Ron Marinucci: February Column

Ron Marinucci: February Column

“You’re crazy!” I was called that maybe half a dozen times the past few weeks. The claim (and I’ve been called worse—and better, I think) was usually prefaced by something like this, from a buddy who doesn’t run, “You don’t run in this stuff, do you?”

Of course, much more often than not, I certainly do “run in this stuff.” “This stuff” referred to this January’s weather, notably the extreme cold and snow. With almost a week left in the month, Southeast Michigan had surpassed the record snowfall for January, well over 30 inches. And, here at least, we’ve had another 5 or 6 inches since. That was coupled with temperatures which made the upper teens and lower 20s seem almost balmy. Those, too, were actual temperatures, not wind chills. Let’s not forget all the days with some pretty stiff winds, too.

I don’t know how many runners braved those January elements, but I wasn’t the only one to do so. I saw a surprising number of runners out there, surprising, though, perhaps to those who don’t run. My running buddy Bob Drapal and I didn’t miss any of our scheduled runs. And I missed only one Saturday morning run with my blind friend Michael Holmes.

That said, it’s been a rough month for running/runners. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to get a little more than half of my usual mileage. Mostly I’ve run the same number of days, but shorter distances. Still, “You’re crazy” tells me that those who don’t run don’t get it.

Yes, January was a rough month. Oh, it’s not the frigid temperatures, ones that seem more suited to International Falls, MN (or Frostbite Falls?), at least not directly. And I don’t think it’s that record-breaking snowfall, again at least not directly.

With that first wave of cold temperatures and the 15-16 inches of snow that first full week of the month, I didn’t run for 72 hours. I’m not a running streaker and one of the days was a planned rest day, which I usually build into my week. I don’t remember the last time I took that much time off, maybe back in ’86 when I struggled with iliotibial band syndrome. Three days?!?!?!

Again, it hasn’t been the cold. I was out there last week one morning at 10 degrees below zero and at 11 below the week before. Several other days read well below zero, too. Those temperatures weren’t wind chills. I dress properly with several layers of long-sleeved shirts, a Gore-Tex windbreaker, and ski mask under my stocking cap. I’m never cold, at least not after the first few minutes. In fact, I’m my usual “schweaty” self at the finish, my shirts drenched.

If anything gets close to being cold, occasionally it’s my hands. But they are never cold enough to be uncomfortable. I wear a pair of fleece “glubs,” with Turtle Gloves over them. The Turtles are terrific, light but warm. Karen has tried a second pair and likes their warmth and lightness, but doesn’t care for the style. Carrie really likes them, too, “light and really warm,” she said. And she permanently borrowed Karen’s pair for herself, with our blessings. No, I never get cold. That’s not a problem.

The snow and cold do team up to play havoc with footing, in several ways. The main roads around here usually get plowed. But with so much of the white stuff, the shoulders often are a mess. Snow is plowed into knee- or even waist-deep piles that make shoulders difficult if not impossible for running. They aren’t as wide as normal. That means, if I run the main roads when there is minimal traffic, I’m out right on the road. And, with the elements, not to mention some careless drivers, that adds to the dangers.

Deep snow isn’t a problem, not by itself. Traffic, especially in the subdivisions and on the back/dirt roads, that has packed it down is. Sometimes there is ice hidden under the loose snow or, as was the case a couple of mornings, the snow had briefly melted before refreezing to solid ice with more falling temperatures. And many times the subdivision streets are akin to skating rinks, literally, necessitating careful walking or moving to the knee-deep snow in front yards. Most often the ice can be seen, not black ice, but some buried underneath the loose snow, ever more slippery.

Some of the streets are little more than two ruts, made my residents’ cars and trucks. Sometimes the driving creates deep ruts, almost crevasses they are so deep. When they refreeze, they are difficult and dangerous to negotiate. They are more uneven than the trails I run most of the year. Feet and ankles turn and twist; extra care must be taken.

