My wife called me insane, I nodded, and then I head out for my 23rd day running in Janathon, a run-‘n’-blog challenge. Around 9 PM in on a cloudless, windy Pennsylvania night, I find traffic.is light, the wind is kicking up. It is easy to see Venus. The vacuum of space itself is opening upon the hills. It’s insanely cold and windy, despite three shirts, a light parka, compression pants, jogging pants, two sets of gloves, ski mask, ear warmer, socks, good sneakers.
I had toyed with the idea of taking a short nap…at 9 pm…just a half hour, then I’d be revved up to run. Just fed the ultrababy for two hours straight, leaned back to catch a moment’s relaxation. And I’m on a boat. I can see the boat, the sandbar in the aquamarine shallows, a couple of rays dart playfully by my legs, the warm salt air scrubbing my mind clean of worry. Then I’m being pulled under, something cold is pulling me by the ankle over the lip of a precipice, into the darkness below. It gets colder, I blink, and I’m running down a dark street, the wind blowing so I can’t even see through my streaming tears. All night, every few minutes I look down to see if my pants are still pulled up. I can’t really feel my legs.
That’s a good way to wake up rested in the morning, and out of Janathon. Pipes burst at work Wednesday because of the anomalous cold, and yesterday was completely ruined. Questions of survival started to come to mind. I needed a house, a day care center and a jobsite. Two of those three structures suffered significant damage in the past two weeks.
I feel like I’m being followed. Little porches and entranceways catch the rasp of my footfalls and throw them back at me on my way down into the river valley towards the Monongahela. I cross the bridge in a stiff breeze. My snorkel has curled the wrong way, so I try to bend it so I can stick it down my parka and breathe through it. I grip and try to bend it but nearly split it in two. I try to use my hand as a joint to hold the two pieces together, to no avail. My hand begins to freeze from my breathe vapor. I make it to mile three and decide I have to look for new snorkel.
By mile four, the wind has frozen the mask to my face. It pulls against the corners of my eyes. The previous night, my left eye had begun to freeze, and it was sore. The mask rubbing on it made for grumpy running, so I headed for a gear detour. I’d split the run in two, and return at a faster pace if possible. There was a store about three miles away I could try.
I don’t have many runs where I don’t end either gasping for breath and bent over, or so tired I have to squat or lie down afterwards for a moment. I try to leave everything in the shoes. I figure it makes them more exciting to wear. With these sub-arctic temps, though, I am trying to maintain an ultramarathon pace of 5.5 – 6 mph, enough to keep warm yet slow enough to keep from pouring sweat.
I’m sort of scared. A couple of nights previous I had been running and saw what looked like something the size of a dalmatian clambering through the uppermost branches of some oak trees along a creek. In the streetlight dimly spilling from a bulb a half block away, it looked like a fat, black dog. That was a bear. Bears don’t curl up in caves and sleep like babies during the winter. There are plenty of deer carcasses to scavenge, so black bear rest, sure, but they remain active in the winter. They’re not a threat. I think the last recorded bear kill in the area happened in 1883. But in the past few years they’ve attacked and injured people. They like to stalk and attack people who are isolated, alone.
The busy road leading to the store has snow crud thrown from the plows a foot deep. It is hard to run, or walk, in this crunchy mess. The road lies east-west, so the wind is blowing down it like a bowling ball.
When I get to the store I throw my snorkel away and go into the heated arcade where, quickly, I doff my parka, hat, gloves and extra shirts. I spread the item across the bottom of the buggy and drape them over the sides. The mask is iced. I slap it off the mask. I look for a ski mask. A group of guys are doing the same. One settles for an xl kid’s Spiderman ski mask, the last one! So, I grab an energy drink, slam it, get dressed in my soggy clothes and make the 2.5 mile dash back to the house as quickly as possible. The moisture chills my hands into frozen claws. Upon returning to the house I brush the ice off my eyelids, mask, exposed mustache. I’m soaked with sweat, but I seem to have adjusted to running in the cold.
I keep thinking of standing chest deep in warm Caribbean ocean water. The snow piled at the edges of theroads are my dunes, untrammeled and inviting. Fresh snow hides the crud underneath. S
While I wore the mask, I hitched the ear warmer up over my mouth like the lower park of a motocross helmet. Water vapor from my breath froze the mask. I kept my tongue stuck out and froze the mask into a pointed cone, behind which I had an inch of air. I did okay breathing that small mouthful of warmed air. Everything but my hands felt warm. It was pretty amazing. I remember wondering if I had hypothermia because I felt so unususually comfortable.
If I can run in 7F weather, then I must be turning into a Yeti. The good thing: February 1st, the temps will rise by 25 to 35 degrees.
I got nine miles in tonight. I don’t think I can top my previous Janathon best of 232 miles, but I will try. This is all about trying. That’s why I’m loving this event!
Janathon monthly miles: 237. I’m still holding 1st place, but I have a whole week ahead of me in this polar fugly weather.