The end of last week was very cold and snowy in Denver. We got a ton of snow on Wednesday that ended up causing a snow day for schools, and Thursday and Friday remained bitterly cold so that snow wasn’t going anywhere. However, before the storm threatened, I had signed up for 3W Races Winter Six-Pack Series. It’s a series of six races where each race is a little bit longer than the ones before, so you are motivated to stay in running shape / gear up for spring even when the weather wasn’t so nice. I was really excited when I signed up, but I was a bit less excited when I saw that the first race was going to involve temperatures in the teens (yes, in Fahrenheit)!
My friend Claire and I both discussed how we’d wear a ski jacket / snow pants to the start, and I thought the race itself wouldn’t feel that cold since I’d be running. But after waiting ten minutes in the outdoor packet pickup line at the start, I was rethinking that assumption. I was already cold, and the race hadn’t even started yet! When I found Claire, we discussed how neither of us really wanted to race that morning, but we didn’t want to skip the very first race in the series and jeopardize completion of the whole thing :)
(It occurred to me as we chatted that I could run the shorter distance being offered, one mile, in order to still complete the series. But I didn’t want to wuss out and knew that I’d regret it later, especially since this was my only planned workout for the day.)
After getting my packet, I didn’t bother taking my gloves off to safety pin my bib on; instead, I headed to my car. I had been lucky to snag a prime parking spot on the road about 30 feet from the start (!), so I turned the heat on, took off my extra layers, and just tried not to think about what it would feel like to get back out there.
There were two starts (one for the 5K and one for the mile), and from in the car, I couldn’t hear any announcements – though it was clear that people were lining up. Finally, I jumped out of the car and headed to join the crowd. Not a moment too soon! The race started just a minute or so later, and I hurried to get my playlist going, my car keys tucked away, and my gloves back on after all that maneuvering. I probably crossed the start about 30 people back, which meant that the first mile was a lot of bobbing/weaving/passing.
The course is the Big Dry Creek Trail, which is normally a nice paved or gravel multi-use path. On Saturday, though, it was pure snow and ice, with only the last half mile of the out-and-back having any pavement showing. Where we started on the sidewalk, the course was pretty packed down, but within a tenth of a mile we crossed a bridge and turned in a less-traveled direction, where the course had two packed down tire tracks but was otherwise 8 inch deep freshly fallen snow in between. Unfortunately, since I probably started further back than I should have, that meant I had to mostly run in that deep snow in between the tracks in order to pass the people in front of me. Not easy at all!
Around mile one, though, we got back onto a more packed down trail, and I also finally settled in to where I didn’t really need to pass anyone else to run at my chosen pace. What that pace was, I had no idea, since I wasn’t about to roll up my sleeves to look at my watch… but it felt like my idea of “5k pace”. Now I could stop worrying about the runners around me and think about how I was doing. Unfortunately, the answer was: not so good.
Here’s what I had chosen to wear to the race, starting from the top: a wide headband/earwarmer on my head; sports bra, fleece-lined tank top, wicking long-sleeve, and fleece jacket on top; thick (but not fleece-lined) leggings on the bottom; and wool socks/trail running sneakers. And while of course I was wearing gloves, I was wearing inexpensive cotton throwaway gloves… which proved to be my downfall. Within five minutes of starting the race, my hands were freezing and I felt like they might as well be bare. Meanwhile, my feet were also pretty numb – to where it felt like I was landing on solid blocks instead of able to bend/flex my foot the way I guess I normally do to absorb impact while I run.
But my feet were the least of my worries. By the time I reached mile one, my hands were completely numb, and I was starting to worry that I was actually going to get frostbite during the race. But twenty five or so minutes in 12 degree temps, especially while wearing gloves, shouldn’t be enough to do that… right?? I wasn’t entirely sure, but I also didn’t want to quit the race. Instead, I used the oh-so-classy tactic of alternately putting my hands in my mouth and breathing heavily on them, hoping to warm them up to help them regain feeling. And instead of focusing on running fast, I focused on wiggling my fingers as much as possible to try to encourage some blood flow to go in that direction.
