Category Archives: Fitness

An Open Letter to RAM Racing

Dear RAM Racing,

Your premier event, the Hot Chocolate 5k and 15k, is next week. I did this race last year (and blogged about it, too), but I have no intentions of doing so again this year.

Several friends and I shared our dissatisfaction with you about last year’s race. From the disappointing “country’s best goodie bag” to the dangerously crowded conditions, most of us vowed we would never run another RAM event.

And yet, like a rejected, overly optimistic suitor, you keep harassing us. At first it was kind of cute – the occasional email, urging us to register early to save our spot for 2011. After a couple of those, I unsubscribed.

Strangely, though, the emails kept coming, more and more urgently. “Really, we’ve changed!” you insisted, pointing out the new course and less crowded streets. But my mind was moved up, and I had moved on.

I unsubscribed again, and again for good measure. @HeathBar6 and I tweeted to you that we had indeed unsubscribed, yet were still receiving emails, violating not just rules, but manners.

The closer we get to race day, the more desperate the communications become. I’ve gotten still more emails – why bother unsubscribing? – a postcard and, last week, a text message, urging me to hurry and register.

Each time, we tweeted our dissatisfaction with you, though I’m now vaguely intrigued to see how far it goes. And I’m not alone. A quick Twitter search yields plenty of others wondering when it will stop.

Then, on Wednesday, the icing on the cake arrived in my inbox: a “personal” email from Sara Hutchinson, your Director of Participant Experience, asking for feedback about why I hadn’t registered yet. She even kindly offered to hold a spot for me! Once again, this email has a decoy unsubscribe link that I don’t actually believe.

It sounds like RAM has fallen into the buzzword trap, hearing about the importance of the “customer experience” without actually understanding it. You talk the talk about wanting feedback and “listening” to your customers, but your actions demonstrate that really, you have a marketing plan and, by gum, you’re sticking to it. That’s insulting to customers and potential customers. Don’t pretend you’re listening to feedback and “taking it seriously” if you’re not. Don’t waste our time – or yours, for that matter.

While it’s great that you have indeed changed the course to make it less dangerous, it’s not enough. As a marketer, I won’t do business with a company who insults my intelligence or doesn’t follow the most basic rule of marketing: don’t piss off your customers. In the increasingly social world, let your customers come to you rather than ramming your message down their throats. You have a great Twitter and Facebook strategy – you can do without the text messages. Push vs pull, you know.

So thanks for holding that spot, but you can give it to someone else. I plan on doing the Hot Cider Hustle 8 Miler next weekend: smaller, more scenic, cheaper and closer to home.

Good luck with your race.




Floating on a Sunday Afternoon

Sunday morning, I left the house at 5:30 and drove west, through the cornfields where the land begins to roll gently towards the Mississippi. The sun was growing brighter and stronger, and water vapor rose from the corn tassels, setting up for another humid day as the sky turned from rose to blue. It reminded me of a Van Gogh painting, with ready-to-harvest crops on one side of the country highway and freshly harvested grain on the other, the landscape dotted by the occasional farmhouse. I cruised along with the sunroof open, feeling the breeze, smelling the manure, slowing when approaching small-town speed traps.

I arrived in Oregon, IL, not quite 70 miles west of Elgin, and found my way to Castle Rock State Park, where other runners began to appear as I slathered on sunscreen.

Soon my friends arrived for the Oregon Trail Days Run-A-Muck 8k. They had done it last year and were eager for the “muck” part of the event. We all looked at the 8k portion – a run along open country roads that reflected the sun – as a necessary evil to get to the downriver floating afterwards.

It was hot and sticky, with full sunshine and high humidity. We all carried water – last year there wasn’t enough – and set off.

The run itself did indeed suck. It was so very hot, and there was no shelter along the majority of the route. It was relatively flat, except for one big “hill” as we ran up and over a railroad bridge. My allergies and the humidity made breathing difficult, so Danielle, Shelley and I took it relatively easy, with short walk breaks every mile. We may have slowed a bit when we hit a couple of blissfully shaded residential blocks, where one homeowner had his sprinkler aimed out at the street. Near the end, firefighters had a hose spraying a gorgeous arc of cool water.

