Running Through the Big Chill

Nature abhors a vacuum, in the physical sense, and so too, intellectually, do meteorologists, at least the TV variety. It’s no longer enough to say we’re in for some heavy snow or it’s going to be extremely cold; now, winter storms are being named (perhaps to give them equal billing with tropical storms and hurricanes), and most recently the term “Polar Vortex” has been burned (or perhaps more accurately frozen) into our collective consciousness.

No matter what you call it, runners everywhere, with the possible exception of those damnably lucky folks who live in California, have suffered through one of the toughest winters in recent memory, and we’re not even to the Ides of January yet. Multiple bouts of snow and ice storms, coupled with ridiculously frigid temperatures, have driven even the hardiest of runners inside to the shelter of gyms and health clubs and the completely appropriately named “dreadmill.” It’s perhaps cruelly ironic that this of all winters was the occasion for the end of the 31-year-old program of indoor running sessions at the soon to be demolished Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Instead of doing biweekly sessions of 600-meter repeats around the Dome’s concourse, hundreds of Minnesotans will be turned out into the local health clubs, or perhaps take their running to the Twin Cities’ extensive network of skywalks that connect virtually every building downtown.

The majority of runners, however, don’t have indoor options, and for them, it’s a choice between the cold and the couch. And given the dedicated (some might say obsessive) nature of the breed, there’s a good chance that many of them braved the former, no matter how crazy it seemed.

Another characteristic of most runners is an attention to detail and record keeping, logging miles and competitive PRs fastidiously. Along those lines, many keep track of records for the coldest and hottest conditions they’ve every run in. Amby Burfoot blogged about this a few winters ago, and just recently revisited the topic of how satisfying it can be to brave the elements on foot when most of the populace won’t even venture out in heated automobiles. Looking at the weather maps from around the country, it’s a pretty good bet that any runner seeking a “personal low” in running temperatures could have notched such an achievement in the past few days.

Of course, one other salient feature of Winter ’13-14 is its volatile, perhaps schizophrenic nature. For instance, here in southern New England, we had half a foot of snow followed by near-zero temperatures last week, only to enjoy shorts and light shirt running conditions on Monday, with the thermometer reaching the mid-50s, only to plunge back into Arctic conditions again less than 24 hours later. But then, this is the region that prompted Mark Twain to say if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. So doubtless there will be a thaw, perhaps even a relative heat wave, to allow everyone, save perhaps those in Duluth or Fargo, to shed those extra layers and get out on the roads and trails in less cumbersome attire.

Either that, or heed another aphorism often misattributed to Twain: “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it goes away.”

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