I started seeing some runners coming back in the other direction, and knew I was getting close to the turnaround. I also started counting women, to try to figure out what place I was in. Not an easy task to figure out genders when everyone was so bundled up (except for one guy who inexplicably ran in shorts?!?!), but when I reached the turnaround, I had learned that I was in 4th place. Not for long!! Only about 30 seconds ahead of me was a male/female couple running with a dog, and I was determined to pass them so that I could make the podium.
I started slowly reeling the couple in, finding myself closer and closer after every bend in the course, until finally I was able to pass them. They didn’t seem to try to avoid letting me pass, or try to catch up, which then made me feel awkward about looking behind me to see if the woman was anywhere within range of passing me again. I tried to only look back when I went under a tunnel or around a bend, so as not to be hyper-competitive. Now, though, I’m laughing at myself – it’s a race! It’s okay to be competitive!
I should note, though, that while I wanted to hold my third place position, I had no idea what pace I was running or what time it was. So much for being competitive! Instead, I was just trying to hold a slightly-aggressive-but-still-comfortable pace, so I could get to the finish and get warm as soon as possible. I was keeping my eyes peeled for the mile markers, but I soon realized that the course hadn’t been a straight out-and-back; we had actually taken a turn off to a different loop.
…or so I thought, until I came upon the volunteer marking the 1 mile course turnaround. It was much further along than I thought; at this point I was sure I was almost done, and I was disappointed to find I still had another half mile left. Nothing to do but keep running, though! (And keep surreptitiously checking over my shoulder for the woman behind me.)
I soon recognized the final bridge of the course and knew exactly where I was, just as I crossed the 3 mile mark. Tenth of a mile to go! Although I was a little leery of doing so on the snow/ice, I sped up a little bit to try to shave a few more seconds off as I crossed the finish line. I did it! And unless I had miscounted the women, I had actually won 3rd place.
I headed very quickly to the heated tent to stand by the portable heater and try to get my hands to unfreeze. Ouch ouch ouch – my right hand especially hurt terribly as I tried to warm it up. But pain means no frostbite right? Another runner and I kept reminding ourselves of this as we tried to warm our hands. Just when I thought my fingers were finally getting back to normal, though, I started feeling dizzy.
I’m pretty susceptible to fainting (happens once every year or two?) and I could tell that was the start of what was happening, so I crossed the tent to have a seat on the massage table that had been set up. But the other responsible thing to do was tell someone that I’m prone to fainting, so that there wouldn’t be a freak out if I did pass out. Apologies to the guy I alerted, who was then (understandably) super nervous until I finally felt better. In retrospect, I think both my dizzy spell and my ridiculously cold hands were caused by the blood in my body all rushing to my core to keep me warm – so I will definitely plan to wear even more layers next time I run in temps like this.
But on the bright side… I did it! 3W races uses cool scoring technology that posts race results online within minutes of each person crossing the finish, so I learned pretty quickly that I had indeed taken 3rd place in the women’s division. HOORAY!
My official finish time was 25:27 (8:11/mile pace), which then got me thinking: how much faster would I have been if it hadn’t been so cold/snowy? My first thought was that I am really out of shape compared to when I ran the 21:00 5K in Atlanta last fall. But after a successful interval workout yesterday (10 x 0.25 @ 6:40 pace), I think I’m in better shape than I thought after that 4.5 minute gain on October’s 21:00 5K finish, and am perhaps underestimating how much slower I was because of conditions. I don’t want to overcompensate and attribute too much of that time gain to the snow/cold, but it’s hard to know just what the differential might be. Overall, while I’m definitely slower now than where I ended my fall training cycle, I think I’m starting out in a better place than where I started last summer. So now all that’s left is to put in the hard work to get faster, right?
Six Pack Series #2, I’m coming for you!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 9/109
Gender place: 3/81
Age group place: 3/29