Ron Marinucci March Column: "Extreme Weather"

Ron Marinucci March Column: "Extreme Weather"

One thermometer read “14°,” the other “17°,” both below zero If that frigid mid-February morning wasn’t the coldest temperature I’ve ever run in, it was close.  Besides, 14 below, 15 below, 17 below--who’s counting?

Fortunately, the strong winds of the previous week had calmed considerably.  Regardless, like many other runners, winds or not, temperatures what they were, I was going out there for my run.

People who don’t run (or snowshoe or ski or…..) think we’re crazy for doing our thing in such cold temperatures or other extremes.  If they haven’t experienced it, try to explain that “It’s not really bad,” doesn’t convince them.

I bundled up with four layers on top and two on the bottom, with two ski (not CoVid!) masks and a pair of insulated gloves.  I was perfectly warm throughout my run of about four miles, never cold, and, in fact, finished up with my usual “schweaty” top.  My eyelashes did freeze together a couple times, but were easily cleared.  So, let my neighbors and others shake their heads.  (Karen no longer does, accepting that I’ll run no matter what.)

That morning led me to consider the most extreme conditions, weather-wise, in which I’ve run and even raced.  I’ve been out there in those frigid below zero temperatures a lot of times.  More than once I’ve run in 100° or higher temperatures.   Some might say, “That’s cheating!” since I was in Las Vegas and “But that’s a dry heat.”  Hey, it’s still hot!

Several times I’ve run in almost a foot of snow, although I admit to backing off when solid ice has caked the roads.  Rain?  A few times torrential rains were braved and even, with strong winds, the rain pelted horizontally.

There have been a few extreme conditions for racing, too, but not too many.  Those horizontal, pelting raindrops slowed my pace by about two minutes a mile on Mack Avenue during a Free Press Marathon.  I don’t know what the temperature was at race time, but it reached more than 100° later in the day of a Huron Valley Hospital run about 30 or so years ago.  One Clio 5K was run not too long ager a tornado skirted the area.  Not only were there pockets of oven-like heat on the course, but race director John Gault quickly redesigned it to avoid downed electrical wires.  Several winter races were perilous due to some ice, but we ran anyway.  And deep snow…..

I asked some veteran runners about their experiences with extreme weather conditions.  Amy Masternak recalled one race that I remember, too—deep snow.  “There was a 20-miler that was held in the Fenton area by [Mike] Middleton, years ago.  I can’t recall the name of the race [nor can I], but that morning there was deep snow and strong winds.  It took over double drive time to get there.  At times you weren’t sure you were going the right way because you couldn’t see the person in front of you.  I hadn’t realized that things were so bad.  I was the only female to finish.”

She added a couple of other instances.  “About ten years ago, I got home from teaching summer school and while driving, it registered 100° on my car thermometer.  I thought, ‘I wanna go run so I can say I did it.’  Four miles later I was sweaty, but it was awesome.”

And, “It was either two or three years ago, the backyard thermometer registered -14.  So I ran in it for the same reason.”  With a chuckle, she added, “And so I could see the little icicles on my eyelashes.”

My good running buddy Bob Drapal offered this.  “Many, many years ago, maybe more than twenty-five, it was a cold, icy day and very windy.  I was running with Bill Pape (another running buddy).  We came to a fairly steep downhill stretch with the wind at our backs.  We hit an icy stretch and between the hill, the wind, and the ice we couldn’t stop or even slow down.  It was very scary!  When the hill ended, we had survived and then had a good laugh.  But we learned a lesson.  Never run too fast downhill especially on ice.”

Dennis Peck recalled something not quite so dangerous.  “A few years ago, I had a very early, about 5:30 AM, very cold, single digits, run during a full moon.  This was one of those mornings that snow crunches and the noise travels forever.  M-59 was three miles away, but sounded like it was one block over.  I headed north and passed a large, 40+ acre snow-covered hay field.  The reflection of the full moon made it so bright I turned off my headlamp and enjoyed 40 acres of what looked like wet silver paint.  I am sure the two cars that passed me that morning thought I was crazy and I doubt they were able to enjoy that snow-covered field as much as I did.”

Donna Swanson remembered one that was not only physically, but emotionally challenging.  “The Little Rock Marathon was my second to last state in my quest to run a marathon in all fifty states.  It rained the entire marathon, a cold rain that turned into a torrential downpour by about halfway with plenty of wind as well.  Thunderstorms were coming, as well as freezing rain.  As I neared the 20-mile mark, loudspeakers announced that they were canceling the marathon and that runners should go to the Walmart parking lot to take buses to the finish.  They said aid stations were closing up and there were volunteers on the course pointing the way to the buses.  There had been no lightning or thunder, though they still expected some.”

“The majority of us kept running and the aid stations did not shut down, but were even more encouraging.  I just hoped they would not take down the computer chip readers at the finish line and that this marathon would count Fortunately, they did leave the timing mats out there and we did get credit for our finishes.”

