The snow in my neighborhood wasn’t wet and nasty. I had fluffy stuff crunching under me most of the way. It’s amazing how different ten miles makes between two places in Chicago are in weather.

    Lemme know if you want to do some winter running together by the lake after the Christmas holiday retail madness. I’ll happily take the 250 bus up.

    • We should definitely do some winter training runs, or else I might never get off the couch! Maybe we can run the hills at Willowhill that Dan (Cubicledad) was talking about. I will dig out my YakTrax!

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