As winter marches on with snow once again in the forecast, I can’t help but realize how closely attuned to the varying monthly, as well as yearly, weather patterns I’ve become since lacing up my running shoes. When recounting prior year’s races I don’t often remember my exact finish time, but I do recall if it was unusually hot or cold, extremely humid or foggy, raining or snowing or if it had been a climatically perfect outing. After all, factoring in the course conditions is essential to fully evaluating one’s progress.
Last winter brought a seemingly never-ending barrage of snow and fluctuating temperatures. Training meant taking advantage of those days when snowflakes weren’t actually falling, and carefully navigating the leftover patches of ice and slush that were left behind. This year, there has been little in the way of snow and ice, but the temperatures have remained consistently cold.
Historians may credit the invention of the wheel as one of mankind’s greatest inventions, but as a winter runner, I would have to say the buff should receive its own proper due. For the first race of the year, the January 10th Joe Kleinerman 10K, this magical piece of cloth proved invaluable.
The frigid 17 degrees, with a windchill hovering around 4, made breathing painful without the fabric buffer. Since my body typically “runs hot,” I’m usually able to settle into a nice groove after about the first mile during winter events. But on this occasion, it wasn’t until the half-way point that my legs finally adapted.
At the start, the officials cautioned against “setting any world records” given the deep freeze. While they needn’t worry about me setting any world records- even in pristine conditions- the message was understood. This event would be about survival, letting the chips fall where they may and assessing afterwards- once I was inside and warm!
Finishing in 52:11 (8:24 pace), it certainly wasn’t my fastest 10K, but somehow it wasn’t my slowest, either. My splits showed the obvious: my pace was slowest as my muscles warmed up, but once they had adjusted, the pace dropped- with my final mile the fastest, managing a sub-8:00. Last year, the conditions had been dramatically different- 54 degrees with a picturesque fog hanging over the course. In those more favorable conditions I had completed the course in 53:03 (8:34 pace). Given the year-over-year improvement, weather notwithstanding, it was a nice confidence booster.
The month’s racing began in North Pole-like conditions, but it ended in a relative heat wave. The Fred Lebow Manhattan Half has a well-earned reputation for being one of the most difficult races on the NYRR calendar. Traversing a little more than two full hilly loops of Central Park, this event generally attracts such Arctic conditions that “beardcicles” are a common vantage along the course. While the course was a familiar constant, this year’s temperatures were remarkably mild- 35 degrees at the start.
I eclipsed the 100-mile mark for January during this event, with the diligent training clearly paying off. I had to triple check my Garmin upon crossing the finish, as I was surprised to I’d navigated the route in 1:50:46 (8:28 pace). The course and weather have historically combined to make this my slowest half marathon performance. And while the year is young, I’m hopeful that this holds true- if so, it will be quite the year.
It may still feel like the dead of winter outside, though slowly but surely the days are getting a smidgen longer. It may be too early to start the countdown until spring arrives, but after managing to make it through January 2015 with more miles, better races and a big smile, the wait seems all the more sufferable.