Potholes? It’s not just drivers they plague. Besides being more numerous, they are often difficult to see under the ice and snow. Ankles beware.

Occasionally, if the lighting is just right—or wrong—I get snow-blind. I can’t see and have missed turns, running past streets or driveways. Worse is when I can’t judge and run into a drift or snowbank. If someone is watching, it’s more embarrassing than harmful.

More troubling, to me at least, than the temperatures or snow is the wind. I don’t care to run in strong winds regardless of the season. This is especially tough in the winter and not necessarily due to the colder wind chills. As always, I find it hard to run against/into strong winds. Worse, it chills the “schweat” clinging to the heavier clothes. (I don’t always run in the tech shirts.) And it blows thin veneers of snow across the roads, glazing them as well as covering icy patches now made more slippery.

I’ve been lucky that I haven’t really fallen yet, at least not on the ice or slick snow. I tumbled a few times when I moved off the roads and stepped into plowed snow that was deeper than I anticipated.

Falls? I wonder if it’s better to just fall, to roll with it, when I slip. Does the jerking of my body—granted my older body—first from the possible fall, then from the attempts to avoid it, hurt me more than a tumble would? I don’t know. Shoulders, neck, back, and even arms sometimes feel the effects, even a few days later, of the jerking to avoid spills.

Although I haven’t really fallen, on some days I feel a bit of a tweak in my groin-area. I think that’s from the little bit of a slide or slip some of my strides, however much shorter than usual, take on the slippery surfaces.

Running this January seems to have taken a bit more out of me. I do get more tired although I’m running somewhat shorter distances. Does running in this bitterly cold weather tax the body to a greater degree, sapping more energy? Shivering in the cold consumes more calories than one expects. That depletes glycogen stores used for running energy. But runners soon warm up if dressed properly and don’t really shiver. Still, swimmers, for instance, who train in cold pool water expend greater amounts of calories.

What about the feeling of fatigue? Although runners may not consume extraordinarily more amounts of calories in cold weather than in hot weather, do they expend more effort? I think they do, at least I seem to do that. Greater physical effort is required due to the extra clothing, often wet at the finish, and deeper snow. My buddy Michael Holmes likens the effort of running in deep snow to training in sand. Regardless, this January’s running has left me more fatigued than usual.

Recognizing all of this, winter remains my favorite running season. There’s something cool about being out there in less-than-favorable elements. My early New Year’s Day run, about 6 miles after a late New Year’s Eve party, was beautiful in 5 or 6 inches of freshly falling snow. Of course, meeting with my fellow partiers at breakfast after my run elicited the usual, “You’re crazy!” That’s become a silent badge of honor to me, “You’re crazy,” adding credibility to my efforts. I’m not a wimp or so I tell myself.

And I know it’s not running, but I love to shovel snow. I always have and I count it as cross-training. On some of these January days I’ve been out there three and four times shovel the driveway and those of some of my neighbors. I particularly like the dark and quiet at night, when the snow blowers are put away in their garages. I enjoyed being out there with my sons and now my grandsons. We don’t talk much, just work together. The workout is great, certainly strength-training of sorts, and, if I work quickly even jogging as I plow with the shovel, it can be almost aerobic—almost.

One day last week I was thinking along the lines of coolness. I laughed as I likened myself to Alley Oop and his song of 50+ years ago (which really dates me, doesn’t it?) I was out at 5:30 AM, getting in a run before classes, on a snow-covered street at 6 degrees below zero with a bit of wind. No doubt, I chuckled to myself, “I’m ‘a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter!’” Then that thought came crashing down when I noticed other footprints in the snow. Someone was out there before I was! Maybe I wasn’t so “mean” or “bad” after all, at least not compared to someone else. Although I didn’t see my running compatriot, I did feel a sense of companionship. And, just maybe, someone out there is a little “crazier” than I am!