Janathon: Day 25 – Snowstorm Marathon

I had a good night sleep and wanted to run twenty-seven miles today, in a snowstorm, on railroad tracks. I did that. The snow fell, the temps were around 20F, so it felt like springtime compared with the weather we’ve had for the past two weeks. This polar vortex drama is like the wintertime equivalent of an “El Niño” weather anomaly. Tuesday  it drops down to invasive species-killing temps again, and will remain that way for a couple more days. Good times, yo.

I was revved up to run today and had a great time. The roads disappeared under inches of snow. I was too afraid to run in the roads. Piles of wet slush in the ditches, covered with popcorn chunks of dirty plow snow  lie over clear roadway, I hope, but the mess could hide glass and all kinds of stabbies, giant, jaw-rattling pot holes, nope, I’d take to the cinder. I lost signal a couple of times and the battery died after six hours or so, so I cobbled the run the best I could with a map service to supplement the missing parts. I ran from Brownsville to Belle Vernon, PA and back. It took me roughly 6.5 hours because I took pictures and I also injured myself at the end and had to struggle to get moving again to make it home.


Tugs had chipped up the ice in the middle, and it was gathering in the shoals. At the northern tip of my O&B I saw that the river was completely covered, and snowfall dressed all but the center channel still midnight blue from the most recent tug churning the channel from the coal barges. Snow covered the mile-long coal cars. Snow covered the barges. It was thick and I needed to make some good time, so I didn’t capture the turn-around with my phone camera. The return was mostly into the wind.

I ran through a couple of towns, but spent most of the run on the rails between cliffs and the bends in the river. There, I had some tree lines, and traction on the tracks. It was peaceful and glorious running.


I ran for about six hours. Towards the end, I sped up to get home faster.  I’d not eaten anything on the return run, and I was famished. I had plenty of water in my pak, but I was imagining myself sucking down a cranberry Red Bull at the gas station around the corner from my house, So I tried to speed up.

The first time I fell I tripped over a cord of wood, and the conductor in the passing locomotive hollered if I was okay and I gave him crazy thumbs up. The second time I fell, the thumbs did not go up, at least not right away.

I tripped over some kind of switching mechanism in the tracks that slides the rails to allow the train wheels to roll up one track or another, smooth metal rods attached to floating ties with big bolts sticking up out of them. I fell right on those bolts, on my knees. I must have tangled my feet up in the switching rods. Blammo. The ties knocked the wind out of me. My knees, oww! I hadn’t had a bad fall since 2004. I remember bad falls.

If you notice, I’m not posting any grody pictures or description  of wounds. I’m not into schadenfreude, and I get freaked out looking at blood…

Hobo tag on “coalie”, a coal car.

So the wind’s knocked out of me, my ears start ringing. I’m going to pass out. I’ve rolled onto my side and crawled off the track into the ditch, and my right hand goes through the fluff to the soggy ground beneath ten inches of snow. I measured it. It’s so peaceful and quiet you could hear me screaming across the river. Thankfully there weren’t any houses or anything at all around. I’m feeling so nauseous I can barely think. Just lie down a minute, lie back down, I tell myself.

Lie back down. Drink some water. I lie down. I lay there for I don’t know. I’d run twenty-five miles and lying down felt awesome. Freezing set in after a few moments and I sat up, got to my feet, sat back down, looked at my knees, looked away, drank some water, drank a bunch more, and took a step forward. I was working a good 40 min/mile pace for a fucksake of a mile before I felt like I hadn’t broken my left leg. The sweat was frozen on me. I had to move or freeze.

I limped, I walked, I leaned over with my hands on my thighs, steadied myself, took more steps, ran a couple more. I had a couple of hand warmer packs in my waterpak pocket for emergency. You were supposed to be able to tear open the packaging and the packets, exposed to the air, would heat up like magic to 130F. I’d slip them between the layers of my two pair of gloves, sit down, rest until the dizziness stopped.They were useless. I dropped them in the snow. Move!

Knee hell. Move or die. It was stiffening up, though, and that was good for support. I could see my town on the horizon at the end of the next bend in the river. I was so weak and cold, but I kept moving forward.

This train has been parked there for over a year. I startled deer that bed down beneath it.
This train has been parked there for over a year. I startled deer that bed down beneath it.

I started chanting, “I’m okay, I feel fantastic.” The words kind of popped out of my mouth without me thinking about it. I repeated it, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I feel fantastic, ugh!” And on, and on until I reached pavement. Funny thing was, I did feel better. My shoes filled with briny black slush. Neighbors giving me the “you’re fucking crazy” look to go with the tight-lipped smile while they shoveled their ten foot walkway wearing Inuit-level fur-lined jackets get no bonus points. Meanwhile, I’m waving with dirty, frozen gloves, grinning through a crowd of facial icicles. One of the neighbors shot me a look of spiteful jealousy. Just thinking about it is making me feel better – that we reveal so much with our eyes – not the jealousy.

I’m okay! I feel fantastic!

I ran up a stretch of track I’d never run before, and along the way I read the graffiti on trains, some stretching over a mile in length. Rocks had fallen from cliffs, and there was a gusher that froze up some switches out on a lonesome bit. I saw a couple of guys gesticulating at some sunken channels dug out and lined with concrete and old brick, two black eyes receding into the foot of a cliff, almost submerged by the piles of cinder from the railroad. Those tunnels had to be really old. The workers were wearing black slickers with yellow fluorescent strips, like firemen, or miner outfits or something. They said ‘hey’ rather cheerfully to me in passing. I was about 3/4 through the run, coated in ice, shoes looking like I had dunked them in two inches of frosting – thank you wool socks, thank you! – wearing a tiny backpack, running in a snowstorm.

I ran alongside the train. The footsteps I made going out were practically gone by the end, filled entirely in the windy exposed areas. I kept moving, thankful to be running in the daytime, breathing air that didn’t require a snorkel. Jesus. I tripped over a cord of wood and somersalted forward, careful to take the tumble with my shoulders so I wouldn’t rupture the waterpak bladder and soak my back with a liter of water.

First Leg – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/435614833

http://www.mapmyrun.com/workout/470586647 – Lost segment between trains

Meat and potatoes – http://connect.garmin.com/activity/435614808

Hell – http://www.mapmyrun.com/workout/470573849

I got 26.8 miles

I don’t know what my monthly miles are, but there’s a lot of them, I reckon.


EDIT:  268  Janathon miles. I have six more day to run 56 miles to better my best.

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