Like last year, the course was shorter than its advertised 8k (4.97 mi). Everyone with Garmins clocked it at 7.24k or 4.47 mi, but given the heat, we didn’t really care. We were glistening with sweat and grossness when we arrived at the finish, where we sucked down Gatorade and water before our Lions Club pancake breakfast. (This is one of the cheapest races I’ve done – $25 – and you get a shirt, breakfast, and innertube rental.)

Our merry band, before we hopped in the tubes. Not pictured: Iggy the dog.

After we ate, we started preparing for the main attraction: an innertube float down the tranquil Rock River, back to our cars. We reapplied all the sweated-off sunscreen because last year, my friends discovered that such a float takes 3+ hours. We strung our tubes into a flotilla for nine adults, two kids, a dog, and coolers full of snacks. We waded into the river, settled into our tubes, and slowly – so slowly – began our float.

It was magical. Divine. Blissful. Exactly what I needed after spending all day Saturday chained to my desk after a long hard week. I had no concept of time. There was no wind, and the dry summer means the river is low, so the current was lazier than a lazy river – we (literally) bottomed out in several places. We intermittently kicked and paddled a bit, and when we hit the shallower sections, we would walk forward a bit, but for the most part, it was just idle relaxation. We had nothing to do but lounge and sunbathe and chat. I alternated between sprawling on top of the tube and dangling my legs in the perfectly cool water. We passed around granola bars, chips and water and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching hawks swoop overhead.

I would have been okay if the float portion was a bit shorter – there was no shade whatsoever, and I was worried about sunburn – but overall, it was exactly right. When we arrived back at Castle Rock, we rinsed off our legs and feet, changed into dry clothes, and set off for the east.

When I finally got back to my car, it was 3:30 PM and 94 degrees – but I didn’t care. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a summer day than outside with friends, floating lazily down a river.

And I didn’t even really get sunburned, just a nice golden tan and a couple mildly burned spots in a place I didn’t even consider putting sunscreen: my armpits.

I need to find out if you can do similar tubing down the Fox River anywhere, without the pesky 8k first.

The Sweaty Fox Trot

I’ve finally been running long enough that I’m repeating races!

My very first race last year was the Elgin Fox Trot, and I treasure the experience. This year, it was nearly an afterthought. I had registered plenty early, but then got busy with school and the crazy two half marathons. Suddenly, it was the end of May, even if it didn’t feel like it.

It was such a cool spring, too, that I didn’t have a single run under my belt where it was over 70 degrees. But the night before the Fox Trot, after a day of heavy storms, the temperature began to rise, trapping the humidity.

By the time I left for the race, at 7 AM, it was nearly 80 degrees with 93% humidity. I slathered on the sunscreen, grabbed my sunglasses (as my friend Brady learned, you can burn your eyes!) and set off.

I love having a race so close to home that I can walk to the start line, though it does complicate things a bit. I had to wear my annoying belt that bounces as I run, even though it had only my phone, ID, housekey and a few dollars inside.

The race was hot and sticky, and I quickly realized how unprepared I am for hot weather running. Of course, I started too quickly – damn adrenaline – and ran the first half mile at about an 8:00 pace, effectively cooking my lungs as we ran up the Chicago Street hill. By the time we turned onto the shady residential section of the course, I was thankful for the water station at mile 1. And again for the Near West Neighbors-sponsored station at mile 2.

I ran the entire thing, save for grabbing water, but it was not an easy run. My legs felt strong, but my lungs fought me as my allergies flared up. The last mile along Douglas Avenue – a slow, gradual downhill grade mostly shaded by grand, old trees – should have been easy, but the strong breeze was blowing southerly hot air straight at us.

So I finished just slightly worse than last year’s time. But I’m pleased, given the day and my preparation. I had a blast. Hanging out with friends afterwards,  it was downright pleasant sipping beer in the shade.

