Truth for Tuesday – What I Hate About Running in the Extreme Cold

Hey Im Alive

A number of blogs are participating in something called ‘Spill It Sunday’, where you answer some questions about yourself. There is one thing that I have been thinking about lately, and realized it wouldn’t make it into any other post I’m thinking about writing – so it is perfect here.

I have lived my entire life in places that get very cold and snowy, and have always loved the changing of the seasons. And since I have been running for nearly 25 years, that means running outdoors in some very cold conditions through the years. The coldest temperature I have run in is -17F, and the lowest wind chills were below -20F.

Last week saw snow and ice storms blow through much of the country, leading to way too many injuries and deaths due to accidents on the road and in the home for those not used to such conditions. I also saw many blogs where people in the south were excited to pull out their winter running stuff for a day or two. For those of us up north, 30F isn’t ‘cold’ … in fact, during the winter it is a great temperature for running.

Last Monday we had our coldest day yet – it got to ~10F with wind chills at my house down to 3F. This is not *extreme* cold … but it is pretty cold. It made me think of a couple of things. First, the contrast between Monday’s cold and the 30F temperature on Tuesday reminded me of how differently our brains work when it gets very cold; and second, I learned that my very warm new gloves are questionable for sub-zero temperatures!

When I ran on Monday, I knew the route I was running, and just focused on the run and staying warm and covered, especially when the wind was coming at me! On Tuesday I was suddenly playing with pace and form and thinking all sorts of different things – it is a reminder of what our brains and bodies do when extreme cold hits.

Which brings me to the one thing that bothers me about extreme cold: fear of hypothermia and frostbite.

Now for those who knew me at RPI this might seem a bit bizarre – I used to go to classes in a couple of feet of snow wearing boat shoes with no socks. Yeah, I was young and very large … and apparently the joke about all that insulation was more or less true.

After losing all the weight I found I would get cold more easily in the winters, and particularly recall ice fishing with Lisa’s dad and my feet never feeling anything but cold … but it was really after my thyroid died in 2007/8 that my cold tolerance – especially in my fingers – has gone down considerably. As a result, being in the cold for a long time and having my fingers get really cold? No thanks!

So where does this fear of losing feeling and eventually losing fingers or toes come from? A book and movie called ‘Hey I’m Alive’.

Way back in 1975 a TV-movie came out with Ed Asner and Sally Struthers, based on a book which was based on true life events. The story is about two people in a small single engine plane that goes down in bad weather and how they survive for 49 days in the cold remote winderness before getting rescued.

I was 9 when the movie aired, and I also read the 1964 book the movie was based on, which was a retelling of events by the woman who survived. Not surprisingly, the book was able to delve deeper into things, particularly the dark periods when there seemed to be no hope. All that time the possibility of freezing to death was very real.

In that context, the end result of frostbite and having a few toes amputated seem fairly minor … but as a 9-year old who had fingers and toes go numb every winter playing in the snow, suddenly I started wondering at what point that numb feeling becomes dangerous?

As an adult I know that with fully covered skin encased in Thinsulate gloves, even over a 90 minute run I have no danger of frostbite – if anything, it is the exposed area of my face I should be most worried about! But that has never stopped the irrational fears of a 9-year old boy from creeping back in and making me worry that out on a run with cold hands I was in danger of losing my fingers. I am just fortunate that my fear of getting fat trumps my fear of losing fingers … that means I will still go out running all winter long!

What about you? Do you have any irrational fears? How do you deal with them?

You can see info for the book at Goodreads, and the film at IMDB. And actually, you can even watch the whole movie on YouTube!

4 thoughts on “Truth for Tuesday – What I Hate About Running in the Extreme Cold

  1. I live in a place where there are many vehicles with inconsiderate drivers, so when I take my little dog out for a walk I always fear that he would get run over or something. Of course he wouldn’t because there’s no way I’d let that happen, but I tend to have these morbid images in my head ugh.

  2. Okay, I am officially a wuss. I grew up in Vermont, so I know that my current home of Richmond, VA never _actually_ gets cold. But I didn’t start running or otherwise getting into health and fitness until after I moved down here. Now I feel like a total slacker for skipping my runs last week when it dropped below 40.

    (For the record, it’s 73 degrees Fahrenheit here right now).

    • My wife grew up near Lake George in upstate NY and hates the cold … it is not being a wuss, it is dealing with what is uncomfortable. I would suggest finding something to do inside on those days.

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