Humans are not meant to do activities in the cold.
This is a stance I’ve maintained ever since I graduated into the world of adulthood. This stance was further solidified yesterday after I endured a 5K that featured an 11-degree race time temperature. Don’t be fooled: that temp makes it sound warmer than it was. Thanks to the wind chill, it felt like a big, fat zero degrees.
Last Wednesday, Stephanie sent me info about a 5K that was attached to a folk fair at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds. She wanted to go to the folk fair, which had a $10 admission fee. Registration for the 5K was $18, with free admittance to the fair. Plus, the 5K came with a shirt, of course. And, the chances Stephanie and I would win minor prizes for placing in our gender/age divisions was high, if the results of last year’s race were any indication. All that said, this 5K was a deal. A done deal.
But after we registered, I didn’t really dedicate too much thought or focus to this 5K. I didn’t really mentally prepare for the race, I didn’t really adjust my workout schedule for the week, and I didn’t really check the forecast too much.
Things changed the day before the race. I did end up taking the day off from working out (which is my standard the day before any race), and I did also look at the forecast. I noticed it was supposed to be about 14 degrees at race time. Then, morning of: it said 11. And that’s what it ended up being. Not including the wind chill, of course.
I have some cold-weather running gear and I’ve participated in a few cold races; however, I’ve never run in anything THIS cold. And, despite the cold-weather gear, I’m usually slower in the cold. But THIS cold? Well, I’ve had a good year running in races, so I just figured I’d tough it out and see what I could do.
Toughing it out is what it became.
This race became about using mental toughness to overcome physical problems. I’ve been fortunate never to run injured, so this is not something I’ve dealt with before. The physical problems in this race were not injuries, however.
It was frozen digits.
While my toes became so cold they felt numb near the middle of the race, the friction generated from the run warmed them back up by the time I finished.
But my fingers? Well, you can say my high-performance running gloves, designed to keep my hands and fingers warm, failed miserably. They’ve been fine in temperatures near freezing, but they were pretty low-performance in a temperature as low as yesterday.
Near the mid-point of the race, I noticed my fingers feeling pretty numb. I was wearing a balaclava on my head/face, which kept those parts of my body perfectly warm, but I could tell how bad my fingers were a few times when I needed to adjust the balaclava. It felt pretty much like they were asleep, but without the tingling sensation.
When I neared the finish line, I couldn’t tell if my fingers were still just numb, of if they actually hurt. I could barely pour myself water from the water dispenser outside before I walked back inside to the pavilion area. At that point, my fingers, especially the ones on my left hand, most especially my left thumb, were in outright pain. All I could think was that I had frostbite and I’d need to have my left thumb amputated. It was not good.
And after I did walk back in to the pavilion, it took nearly 15 minutes for my fingers to thaw out and probably another few minutes for the pain to subside in my left thumb.
This experience is making me wonder if I should never commit to another potential cold-weather race ever again? Some runners don’t mind the cold, but I’m not one of them. I’d rather run in extreme heat over extreme cold.
Hopefully the weather’s a little better this Thursday, as I’m slated to run in a Thanksgiving Day morning 5K outside Miller Park. My fingers are crossed that the weather will be good enough for me to feel my fingers.
As for the results of yesterday’s “5K,” well, I’m putting “5K” in quotes for a reason. Something was wrong about the course. The race info said the course was a USATF certified 5K; however, at least four people I spoke to after the race, including Stephanie, said their phones and GPS running devices tracked the course to be between 3.23 and 3.25 miles (one other person said 3.31 miles, but that was well outside the norm of what the rest said), and not the 3.1 miles a 5K actually is.
This would explain my time a little more than simply the cold would. My “official” time was 22:14, which would rank as the 3rd slowest 5K I’ve ever run (if I were to believe the course distance). Firstly, I know my body fairly well, and even in the cold, I’m confident I wasn’t moving that slowly. Secondly, considering that not only have all of my other 5Ks this year have been sub-21, my training times of late have all been faster than they were a few months ago, so I know my VO2 is in a good spot.
If you measure my time against 3.25 miles, which is what I’m doing for my own personal tracking of my race results, then I clocked a 6:50/mile pace, which although is still my slowest of the year, isn’t quite as slow as the 7:10/mile pace it looks like I finished in according to the official race results. Extrapolating that 6:50/mile pace across an actual 5K distance of 3.1 miles would have yielded a 21:15 finish. If that’s accurate for when I hit the actual 3.1-mile mark, that would still have been my slowest time of the year, and my first non-sub-21 of the year.
If you consider the cold, and the battle it was with the numbness of my fingers, I’m fine with 21:15. But 22:14? I disagree with the accuracy of that result. Sorry, but when the GPS tracking of multiple race finishers agree the distance is off, I tend to believe that.
(UPDATE: I emailed the company that timed the 5K about the course length. I simply asked if they could confirm the distance of the course. They forwarded my email to the race director, who emailed me back. He confirmed the course was approximately 0.15 miles too long due to misplacement of the start/finish line. He apologized, said it would be fixed next year, and offered me free entry to next year’s race. I wasn’t looking for all that. I was just curious about the distance!)