Too soon, I had to head home, grabbing an iced latte from Domani on the way, ready to face the Statistics exam that had been at the back of my mind all day. After a shower and lunch, I settled in for a long, frustrating afternoon, staring wistfully outside at the sunshine. When I finally finished (or rather, realized that staring at it longer wouldn’t help), I did get back outside, but only to mow the lawn.

It’s amazing how productive you feel on a day that starts with a race.

A Speedway and Some Bluster: A Tale of Two Halves

Definitely a good hair day. In the parking garage afterwards, all smiles.

I ran my second half marathon in eight days today.

That’s insane on its own merits, but add in 30 mph winds and sideways rain, and it’s even crazier.

I ran the Indy Mini Half Marathon last weekend in Indianapolis with a bunch of friends. It was a great race: extraordinarily well organized, a wide variety of live music and cheer squads along the course, and a whole lot of fun. But it didn’t go not quite as planned, and my time of 2:36:19 left me wanting more. I had gone in with a goal of 2:25, but several factors conspired against that: four hours of fitful sleep, no caffeine, and hordes of walkers who had no intention of running a step and needed to be passed.

I know I ran my best, and my running partner Mark was fabulous – we ran the entire thing, minus the aid stations, and he kept me distracted with stories of French Revolution decapitations during the last mile when my calf was cramping. I had a great time and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

But my time bugged me. As I wrote yesterday, numbers can be very motivating, to the point that we’ll do crazy things.

Tuesday night, on the train home, I had a thought: I knew there were three local half marathons this weekend. Why not sneak off to one, alone, and get the vindication I craved?

I emailed my friend Beth, who wholeheartedly endorsed my plan as she gave great advice about embracing the experience and everything happening for a reason. She also said, “Maybe Indy was meant to kick you in the ass and set off a spark to run more, try harder, and do another race.”

So I did.

I looked at the weather forecast, which predicted low 50s with a chance of rain. That’s exactly what had been forecast in Indy, and it had worked out fine: the temperature had been perfect, and the mist had started around mile 7 and grown into a full-fledged shower by mile 9, but I had barely noticed.

I talked to David, my running guru and colleague, and he enthusiastically supported the idea, giving me more encouragement. So Thursday afternoon, hours before the deadline, I signed up for the Chicagoland Spring Half Marathon in Schaumburg.

Last night, I left a friend’s house early to get to sleep. My stomach was in knots, and the rain woke me a couple of times. When the alarm went off at 5:30, I drew back the curtains, gingerly willing against rain as I opened my eyes.

The windchill was 34, with 30 mph winds and mist, but it wasn’t pouring. I thought about crawling back under the covers and just enjoying my race shirt, but I had told a couple people my plans, and knew they’d hold me accountable. Or at least ask about it.

So I dressed – short sleeve shirt with arm warmers (which I never removed), long pants, and my rain/wind jacket.

I’ll recap the race itself later, but suffice it to say, the last three miles were the most difficult I’ve ever run. We ran directly into the 30 mph northerly headwind, along the corporate wasteland that is Martingale Road (essentially a frontage road for 290), with nothing to block the wind as it blew rain sideways into our faces. There was nothing to look at and distract us, and my hamstrings and calf took turns cramping every few steps. It took every ounce of determination, every mantra I’ve ever heard, every squish of my water-filled shoes to push forward, nervously eying my Garmin as it ticked closer to my goal, eroding the early miles I ran too fast with the 2:15 pace group.

But I finished, at 2:24:30ish (by my Garmin), sprinting the last couple hundred feet to make sure. I couldn’t even balance on one leg to remove the timing chip strapped around my ankle. I hobbled slowly through the finisher’s area, collected my medal and banana, and wandered to my car.

It may have been ugly, but I’m so glad I dragged myself out of bed and over the finish line. Vindication is cold, wet and miserable, but oh-so-sweet.

Motivating Numbers

I’ve always liked tracking things. Numbers. Data. Change. Improvements.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen me whining about Stats class the last five months. (Never fear, that’s ending in another few weeks!) But in reality, it’s been very interesting and has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. (More on that in a later post.)

