Ron Marinucci: January, 2014 Column
by Ron Marinucci, Jan. 1, 2014
Three degrees, actual temperature, not wind chill. That’s what my outside thermometer at home read that early December morning. Yet, I ran anyway, as planned. This December, as it usually does, provided Michigan runners with some difficult running conditions.
There were a couple of other single-digit mornings. Several days before Christmas, much of the state was hit with a freezing rain storm, making for very slippery surfaces for runners—and days without power for many residents. Some pretty windy days hindered running, too. And, of course, we had snow, mostly just an inch or two at a time, but two dumpings of 5 or 6 inches in Southeast Michigan.
That first three-degree morning led me to thinking. Runners are a pretty hardy bunch. We run in all sorts of weather—good, bad, and in-between.
Winter is usually my favorite running season. I rarely miss a day other than those I schedule for rest. I will admit to taking off one of the ice mornings last week, sending an e-mail to my running buddy, Bob Drapal, telling him so. “Am I a weenie or smart,” I asked him, “for not running?” He replied, “I am neither.” He went out anyway, “putting on my tap shoes, with spikes.” His feet were completely drenched within a quarter mile and “some people driving by in cars thought I was nuts.” Of course, none of those drivers are runners.
Yes, conditions can be uncomfortable, even treacherous, for running regardless of the season. Yet out we go. I’ve run in temperatures as low as twelve below zero, the actually reading, and as warm as the low 100s, both here and in Las Vegas. One bitterly cold morning, with the thermometer reading well below zero, I was stopped by a woman in a car. She rolled down her window and asked what I was doing. I explained and she replied, “You are the epitome of dedication.” I remember her exact words, but wasn’t quite sure what they meant. I asked Karen, who instantly told me, “She means you’re crazy.” Oh….
Mike Middleton hosted an annual 20-mile Boston Marathon training run in Fenton. Runners woke up to the 1992 run to find 9 or 10 inches of snow on the ground. The training run went on, but with all that white stuff still on the roads, unplowed, it was much tougher than 20 miles. Veteran runner Dave Armstrong told me afterward that the 20 miles “felt more like a marathon.”
Very icy conditions in the early ‘90s turned a Jingle Bell Run (5K) in Ann Arbor into a Jingle Bell Walk, almost literally. Most runners finished with times 5 or 6 minutes slower than usual. Around the same time, a Max and Erma’s winter run in Farmington Hills was run in snow and ice, along with 15 degree temperatures (There was a bank thermometer a short distance away.) and blustery winds. Much of the course had to be walked due to icy turns. I recall the late Ralph Judd running in shorts and shirtless! At the end of the race his bare chest was redder than the cherry-colored windbreaker I wore.
One year, the Clio Homecoming 5K was delayed by a tornado that had ripped through the area an hour or so before the race start. Race director John Gault got on his bike and re-designed the course to avoid downed trees and power lines—all in about 30 minutes. Running that race was interesting, hot and humid, with occasional pockets that felt like the blast furnaces from my old Ford Rouge Plant foundry days.
Other runners have their own stories about running in difficult conditions. I asked a few about “the worst race-day conditions” they encountered, regardless of distance. “These can include summer or winter, although I’d guess other than extreme heat and thunderstorms, winter will win out with deep snow, wind, ice or sleet, and bitter cold temperatures.” Some included actually race courses themselves.
Tracey Cohen jumped right in. She runs and races a lot. “There are so many and I don’t know that it means I’m not a wimp. But probably one of my toughest and most memorable was my 2011 Huff 50K [Huntington Ultra Frigid Fifty]. Race-day temperatures were in the 30s with light snow. These would have been great conditions if it had not been cold and snow and then warm. This caused everything on the course to melt. We went through virtual lakes, up to my waist!, versus puddles on a two-loop course.” She added, “I actually considered stopping after one [loop], but knew I had to go it again. While my time was hardly impressive, I was just happy to complete the race with all of my digits intact.”
