Toughest winter run of the season: a gear victory (if nothing else)

I woke up Sunday morning and looked out the window to see fresh snow a few centimetres deep. Damn! Anita and I agreed we would do 18K with the Running Room Around the Bay training group. So I got myself out of bed and took my time putting on the gear I’d laid out the night before, prepped for a chilly morning with a cold wind.

That meant: my thickest running tights, a t-shirt, a thicker long sleeved running top, my windproof jacket, a double layer of socks (since for me it’s the feet that get the coldest), insulated gloves, a buff, a thin hat (my head heats up if I’ve got too thick a hat on but I had a fleece balaclava style thing as back-up, and my running belt with insulated water bottles so my water wouldn’t freeze. I tossed in a few dates rolled in coconut, anticipating that I’d be out there for at least 2:20.

We set out shortly after 8:30, heading a little bit south and then west. The sidewalks went from difficult to completely unnavigable by the time we got to Riverside. As a result, we ended up running in the bike lane. There were eight or so of us, so it’s not as if we were invisible to drivers. Nevertheless, having had a terrible car accident on Riverside nine years ago (with a lingering neck injury that never healed), I was in a panic as we ran, knowing that a car skidding on winter roads will easily barrel into a group of people whether the driver sees them or not. Even as a driver, I do not take Riverside in the winter because I relive that accident each time I do.

I felt terribly unsafe and was vocally opposed to our route. One reason I felt that way is that London, Ontario has a great system of pathways and typically the path through Springbank Park is cleared of snow (especially on weekends when there is a lot of pedestrian and running traffic). I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why we were taking a route that required us to slog through uncleared sidewalks or risk ourselves on roads when we could be doing the majority of our distance on a safe pathway.

Anyway, let’s just say I complained and then went quiet. Anita ran up ahead and I didn’t really connect with her again until we got back to the Running Room almost two hours later. About an hour into it, we ducked into a subdivision. The snow wasn’t cleared but there had been enough traffic that it was at least packed down. I wouldn’t call the conditions easy though. By then, the wind was whipping into our faces and we were running through a blizzard. Grumble grumble — I checked my Garmin and we were not even half way yet.

I did manage to turn my attitude around despite the blizzard. We weren’t any longer on Riverside, so I wasn’t reliving the trauma of my car accident anymore. I also became conscious of how every spot on my clothing choices had been. I felt just right — not at all hot, and yet also not cold. Yes, sometimes I needed to pull my Buff up around my face a little more, but everything from my core to my hands to my head felt just fine. My toes got a bit cold, as they do, and I couldn’t really feel my butt. But in the body temperature department I had no complaints.

And then my left knee started to speak to me. It said, “ouch.” Every time I put my foot down in the thick snow, I could feel a twinge on the outside of my knee. And then my left hip flexor or was it my IT band — I don’t know — joined in the chorus. I checked my Garmin and estimated (because by then a subset of us had slightly changed our route) another 7 or 8K to go. We were still trudging our way through the subdivision. All the houses and side streets looked the same. But ultimately we made it out of there and onto one of the main-ish roads, hoping for it to be clear.


We pushed on though, because really, unless someone called a cab we kind of had to. By this time we had been out there for almost two hours. Anita went the long way, so she was nowhere in sight. I’d totally gotten used to running through the deep snow on the sidewalk by then. My left side pains tried screaming at me but I mostly just ignored them in that way I taught myself to do the last time I was training for Around the Bay 30K in 2014, which is the last time I felt these same pains (so I know they’ll go away).

Then something magical happened — we crossed over an intersection and the sidewalk clearing machine had actually cleared the sidewalks! For the next 2-3K, we skipped along as if it were summer time. I imagined it would be that way all the back to downtown (it was not), and for those few kilometres, with the right gear and clear sidewalks, and by then the sun had come out, I completely forgot about my knee and my IT band.

We endured a couple more tough bits, especially crossing over a greasy bridge where each step we backslid, but soon the home stretch came into view. The Running Room was just about half a kilometre away when we made our turn onto Richmond Street. I ran-walked it and even ran past to tack on an extra little bit to get an even 17K (1K short of the planned distance, but under the conditions I didn’t mind one bit).

I went into the RR and stretched out my aching limbs at the back of the store where people had congregated. Anita wasn’t back yet but I expected her soon. As my group debriefed (i.e. shared our war stories of the run we had just finished), Anita showed up. She had the most serious war story of all — a mega bruise from a fall she had taken after we parted ways. “I bruise easily,” she said, claiming it wasn’t serious.

“I’m hungry,” I said.

“Me too,” said Anita.

And off we went for breakfast.

Image description: Tracy on left, Anita on right, inside after their run, smiling. Tracy in crocheted winter hat and a black coat with a button on it that says ‘ask me about my feminist agenda,’ and Anita, short dark hair and wearing a grey sweatshirt. Sun pouring through window in the background.

2 thoughts on “Toughest winter run of the season: a gear victory (if nothing else)

  1. Thanks for this post, Tracy! As I was walking to work this morning, I was drafting a somewhat related post to 219 on 2019 in my head… my mind draft was one of total gratitude as I navigated the sidewalks following the heaviest snowfall of the year. I was grateful first and foremost for my fitness that made it possible for me to manage the 3k walk without too much exhaustion. I was also grateful that I was able to wear warm and comfortable clothing; not only able to afford such fitness attire, but also grateful that I could find such attire that fits me as I have spent most of my life needing sizes that are absolutely not available, especially not available in fitness wear. And finally, I was very thankful that by 6:30 this morning, the City of Guelph had already cleared 2.8k of the 3k of sidewalk I travelled. How awesome is that!

  2. Wow, what a story! I’m in awe of you. These are 100% the conditions under which I would have stayed on the couch!
    How do you breathe? This is something I struggle with when it gets too cold, I find breathing through my nose really unpleasant but when I breathe through the mouth I get a sore throat. I can do it for 7k or so but sure as hell not for 17!
    Anyway, I hope your left side pains aren’t around to stay. You really deserve a medal for that run.

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