Since I became serious about my health two years ago, I have tracked everything to do with my workouts. I have spreadsheets for my strength training that list every weight used with respective reps and sets. I print off blank calendar pages every month so I can have an easy visual for when I work out – so if I notice too many blank days in a week or month I can push myself back into action.

And on DailyMile, I’ve found a whole community of like-minded numbers nerds, tracking every tenth of a mile.

Looks like he missed a couple of spots.

In fact, my DailyMile friend Mike recently posted this map of his most recent “run.” You see, Mike had finished his long run for the weekend and realized he was a mile shy of 60 for the week. Being so close to a milestone like that is enough to drive you crazy. So, at his wife’s suggestion, he strapped on his Garmin while mowing the lawn to get one more mile in, albeit at not nearly the same intensity of a run. (Though he did note his back yard pace was slower, as he had to pick up the kids’ toys.)

I do that, too. Before I run, I usually map out an approximate route so I know about how far I have to go to get in a five mile vs a nine mile run. But inevitably, variations occur, often to avoid traffic or red lights. (On hot sunny days, I’ll reroute to find shade.) If I get back to my house and I’m at .8 or .9 of a mile, I usually try to “top off” my mileage by taking a quick spin around the block, which is about a quarter mile.

Numbers are good because they keep us honest. I think that’s why I like DailyMile so much: it blends the hard data (“I ran x miles in y minutes for an average pace of z.”) with the more subjective (“My bikram instructor sounded like she was running an auction. Or perhaps hog calling.) Both pieces work together to motivate us, and to reward us when we hit the random thresholds we deem so important.

Of course, there is the downside: when you let a numeric goal get to you. But more on that in another post.

Do you find numbers motivational? Or do they play tricks with your head?

Happy Runniversary

A year ago today, I started the Couch-to-5k program with a 20 minute workout that alternated 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking.

Before my very first 5k, the Elgin Fox Trot, Memorial Day 2010

Now, I’m just a few weeks from my second half marathon.

A year ago, those first several runs were terrible. Even though I’d been working out for a year – strength training, kickboxing, pilates, etc – running was an entirely different beast.

Now, even when the runs are tough – like after some rigorous strength training – I love being out in the fresh air, alone with my thoughts, quiet except for my feet hitting the sidewalk.

Finishing the Survivor Huskie 5k Trail Run in December

And I love the running community – fantastic people who have encouraged me, advised me, and pushed me to try new things. Challenge is good.

So here’s to another great year of running! I have several races scheduled, and I’m looking forward to getting even more out of them.

Unfortunately, a full day of meetings (both work and otherwise) conspired against a run today. I was willing to brave the steady rain and falling slush for a commemorative run, but never had enough a big enough break. But that’s ok. I have plenty more runs in my future, as long as I stay smart with my training and don’t get hurt.

Here’s to many more happy runniversaries for all my #runnerds friends! How do you celebrate your running milestones?

Why I Lift Heavy Things

I love strength training.

I love lifting heavy things, making myself stronger, making it easier to haul groceries or 40 lb bags of kitty litter or 6×8 ft fence panels.

Last year, I followed the New Rules of Lifting for Women program, which introduced me to a world beyond 3 lb, neoprene coated dumbbells. I scoured Craigslist and assembled a kick-ass gym in my (very cold) basement. I did deadlifts and squats and rows and cleans.

It was rough going at first, but once I got through the initial what-the-heck-am-I-doing phase, it was golden. I looked forward to my lifting workouts and always felt great afterwards: powerful, energetic and ready to take on the world.

But in late spring, the siren call of the outdoors got stronger. After spending all day (and all winter) indoors, I really didn’t want to go down to the basement and lift. I was running more, and loving that, too.

Strength training went by the wayside. I was lifting only once every five or six weeks, and paying for it each time with a week’s worth of achy muscles. I was still adhering to New Rules of Lifting (NROL), but by rarely lifting, I wasn’t making any real progress.