Brian Lane left the state to find a cold, windy race. “I ran the Chilly Cheeks 10K in Camden, Arkansas in 2010. The weather was 22 degrees, with wind. I think those were the coldest conditions I have ever run in.” Closer to home, he added a race that touts winter running. “There is a great race in Michigan called the Mountain Man 5K in Lake Orion. It’s a great winter trail run. There’s nothing like snow, ice, and cold mixed together to keep you running.”
Peggy Zeeb, former Michigan Runner of the Year, turned the tables a little bit. She said, “Although I hate being cold, I would still rather run a marathon in the cold than the heat.” And, she speaks from experience. “I once ran a marathon that started out at 80 degrees—and then got hot!” She admitted, due to the heat, “I stopped at a port-a-potty to cry for a second where nobody could see me!”
Anthony Targan offered two examples, one from running a marathon and one from training for a marathon.
“My best [worst?] race-day example is the 2007 Boston Marathon. It was nearly cancelled due to the nor’easter that hit the city that morning.” He remembers “temperatures hovering in the 30s and racing into 25-mph headwinds.” Since Boston is a point-to-point course, starting in Hopkinton with the finish downtown, there is no respite from any headwinds. He went on, “While conditions improved slightly during the race, I have never been so hot or so cold in the same race. I got dehydrated, sweating from overdressing. But once I hot into Boston the temperatures dropped suddenly.” Once cresting Heartbreak Hill and the others, there is often a perceptible fall in temperatures heading into the city. “I recall shivering uncontrollably while walking back to my hotel.” Still, reality hit home quickly. “When I heard about the Virginia Tech shootings that day, I realized I had nothing to complain about.”
Targan noted, in another vein, “I was also in Boston in 2013 and was about 20 minutes past the finish line and two blocks away when the bombs went off. But that’s a different story.”
His “most memorable non-race run” involving nasty weather conditions came while he was training for his first marathon, the 2002 Free Press. “I was having trouble getting past 13 miles on my long runs. One day I decided to run out-and-back from my home on the West Bloomfield Trail. I would have no choice but to go longer than 13. I got eight miles out before I decided to turn around. Then the heavens unleashed a torrential downpour. The trail quickly flooded, but I kept sloshing through, ankle-deep in water. But I made it home with my first-ever 16-miler under my belt. I felt like that run was my baptism [full immersion?] as I finally broke through the halfway barrier, both physically and mentally.”
Mike “Flagman” Bowen cited several races, with a variety of challenging circumstances, weather-related and otherwise. Also running the Huff 50K one year, he “encountered deep snow on the trail.” He reminded us, “No snowshoes were allowed. It was ‘adapt and overcome,’ my military training.” But he admitted to being “very sore the next day as muscles used for this challenge got an extra workout” thanks to the heavy snow.
At the other end of the temperature spectrum, he recalled “a hot, humid day” at the old Breckenridge Marathon. “Race and medical officials canceled the race—after it started. Six of us, ultra-runners, finished it anyway.” He laughed, “They followed us with an ambulance.”
It wasn’t the weather, but the venue that Bowen remembered at another marathon, the Pike’s Peak. “I ran out of oxygen at 13,500 feet on the Barr Trail. At the halfway checkpoint at the summit, I had to ‘fake it,” pretending I was OK” to continue the race. Descending the peak, “I fell down and cut my heel. My shoe was full of blood, but again [it was] ‘adapt and overcome.’ I finished in eight hours and change.”
Yet another hardship, not with the weather or the topography of the course, hit Bowen at the Marine Corps Marathon in 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks. “I had vision problems, numerous times” he understated.
“Tears, especially as we circled the Pentagon,” made it hard to see. “My heart was broken. My country had been wounded.” But again he finished.
