Monday, January 16, 2017

Who Runs in the Winter? Crazy People, That's Who.

January: The bleakest month of the entire year. The holidays are over. (That's a relief, though, let's be honest. Bad example. Moving on.) January: Full of sadness, coldness, ice, and snow. And, surprise, races!
People who like winter are a special kind of crazy, and not a good kind of crazy.
It also takes a special kind of crazy to have a race the first weekend of January in Utah. This little event that I got peer pressured into running by my friends Jamie and Cevan, was the New Year's Half Marathon. And since misery loves company, I peer pressured my spousal unit into running it with me. Public service announcement: Peer pressure is an ugly thing that tends to snowball out of control and leaves you in situations you'd rather not be in.
C'mon, everybody's doing it.
The winter hadn't actually been too bad around here, for the most part. We had a couple decent winter storms, but we were able to dig out alright. So I thought maybe the race wouldn't be so bad. And then the cold snap came. Now I know it gets a lot colder in other places, but when the morning of the race rolled around and it was a balmy 5 degrees Fahrenheit, I knew my lungs were in for a treat. Utah has notoriously bad winter air already, so running outside at this time of year is generally advised against. Stepping out into the frigid, polluted air causes instant coughing fits.

Scott and I prepared the best we could, layers upon layers, while trying to avoid having TOO many layers, because then you sweat too much and freeze to death. Winter running can be a logistical nightmare. We stuffed heat packs into our shoes and between our layers of gloves and headed to the race.

They offered an early start for the slower runners and walkers, which I gladly took advantage of. They were having a chili lunch for us afterward, and I wanted there to be food left by the time I got there. With a field of 41 runners, I knew I would be very close to last, if not actually last.
Quick! Take the picture! If we stand still too long, we'll be frozen solid.
After we had been running for around an hour, we passed a sign that displayed the temperature. It said 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh good. Things are looking up. There was ice in my hair, ice in the water bottles, ice in the buff that I put up over my mouth and nose for a bit. Condensation is no fun.

I've been tracking my heart rate in a freakishly obsessive way, but I couldn't during this run. I had to have my Fitbit next to my skin, and that skin was under three layers, so I didn't get to check it once during the race. I tried to do it by feel. Guess what. Feel means nothing in that temperature. We were keeping an extremely moderate pace, 13-15 minute miles. But my lungs ached and I couldn't catch my breath. I could feel my heart racing more than it should have been for the effort we were putting out. The frigid temperatures had to have played a part in my difficulties.

When I was able to upload the data, I found that my heart rate had been at peak BPMs for over 2 hours of the run. No wonder I felt like death warmed over the last three miles. I would attempt to run and it would last maybe 30 seconds before my breathing was out of control and my heart was pounding. So we would walk. And shiver. And try to run again. It was such a relief to turn the final corner and reach the finish line. We immediately grabbed bowls of steaming chili and tried to warm up inside the building. The upside is that we learned that we had finally grasped proper layering. Our hands and feet stayed warm, and as long as we kept moving, we didn't turn into popsicles.
That snowman is WAY too happy.
After that race, my resting heart rate jumped up to 73 BPM. In October, I had it down to 55 BPM. Yikes. So I spent a careful week obsessively tracking my heart rate, getting in all my recovery workouts, and trying to get enough sleep. I wanted to be feeling better for the next week's race, the St. George Half Marathon.

The glorious thing about the St. George half, is that it's in St. George. January in St. George is quite pleasant, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Utah is an interesting place, climate-wise. Hop in the car for a few hours and all of the sudden there are palm trees and red rocks, and perfect running weather.
It truly was.
Race morning in St. George gave us a temperature in the lower 40s with an overcast sky. A race start time of 9:00 a.m. meant that we could get plenty of sleep. I was fairly certain that we were in heaven. Our hotel was only a couple of minutes from the start line. We found a good parking spot, had enough time to hit the port-a-potties, and line up to run. Easy breezy.

I was able to keep an eye on my heart rate the whole time this race as well. It jumped up a little too quickly in the first half mile of the race, forcing me to walk for a bit to bring it down. I think I just got caught up in the crowd of runners and was running just a tad too fast. After that, I kept it in check like a boss. It was not fast going, but we were making better time than we had at the New Year's race.
Loving every minute of the glorious sun and warmth.
I felt pretty darn good through the whole race. And starting around mile 8, we began passing people. We probably passed 15-20 people in the last few miles of the race. My breathing wasn't labored. My body was enjoying the easy pace, keeping the heart rate right where I wanted it. For the last half mile, I figured I wouldn't keep an eye on it anymore and just kick it into gear for a strong finish. It worked out splendidly. We cruised under the finish arch feeling great, and I knew that if I needed to, I could have kept up my easy pace for hours more.
I was so pleased with how it went. The data confirmed what my body was telling me. I nailed that LSD. I beat the New Year's half time by 15 minutes. But the best part is that I didn't feel wrecked for the rest of the weekend like the week before.
Half marathon #88, done and done well.
My resting heart rate has come down some, but it's still a bit higher than I'd like. But the heart rate training is really going pretty well. I have to say that it gets frustrating at times. I mean, I've always been a slow runner, but running as slow as it takes to keep my heart rate down actually hurts a little. My muscles are adapting to a different, slower stride, and it hasn't always felt very nice. But the longer that I do it, it's feeling better. Eventually, my cardiovascular system will be strong enough to keep a low heart rate with a faster pace. That's the goal, cats and kittens.

For the next month, I will try and dial in my training for the Jackpot 12 hour event. I've been getting in my multiple hours of running on the weekends, and it's been feeling pretty good. I've got weekends coming up with 5, 6, and 8 hour runs scheduled. Thank goodness for Netflix and the treadmill.
That's how it feels.
It takes an incredible amount of time to train for these things, but really, it's my only hobby, so I suppose it's as good of a use of my time as any. People love to give ultra runners a hard time about it. Other people spend that much time on their hobbies, or even just messing around on the interwebs or glued to their smart phones. How come no one ever asks those people to justify how they're spending their time? Okay, rant over.

I'll catch y'all on the flip side. Until then, happy running!