Once it got cold, I returned to strength training, and remembered why I loved it. But I had lost a lot of my baseline strength, and while Stage 6 of NROL ostensibly prepares you to do a chin-up, I definitely couldn’t. No big deal, though, as I finished the 7th stage of the program just before Christmas and felt pretty good about it.

I’ve learned that I need to follow a prescribed program that tells me what exercises to do in which combination, so I picked up Rachel Cosgrove’s Female Body Breakthrough. Though the tone is way too girl-talky for me (and the liberal use of exclamation points makes me cringe), the program itself is well-designed, with plenty of core work and a good variety of heavy weights and body-weight exercises.

Once again, though, Cosgrove’s program includes chin-ups. And once again, I screwed my chin-up bar into the door frame – and hung there, a dead weight.

Damn it, I want to do a chin-up. Just one is fine.

So I will. It may take all year.  But mark my words, I will be able to do a single chin-up.

And this summer, I’ll keep strength training as an integrated part of my weekly workout schedule. Maybe by cooling down post-run at the playground around the corner. Monkey bars would work for chin-up practice, right?

My F^ing First Half Marathon

Back in November, I signed up for the Indy Mini Half Marathon to be held this coming May. Perfect, I thought, I’ll have lots of time to train throughout the spring with no pressure over the winter.

Of course, things never quite go as planned. Which is why, a couple weeks later, I got Twitter-pressured into signing up for the aptly named F^ing Freezing Frozen Lake Half Marathon scheduled for January 29. The 13.1 mile “fun run” would lead a pack of crazy runners along the lakefront in January.

In 40-degree November, it seemed slightly insane, but not terribly so. After all, several friends were doing it, and it would be good motivation to go run a couple days a week, even after it got cold. (Never mind that I had never run in winter before, let alone through one of the coldest Decembers on record.)

As cold December and icy January progressed, I started to worry I wasn’t prepared enough. My mileage dropped a lot in December – damn cold – and January started off poorly with an entire week of illness, followed by more frigid cold. In fact, going into Saturday morning, I had only 11 miles under my belt for the entire month of January. I knew that wasn’t nearly enough and was kicking myself for not getting a 9 or 10 miler in there somewhere.

The race itself became more of a Cluster F^ing Freezing event, as the city of Chicago discovered the plans for this “grass roots” fun run and demanded their cut, in the form of permits, liability insurance, etc. The organizer sadly emailed us and told us that the “official” event was off, but we could all run our own 13.1 and then meet up with our beer tokens afterwards. (David goes into more detail behind the change of plans.)

Luckily, the same group that had Twitter-pressured each other into the race sprang into action, trading tweets and emails to reorganize plans for a massive fun run, replete with pirate and ninja costumes. (There were supposed to be tutus, too, but that didn’t quite pan out.)

So I set out at dawn Saturday morning to drive into the city. I had chugged down water the night before but woke up parched, as the house is very dry, despite constantly-running humidifiers. I was careful about how much water I drank, though, since an “unofficial” and “unsupported” race meant there were likely no bathrooms along the way. I brought my own small water bottle to tuck into my pocket.

We gathered, snapped a couple pictures, and marveled how lucky we had gotten – it was in the upper 20s with just a light wind off the lake. For late January, it could have been far, far worse, with sleet or single-digit temperatures. In fact, I had debated which UnderArmour to wear – was it too “warm” for the extreme cold gear? (I later learned that yes, indeed, it was.)

We set off, a group of maybe 50 or 60, and my friends and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace near the back. I thanked Cate and Jenn for slowing to my pace, as I knew it would be a long slog, and I was better off taking it easy since my training wasn’t up to par.

Quickly, we realized we needed a pit stop. Jenn often runs the lakefront path and knew of an open restroom near Diversey. We took a short detour, found the bathroom, and walked into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Two homeless men were inside, sitting on stools, smoking. They had even turned one of the stalls into a closet. They demurely ducked out and waited for us to finish our business.

