Thursday, February 3, 2011

Running and Bad Weather, FUN!

While skiing in Utah a few weeks ago we had a conversion with someone form Minnesota about the extremely cold weather in Park City.  The lot temperatures each morning, except the last day, were between -4 and -7 degrees Fahrenheit.  Consequently, we had the mountain pretty much to ourselves in the morning.  This person said, "There is no bad weather, just bad clothes."  To a point he was right.  I was never really uncomfortable that week, but I have been skiing since the early 70's and have learned how to dress for extreme conditions.  I have also learned a lot about dealing with the cold from ultrarunning.

Tuesday afternoon I needed to run one of my short midweek runs at Veteran's Park.  Trouble was, the storm was passing through that brought blizzard conditions from Texas to the Great Lakes.  The temperature was about 50,  it was pouring rain and almost dark when I started running although it was an hour before sunset.  As I sat in the car putting on my rain jacket and getting ready to go, I looked at the rain blowing horizontally in sheets and tried to convince myself it is just too bad to run and I should go back home. It was almost snack time and I could sit in the warm house and have some hummus and pita bread and a glass of wine with Marye Jo and watch the rain fall.

Instead, I hoped out and took off.  It was miserable for the first half lap of the three mile course.  The temperature felt more like 30 than 50 and the wind was gusting to 30 mph.  There were rivers of water flowing across the trail from one end to the other and I decided to just do one lap and quit.  By the time I finished the first half lap and headed into the woods for the next 1 1/2 miles I had warmed up and was beginning to enjoy the run.  It really is fun to go splashing through little streams and deep puddles.  A small creek that runs under the trail in the woods was almost over the trail and I was wondering if it would wash out before I got back on the second lap.

As I came by the car to start the second lap, I stopped by and grabbed my toboggan and gloves so the second lap through the open section would be a little more pleasant.  While running along one of the lakes in the park I heard a siren headed my direction on Valleydale Road and for some reason an old song from the 60's popped into my mind.  "They are Coming to Take Me Away"  (The words are: "they are coming to take me away, ha-ha, to the funny farm....")  I am sure some of the people driving along the park thought that is what should be done with the fool running in the storm.

The second lap was a lot more interesting than the first.  Along the lake where several small "runoffs" fed into the lake (they are too small to call creeks), a 30 yard stretch of trail had, in face, become a creek and I was running through ankle deep water.  Long sections of the trail were nothing more than giant puddles.  The trail in the woods was even worse.  In one section where the creek had overflowed the whole area was a lake with some places "mid calf" deep. It was also very dark in the woods even though it was not yet sundown.  At the he creek crossing near the end of the loop, the water was now up to the top of the large drain pipe and I am sure within a few minutes it would wash out but that was OK, I was finished.  It was actually fun and I had the park to myself.  There was not one other person out there.

If there had been lightning near by, I would not have run.  I have several exciting experiences with lightning over the years and that is one thrill I now try to avoid.  In an earlier post I told about my final long training run before Wasatch when I ran up Double Oak Mountain.  As I reached the ridge line, there was a bright flash and almost instantaneous boom.  I made a hasty descent and continued the run on a lower trail.  A couple of years ago I went out to the park for an afternoon run as a severe thunderstorm approached the park.  I actually went out to run because of the storm.  It is fun to run in a storm.  Right?

I decided to follow the bike trail up a 2 mile climb because it is primarily in a valley until the trail finally reaches the ridge.  There I would turn around and only be near the ridge a minute.  As I was going up, I could hear the thunder getting closer.  I reached the ridge and started back down about the time the storm hit.  The rain was falling so hard it turned the road (fire road) into a river and I could not see where I was stepping.  You need to see every step on that road because it is treacherous.  My other concern was the lightning which hitting the ridges above me every few seconds and here I was running through a river. I got to a three foot by five foot cover over a park map at a connector trail and stopped to get our of the river.

The wind which had been howling since the storm hit, but as I stood there it suddenly picked up dramatically.  Stuff started raining down from the trees.  There were large pines all around where I was standing and I was afraid one would blow over.  I moved over to the side of the sigh to watch the upwind trees so I could run if I needed to.  At that instant the wind began to shift around to the right.  Over about 20 seconds the wind changed directions almost 180 deg.  My immediate thought was that a tornado is very close.  The stuff falling from the trees changed from twigs and small branches to large limbs and pieces of trees.  I took off.  I ran down the trail as fast as I could toward the car but I was about one mile from the car.  When I was standing at the sign I had a small sheet-metal cover over my head.  Now I had nothing over me.  I realized I should go back, but I didn't and kept running.  Within a couple of minutes the wind began to ease up and I felt a little safer although the lightning was still close.  By the time I reached the car the storm had passed and a steady rain had set in.  After sinning in the car a minute I got out and ran another hill repeat up to the ridge.  As I ran back up I saw how many large trees were down along the road, including one that broke in half about 10 ft. up and actually fell across the road.  I decided not to go run in a severe thunderstorm, intentionally, again.

The point is, do not let the weather dictate when you run.  You cannot control the weather in a race.  If you have trained for months for a particular race, you will not skip it just because it will be colder or hotter or wetter than you expected.  So don't change you training runs just because the weather is not pleasant.  This is also when you can test our clothing options and see what works (good clothes) and what doesn't work (bad clothes).

I love snow.  We get very little here in Birmingham.  In 2009 it snowed in mid December.  There was quite a bit of snow at our house so I knew the top of Double Oak Mountain would have more.  I went out to run early the next day to enjoy the snow.  It was beautiful and I took pictures with my phone.  Here are a couple I took.  The next two were taken the day before at my house.

Yes I know by most standers this is not much show, but in Birmingham, it is a lot.  This year it snowed Christmas day all day but none stuck at my house.  I ran the next day at Oak Mountain and again there was quite a bit up high.  Here are a few pictures from this years run. This time I remembered to take a camera.  I love running in snow and never miss a chance.  I guess one of the benefits of living in the south is that snow is a rare treat.  In fact, the snow we received the last two years in the only significant snow in Birmingham since the blizzard back in the 90's.

1 comment:

  1. It must be something in the runner's DNA. One of my favorite times to run used to be during rainstorms, and I still enjoy it for shorter runs.

    Your comment about people seeing you run in the thunderstorm thinking you were crazy reminded me of one of my crazier stunts. I went out running one time during a mini ice storm on some side streets around my neighborhood. Same thing - I was the only one out on the roads.

    What I forgot to factor in, was the ice gradually building up on my glasses, and after a couple miles I could barely see. I was crossing an intersection and taking an angle to the sidewalk, when I was literally clothes-lined and fell to the ground. Getting up, I realized I had run headlong into a cable that was providing support for a telephone pole! To make matters worse, the ONE car that was out on the road had driven by right when this all happened. They actually backed up and asked me if I was alright! I must have been a sight...

    I love running in the sun and on perfect fall days on the trail. But sometimes those crazy, bad weather runs are the ones we remember.