When a long run becomes an arctic expedition

There was no good day to do this long run. It was going to be cold the entire weekend. I wanted to get mileage in to prepare for the Around the Bay 30K at the end of the month. But it was so cold out. So. Cold.

The aversion to this long run was growing. It was cold. It was long. There was fear. Fear of the weather conditions, the distance and what my pace would be. That fear that always lies in the back of my head that because I’m slow I’m not a real runner, not a real athlete.

But there was something greater than the aversion and the fear. There was fun.

Yes, I tell you, fun.

I had been listening to my favorite running podcast How Was Your Run Today? (disclaimer: I was a guest on their podcast. You can check it out on Episode 42. I am probably their lamest guest.) Bryan and Peter routinely make me laugh out loud and this week’s guest was Alison Desir who organized the Run 4 All Women relay from New York City to Washington, D.C. She is on my bucket list of people I’d like to meet. I listened to the episode the previous night and I woke up with aversion and fear for the long run, but also inspired to live my passion and not take myself too seriously.

Don’t take the whole thing so seriously. In other words, I needed to have fun and I needed to somehow change my mindset, change my story, to turn this run into fun.

The trusty app from the Weather Center informed me that the air temperature in my town was 14 degrees but felt like 0 degrees with the windchill. The winds were noticeable at 16 miles per hour and coming out of the North. All righty. I put on compression tights followed by another pair of running tights (slightly baggier). I wore two long-sleeved fleece-lined winter running tops, one which included a sweet, sweet hood, and my running jacket. I put on a fleece headband with a neck gaiter and dug out some hand warmers to tuck inside my gloves.

My plan was to run from my house in Olcott (on the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario) to my parent’s house in Lockport. That would have me running south the entire time with the wind at my back. Haha! Take that mother nature!

I decided I looked like someone heading off to an arctic expedition, particularly after I strapped on my hydration pack. I decided that every mile would be like an entry from an old journal:

Mile 1. Gray skies. No cars. Wind at my back.
Mile 2. Gray skies. 2 cars. Hands feel a bit too warm with the handwarmers. Maybe I was overthinking this cold weather.
Mile 2.5. Water has frozen in my hydration pack.

Wait, what?!? Yes. As I went to take a sip of water, I could not unlock the bite valve. Once I did, I quickly learned why I was having difficulty — the water in the valve and tubing froze.

There was ice in my Camelback. ICE IN MY CAMELBACK.

And I started laughing. Because really, what else could I do? I was truly on an expedition now. The good news was twofold: 1. I had thrown a credit card into my pack. 2. My route took me past several small stores.

Just about Mile 5 I ducked into a store, put $1.67 on my credit card for a small bottle of water, drank about a third of it while taking my energy gel, then tossed it. I felt bad about wasting, but I needed fluid intake. I checked in with my mom. Onward I went.

This was one of the more difficult sections of my route. It’s about a 4-mile stretch that’s long and lonely. I’ve struggled in this section before, more mental than physical. I kept moving forward, kept writing my expedition journal in my head. I thought about how fortunate I was to be able to run 16 miles for fun. How a confluence of events — from health to disposable income to emotional support — allowed me the privilege of challenging myself and the ability to pursue my passion.

Close to Mile 10, I came to a grocery store where a large, middle-aged man did a triple-take as he left the store and I entered looking as if I were on the hunt for Yeti. Another water purchase. Another check-in with mom to confirm my route. Now came the uphill portion of my route and a long, slow, steady climb. I often walk part of this hill. Not this day. I ran its entire length. I didn’t care about pace. I didn’t care about pushing myself. I was steady and strong. I told myself I could stop at the top, but I felt find and kept moving on.

Then came Mile 13. There was more snow on the ground here and the slushy shoulder created bad footing. Traffic was picking up and there were two short but steep hills. I walked the hills and thought nothing of it. The footing stayed iffy the rest of the way and when I turned into my parent’s driveway 15.2 miles seemed close enough to 16 for the day’s work.

I realized just how cold it was when I started taking off layers in my parent’s living room. I never felt overdressed and I was wearing two of everything. (Except socks. I can’t wear two pairs of socks.) My lungs were aching more than my legs from the cold. I linked my GPS watch to my phone and the app promptly told me I’m “running slower recently.”

F-YOU TOM TOM SPORTS APP! You have no idea how hard those conditions, how I had to forage for sustenance (OK, stop to buy water, but still), or how pleased I was overall with my pace, with the way my body felt, with the way I mentally pushed through the challenges. After all arctic expeditions aren’t judged by time alone. They’re judged by passion, by heart and by how much fun you an turn them into when your hydration pack freezes.

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