The first few southbound miles were relatively uneventful. I started to get a stitch in my side, but water and a few dried apricots helped. We kept around a 10-11 minute pace, which felt comfortable, and Jeff even noted we were running negative splits at one point. There were a couple spots we weren’t quite sure where to go – the race director had given inaudible instructions about where to veer left or right to stay on mostly-cleared paths  – but we seemed to do fine. We even warmed up quite a bit, and I peeled off my gloves and considered unzipping my jacket’s vents.

Going north was harder. The wind was coming off the lake, and I put my gloves back on. We stopped for a water break and stretch around Oak Street Beach, where some Polar Bear Clubbers were preparing for a plunge. My right calf felt tight, but stretching seemed to help.

Until a couple miles later. I started feeling more frequent twinges of tightness in my legs – first in my hamstrings, then in my right calf. My hips were complaining about the distance as we hit about 8 miles, so we slowed even more and took a couple walk breaks.

Shortly after nine miles, my right calf clinched up in a tight knot, pulling my foot up with it. I stumbled, stopped and stretched along a fence, trying to unlock it. Jenn coached me about adjusting my posture and taking even shorter strides. We started running again, and I made it another quarter mile or so before it seized up again, even tighter. I winced and screeched to a halt, trying to hydrate and stretch and force myself forward. But I couldn’t.

Those last couple miles were terrible. I kept trying to run, but after five or six steps the calf would shriek in protest. It felt like someone was twisting a knife into it, like those terrible charley-horses I occasionally get at night. But instead of being in bed, I was upright, shivering as the wind cooled the sweat on my brow, three miles from my car. Cate offered to run ahead and get the car but I kept insisting I could make it. (In retrospect, if this had been a fully supported race, I would have taken the golf cart at this point.)

Jenn and Cate were fantastic, sticking with me even though walking meant we froze in the wind. We finally finished around 2:42ish, reaching the finish as the organizers were taking down their tent.

Afterwards, we warmed up, drinking hot cider spiked with Jamesons and eating bananas while we stretched. The drive home was tough – of course, I would pull my right/driving calf before the 40 mile drive home – and I spent the rest of the evening gingerly stretching and foam rolling.

But I finished, and for that I’m thankful. And I set the bar nice and low for a big PR in Indy – when I’ll have lots of springtime miles under my belt.

One of the instigators for our mass participation, Sue, really captures the thought process shared by many of us in her post.

2011 Race Schedule

Now that we’re solidly into 2011, I’m starting to seriously consider which races I’ll do this year, my first full year of running. Last year, I only did 5ks until October, so I’m up for trying different/longer races. But based on what I know so far, and where I’ve already put money down, here are my 2011 plans. Are there any others you suggest?

F*ing Freezing Frozen Lake Half Marathon – I was peer-pressured into this small grass-roots race, which is now not really “officially” happening due to permits. But I’m still planning on running 13.1 miles in the cold with friends next Saturday. I think I’m crazy.

Indy Mini Half Marathon – I scheduled this as my very first half marathon, and I think it will still feel like my first “real” half marathon. I’m really excited about it, especially because I’ll have spring weather to train in rather than this icy, cold nonsense. May 7.

Elgin Fox Trot 5k – This was my very first race, and it’s a wonderful hometown race through downtown Elgin and the adjoining historic neighborhood. They also offer a 10 miler that runs all the way to Trout Park, but I think for nostalgia’s sake, I’ll stick with the 5k. In the past, it has been on Memorial Day, so I’m assuming it will be Monday, May 30.

Warrior Dash 5k & Obstacle CourseA warm-weather version of the Cross Country Challenge, with more obstacles and a shorter distance. The course includes cargo nets, mud, a river, bales of hay, fire and more. This may  be the most interesting race of the year. June 18.

Helping Hands 5k – This Elgin race had only 110 participants, but it was my very favorite of 2010. The course was interesting – part subdivision, part open prairie trail, part golf course, with plenty of big hills – and the volunteers were great. The atmosphere was laid back yet energetic, and the post race “party,” sitting on a hillside in the grass, sipping beer in the sunshine, was simple but perfect. Plus, it supports the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin and the Community Crisis Center. I really hope they do it again in 2011. Last year it was the last Saturday of August, so I’m penciling it in for August 27. Though I may  be out of town that weekend…

Sycamore Pumpkin Run 10k – I loved this race in 2010 – great course, excellently managed, and overall just a great experience. I’ll be back this year. Oct 30.