Bruce Kittle recalled the time he listened to his daughter, Bethany. “I don’t remember the year, around 2000, but Bethany talked me into [running] the Run Thru Hell with her. And it was a run through hell!” He chuckled now, but not then. “The temperature had to be in the mid-90s by the time we finished, with no wind, just bright sunshine and a humidity level near 100%.” He also noted the dust of the mostly-dirt road course, swirled up by hundreds of runners. Veterans of the Run Thru Hell will nod at these typical conditions, “Yep, that’s it.”
Kittle continued, “I didn’t think too much of it until I started passing many prone runners on the side of the road. Some were being worked on by paramedics. Finally, about the last mile of the race, I started to feel the heat. I remember crossing the finish line, heading to the make-shift ‘drinking fountain’—made out of a garden hose with holes punched in it propped up between two saw horses—and drinking nonstop for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t get enough water. My stomach felt bloated, but I kept going back to drink some more. I finally cooled off in the car with the air conditioning set on high, blasting directly at Bethany and me.”
In 2000, Herman Smith entered a race “I will never forget.” It was the Canadian Death Race held in Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada in August. Runners scale trails as much as 7000 feet above sea level. The August date might fool some into thinking “heat.” But race officials caution entrants, ominously called “Death Racers,” to have hats, gloves, etc. and to shun shorts and singlets. Smith said, “I attempted the ultra, 125 K.” There are five legs of the race and he admitted, “It is the only race I didn’t finish. I quit after the second leg. [Already] I think I fell about 7 or 8 times.”
He recalled that, “the first leg was OK, a long climb, but the second leg was ridiculous.” At the next checkpoint he asked the marshall, “What’s ahead? The guy told me, ‘Leg three is about the same as leg one, but leg four is the toughest.’” Then “the lady next to me said she had just seen a bear. I said, ‘Cut my wrist band.’ I was not nearly as tough as many [others].” From his hotel room near the finish line he watched others finish in “24 hours plus; it was something to check out.”
The Super Bowl isn’t too far off and there will be several Super Bowl races held throughout the state. In 1982, Detroit hosted the Super Bowl for the first time and Ed Kozloff recalled the Super Bowl Run sponsored by the Motor City Striders. Kozloff, of course, is the long-time president of the Striders and has directed and hosted hundreds of races. But of this 1982 Super Bowl Run, he said, “It was one of the worst racing conditions ever.” This was the first year the Super Bowl had been granted to a cold-weather city, Kozloff recalled. A Winter Fest was held at the Pine Knob facility “to show visitors what fun winter activities could be.”
Two races were mapped out, “a four-mile course on the roads behind Pine Knob and a one-mile in the parking area.” And the cold-weather city didn’t disappoint visitors. Kozloff remembered, “The night before, a severe ice and snow storm covered the area.” On his 33-mile drive from home to Pine Knob, he counted three dozen or more cars “abandoned or crashed. Actual temperatures were in the low 20s, with a -10 degree wind chill.”
“The four-mile course was a sheet of ice and the parking lot was dangerous as well. WJR, the host radio station, was telling [people] not to come and that events would
start later than scheduled.”
But runners are a hardy [or foolhardy?] lot and Kozloff counted several hundred of them who had arrived at 10:00, start time for the race. Following Mike Bowen’s dictum, “adapt and overcome,” Kozloff had “snowplows clear the one-mile course as best they could and decided to hold a run, but a two-mile race.” It began at 10:30, only half an hour late. “Over 500 runners ran the two one-mile loops. Kevin Kitze ran in his spikes he had left in his car from the cross country season and won the race.”
More runners kept arriving, including my running buddy Bob Drapal, and “a second race was held an hour later. Some ran both races. There was no indoor facility and the award ceremony was held under an overhead shelter.” It’s not surprising that many runners stayed—the grand prize in the raffle was a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl! No doubt Kozloff correctly surmised, “The winter activities didn’t go over well with the Super Bowl crowd.”
Happy New Year! I hope 2014 is healthy and prosperous for everyone.