“I was very happy to change into warm clothes from my drop bag and even happier to get a hot shower back at our hotel!  The freezing rain did come and the city was pretty much closed down the net day.”  Her finishers medal, Swanson noted, “appropriately has a lightning bolt on it!”

Adding to the panic of Little Rock not counting, “I had about twenty or more friends planning to be with me in Vermont for my last state.  If Arkansas didn’t count, it might not be my last state.  My sister was with me in Little Rock and was already asking people if there were any other Arkansas marathons between this one and the one in Vermont.  There weren’t.”  Whew!

Jerry Mittman put in 28 years of running before scaling back at the end of 2020.  He said, In June 2001, I ran the Stockholm (Sweden) Marathon.  One of the unusual things is the 2 PM start time on a Saturday. This is done to limit traffic disruption which is further reduced by shops and businesses closing down around mid-day.”

 “The marathon starts and finishes at the 1912 Olympic Stadium. The weather was good for the first 20 miles (65 degrees and mostly sunny), but then a storm moved in with heavy rain, lightning and hail for the next 5 miles. The spectators scampered, but the runners kept going until they finished inside the stadium.  Gear storage was on the infield grass inside the stadium.  I was fortunate as mine was on a "high spot" and not in standing water.  I remember the crew giving out bagels after the race.  Due to the water puddles in front of their booth, they just tossed bagels to the runners like they were Frisbees.”

 Closer to home, he recalled, “I am sure many of local runners will not forget the 2007 Super Bowl 5K put on by Running Fit in Novi.  The temperature was -2 degrees with strong winds for a wind chill of -20 to -30 degrees.  I had 5 upper layers and 4 lower layers on, along with face mask, knitted hat and mittens.  Fortunately, the runners were able to be inside before and after the run.  One did not know who the other runners were until face coverings were taken off when inside after the run.”

Bill Kalmar agreed with the craziness, er, hardiness of runners.  “Yes, avid runners, like avid golfers, never let weather interfere with their goal of completing a race or finishing a round of golf.”  He recalled three races “still embedded in my mind because of the weather conditions.”

“The first was a Roseville Big Bird Run many years ago where there was four inches of snow and slush on the route.  I remember laboring through the slush for the 10K run and by the end of the race my racing shoes must have weighed ten pounds!  It was a good way to strengthen and,” he quipped, “of course lose a couple of pounds.”

“Next was a Grosse Pointe Farms Pier Park 10k that went along Lake Shore Drive.  The race started in Grosse Pointe Park and traversed the route all the way to St. Clair Shores.  When the race started it was a sunny day, but by the time we reached Lake Shore Drive it started to rain and then came lightning.  Yep, lightning with the lake (Lake St. Clair) by our side.  We knew better than to hide behind a tree, so we kept running.  Once we arrived in St. Clair Shores, the rain and lightning had ceased, but, wow, it was quite an adventure!”

“And the last was a New Year’s Eve Run in downtown Lake Orion.  It was a typical winter day with three inches of snow on the ground, but it was also two degrees below zero.  Our hats and gloves and jackets must have weighed about ten pounds, but fortunately it was only a three-mile run!  It was a crazy way of welcoming the new year.”

On the other side of the coin, he noted, “There were several races I ran where the weather was in the high 80s.”  He singled out “the Crim several years ago.  I remember the sound of ambulances as many runners succumbed to the heat.”  He surmised, “So, given a choice of snow or lightning or heat, I would opt for freezing weather every time.”

Mike Rollason takes us across the Atlantic to his native Britain.   He said, “looking back on severe weather conditions, both my hot and cold memories are in Britain, which is amazing because the weather there is not anything like as severe as Michigan.  However, it is very changeable which probably explains the lack of preparedness.”

“The coldest memory was in the late 70s when the National Cross Country Championship was held in Birmingham, England, which is my home town.  I knew the course well and so I was looking for a good run.  On the morning of the race it was just above freezing with light snow.  No problem,” he joked, “that's shorts and tank top weather.”  He went on, “The youths go first--1  lap ( 3m ) . The juniors next--2 laps ( 6M ) and finally the 2 or 3,000 seniors--9M.  The weather got colder and the snow got worse.  I raced the first lap, OK but by the second lap I was so cold and the snow was a blizzard and I was just running to finish.  By the third lap it was about survival.  The snow was so bad and the wind ice cold.  I didn't even stand around to get my finish position.  It was really bad and in fact we heard later that one of the course marshals actually died.  Not a good memory.”

 “The worst heat was also in Britain.  In 1972, I ran my first marathon.  I prepared well and was expecting to run low 2hour 20s.  Unfortunately, on the day of the race, right out of the blue, the temps were in the 90s and it was very humid.  My plan was to go through 10 miles in 53 minutes.  I went through in 58 and felt awful.  I felt I was drinking little and often, but it just wasn't enough.  I managed to keep going and finished in 2 hours 33minutes.  To say I was humbled is an understatement.  I have run 13 marathons since, so I guess I'm just a slow learner.”

These stories help prove what I’ve always maintained.  Runners may be crazy, but they are not wimps/whimps!