Gifford Park Turkey Trot – This inaugural race had only about 50 people participating (the cold mist and wind kept a lot of registrants home, I think), and no awards or even official times – just two laps around the park, and a guy with a stopwatch at the end. But it was perfect for Thanksgiving morning, and I hope they do it again this year.

Cross Country Challenge – This truly challenging 8k, through prairies and muck and creeks and giant, ice slicked hills was definitely one of the more interesting experiences of 2010, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. December 4.

Apparently if I find good races in April, July and September, I’ll have one a month for the whole “season.” I may look at doing the Fox Valley Half Marathon on September 18 – the course gets excellent reviews and it’s local – but again, I need to see how some fall travel plans shake out.

Any other suggestions?

Cold Weather Excuses

Happy New Year! After blogging every single day in December (32 posts in 31 days, in fact!), the new year hasn’t started off quite as strong.  That holds true for more than writing. I also haven’t run a single step since New Year’s Eve, when it was a gorgeous 50 degrees.

I kicked off my new year with a nasty bout of stomach flu, which threw my plans into disarray. Suddenly, rather than doing my first 10 mile run on the last day of vacation as planned, I was stuck lying on the couch, aching from head to toe, willing the misery to end. And sleeping. Lots of sleeping. I slept so much I was tired of sleeping. I couldn’t form a coherent thought, let alone write, but the new academic quarter started, so I dragged myself to the first Finance class and gingerly nibbled on some crackers.  (My classmate apparently wasn’t so lucky.)

So that was the first week of the year. By Friday I felt better but was making up for lost time on school and work. Then it got COLD.

When I started running last year, I waited until mid-March, thinking it would be easier to build a habit when it wasn’t miserable outside. And I was mostly right about that. But when October hit, I realized that to continue the habit, I would have to actually run in the cold and snow.

I did what I always do before embarking on anything new: I researched. My chief running instigator gave me lots of advice on dressing for the cold, and talked about how nice it is to run through fresh snow when everything else is quiet. I nodded enthusiastically, signed up for a winter race (the F*ing Freezing Frozen Lake Half, my first) and asked for cold weather gear for Christmas.

I really have enjoyed some of my runs out in the 25-40 degree range. Though I have to battle across the many (many!) uncleared sidewalks in my neighborhood, YakTrax do help, and it’s nice getting fresh air when most people are cooped up indoors.

But really, it’s been so damn cold this winter.

I’ve lived nearly my entire life in the Chicago area, so I’m relatively used to the winters. (Really, I don’t know any better – I was too young to remember the five winters I spent in Indianapolis, and there was only one winter in Budapest.) But December was one of the coldest on record. And between the bitter cold, the ice and the 4 PM darkness, it has not been easy getting out to run. Heck, even Mr. Cold Weather Running himself has had enough.

Sunday morning, it was 8 degrees when I woke up. 8. Single digit. I couldn’t bear to look at the windchill. I threw a hoodie over my fleece pjs and shuffled downstairs for coffee. I went outside (danger! danger!) to retrieve the newspapers and thought about running. Screw this, I thought. It’s supposed to warm up into the 20s! I’ll run later!

Of course, as the day progressed, I ended up spending more time with my parents than planned (time well spent, though) and didn’t get home until after dark. So yes, it was 28 degrees, but too dark to safely run and see obstacles (like uneven or uncleared sidewalks) or be seen by cars. And while I’ve considered the headlamp route, I’m not quite there.

I have a 10k trail race this weekend, and the forecast is in the 20s, so I’m optimistic. I ran the 5k trail race of the series last month, and it was freezing, in the single digits even at noon. I discovered that trail racing is tough when there’s snow on the ground, and it sounds like this weekend will reinforce that discovery. But at least peer pressure will motivate me to get out there.

How are you handling the cold?