Beardsicles. Frozen fingers. Ice-covered clothing.
Remember when it was cold and snowy?
Anyone can run when it’s 50 degrees. But when Mother Nature throws her worst at us, a few hardcore athletes continue to head outdoors for their workouts. Single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero call for commitment and some key pieces of gear to get out there.
University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman ran 10 miles in Lincoln, Neb., before the Feb. 12 Illinois-Nebraska men’s basketball game. The temperature was minus-2 degrees when he left his hotel at 8 a.m. and dropped another couple of degrees during the run, with a stiff north wind.
Whitman ran with Derrick Burson, the sports information director for Illinois men’s basketball who has run 10 miles on every game day — home and away — this season. Whitman runs with him when he can, usually at away games.
“We haven’t lost yet when we’ve done it together, so we’re making it a regular occurrence!” Whitman said.
What was the worst part of running in that weather? “The cold! Actually, when we weren’t running directly into the wind, it wasn’t uncomfortable. The wind changed the game (and, for me, always does, warm weather or cold).”
What do you enjoy about exercising outdoors in winter? “I love being outside! I love each season, and the way the air feels and smells in the winter is special. Running immediately after, or even during, a snowfall can be beautiful and memorable. Truth be told, I’d rather exercise in the cold than the heat.”
What is your must-have item for running outside in extreme cold? “Good gloves! For me, my torso, legs and feet are usually pretty good. I pay a lot of attention to keeping my hands and my head warm.”
Do you always exercise outside in the winter? What conditions are too bad for you to be outside? “I try to. I learned a lot about winter during the four years I lived in La Crosse, Wis. One of the lessons: There is no bad weather, there is only bad gear! For me, a lot of my willingness to go outside depends on footing. If I don’t feel like there will be enough extended stretches of solid footing due to ice or snow, I’ll usually stay inside. I’m not afraid of the temperature, but I admit, some days I’m more willing to endure it than others!”
Pat and Julie Mills of Champaign run a 9.5-mile route through downtown Champaign and the UI campus every Sunday morning and often add some extra miles. The conditions for their Feb. 14 run were minus-3 degrees with minus-15-degree wind chills and snow- and ice-covered roads and sidewalks.
What was the worst part of running in that weather? Pat: “Running into the wind. With Raynaud’s syndrome, my hands were toast near the end of 10 miles, even with heat pads in my mittens. My nose was also nearly frozen.”
Julie: “Thinking about running! Once you get out the door, it’s usually a great experience. But getting out is hard.”
What do you enjoy about exercising outdoors in the winter? Pat: “The challenge helps keep the old man out! On days with sun and little wind, even very cold days make for beautiful runs.”
Julie: “I most enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and feeling so hardy. I often call these runs ‘character runs’ — they build character.”
What is your must-have item for running outside in extreme cold? Pat: “Heat pads in my mittens with wind-resistant shells.”
Julie: “Hand warmers. They really work, and I like my hands to be warm. Also layers. You can always remove clothing during a run if you get warm.”
Are there any conditions that are too bad for you to be outside? Pat: “I have to admit, I’ve shied away from running in rain at near-freezing temps.”
Julie: “I can get talked out of a run if it’s 34 degrees and pouring … but if I paid for a race, I’ll probably be at the start line.”
What’s the worst weather you’ve run in? Pat: “The 1999 Siberian Express Trail Run had the deepest snow — about 1-1.5 feet for the 7-mile trail run — but it was not all that cold and quite pretty. The worst was minus-10 degrees for a January Riddle Run of 12 miles, and similarly cold for other shorter runs.”
Julie: “It might have been a late spring 22-mile run around Lake Geneva years ago. During the race, the temperature suddenly dropped to the low 40s, wind and rain whipped in over the lake, and I only kept running because I thought I’d get hypothermia if I stopped. It took us 30 minutes standing around the hand blow dryers in the bathroom to stop shaking enough to hold a cup of coffee when we finished.”