Let me start this by saying first of all that I am so NOT a Winter Warrior. Despite that very-obvious-to-anybody-who-knows-me fact, I let myself be swept up by FOMO (fear of missing out) and some fairly decent bling (I am a sucker for handmade awards) and talked into running the Ice Cube Half Marathon in Mt. Pleasant, MI. I know you are probably saying, “Yeah, I heard of that race. Wasn’t that a couple of weeks ago?” The answer is that yes it definitely was, but my fingers have just now sufficiently thawed out to be able to type this race report. Seriously, it was that bad.
Let me clarify just a bit. The race itself was not that bad, at least in theory. It has many things going for it. It is a small race, put on by an enthusiastic and committed race director. (If I am not mistaken, he actually makes all the awards himself!) It has a good course, not much traffic, some dirt roads, rolling hills. It has community support (post-race party in a pub, and free bagels and coffee post-race. There really is a lot to love. Except the weather.
The race is part of the Winter Warrior series. These are three races on the same course, one in January (Snowman), one in February (Ice Cube), and one in March (Mud Dog). I had been planning to do all three, but a tooth extraction made me miss the Snowman, but I let my friend Ruth talk me into the Ice Cube. Now keep in mind that I had not run outside probably since my last race. Okay, maybe I did once, but only because the temps got up to the 40s. I prefer to train in winter in the comfort of my basement where it is always a comfortable 68 degrees. I was in no way prepared for 13.1 miles of 19 degree temperatures and icy wind.
Race day came and things were looking good. I drove up to pick up Ruth and Sharon, traveling companions from the Kentucky Cross CountryChampionships, and a new friend Steve. The weather was in the mid-twenties and not too bad. We were optimistic. We headed north. It got colder. The temp on my dashboard was dipping down to 20, but I had lots of layers. No worries.
We got to the race a little early so decided to drive the course to check for ice. The pavement was dry and clear; things were looking good. Then we turned on to the dirt section of the course. There was a little ice… it didn’t look too bad really. Did it? We drove a little farther: ice, lots more ice. We stopped and Ruth put a tentative foot out of the car. Hmmmm. But it would be okay, right? I mean there were some spots that looked clear where the car tracks were.
Sharon, by far the most sensible of all of us, decided that she was not going to risk it. She decided to step down to the 5k, which was all on the pavement and didn’t venture out onto the icy dirt. Steve, Ruth, and I decided to stick it out in the half. Ruth and I both really wanted a long run. I don’t know Steve well enough to know his thought process, but he was a veteran of the race and just smiled and said he was in too.
The start was just the kind of small race affair that I love, very informal. There was a pretty good crowd because there was a 5k and 10k, as well as the half, all starting together. I figured that the half field would not be too big, as I was sure that most people had enough sense to go the shorter distance. We were off, and I started off comfortably at the pace I had planned.
I had looked at the race results from previous years, as well as the results from the Snowman this year. It looked like if I ran this just slightly faster than my normal long run training pace, I could be in the awards. That pace would have won my age group in any of the previous races. I was a little worried that there seemed to be a lot of people in front of me, including many women. I had looked at the results, and there really should have not been that many women out ahead of me. I decided that they must be in the 5k or 10k and would probably be heading back soon. I was surprised when we hit the 5k turnaround not to see more people branching off.
We turned off the pavement onto the
dirt ice road,
and headed toward the 10k turnaround. I was still feeling okay. I had settled
into pace and was holding steady, but slowed some because of the footing. It
was icier than it had looked in the car. In fact, by about a mile into this
section of the course, we started hitting sections where the road was all ice,
except for maybe an eight to ten inch wide section. Sometimes this was on both
sides of the road; other times, it was one narrow strip. We were spread out
pretty good, and I was not in a position to pass anyone, but the running took
100% concentration for each footfall. I
had on my screw shoes, and I was not having problems slipping. They were biting really well, but I was
haunted by stories of runners taking nasty falls lately on the ice. Caution was
the order of the day.
As we passed the 10k turnaround, again I did not see that many runners turn around. It seems that most had chosen the half. There were still a lot of women ahead of me, and I got passed by a few. The course is kind of T-shaped, and as we made the turn-around at the left end of the T and started back, I started to be cold. I felt it in my face and legs first. My lips were numb, especially my upper lip from the frozen snot. My legs were feeling like I was running through syrup. I think that being all tensed up from running carefully on the ice, combined with the cold wind, and the fact that I definitely was not cold acclimated (yes, you acclimate to that just like you do heat) was just too much of a shock for my legs. I was cheered up a bit as I met Ruth and Steve after the turnaround, but that was short lived.
We made it out to the second turnaround part of the T. I was slowing some but still maintaining a satisfactory overall pace. It was really icy here. There was just one narrow strip in many spots, which made it kind of dodgy as the two-way traffic fought for position. There was a little relief from the wind, but when we made the turn to go down the straight part of the T the wind picked up. That is when the weird stuff started. I started to feel a little dizzy. As I was processing that, I realized I could not blink my eyes. I figured they were numb from the cold. “Can your eyeballs freeze?” I wondered. I would have asked a fellow runner, but I knew that if my eyes weren’t working, there was no way my lips were going to get that out.
I kept going. It was around mile 10.5 I think, and there was really no other alternative. I knew if I stopped, I would be even colder. Plus, the important thing at that moment seemed to be to get back to the finish, get my coupon for a free bagel and coffee, and get in as much as steaming hot coffee as I could hold. That is when things got worse. Suddenly my vision was blurry. I wanted to wipe my eyes with my glove. That is when I found that my gloves were frozen. They were those mitten-over-glove things, and I had spilled water on them at the last aid station. The mittens were frozen closed.
Now, besides the blurriness, I had little shapes, mostly triangles, sliding across my vision. I did not know what to do, so I kept running. I kind of felt if I could just get to the pavement, I would be fine. I could speed up and get this over with quicker. We made the turn onto the pavement. It changed the wind, or the wind died down, or something. I realized that I had blinked, and my vision was starting to clear.
I felt better about that, but my legs were screaming by then. This was the longest I had run since my last ultra, back in October. I so just wanted this whole thing to be over with. It felt like the last mile of the marathon from
hell Antarctica (my personal version of hell) to me.
Finally, I stumbled across the line. I was feeling kind of disoriented, but knew that the key thing was to get the ticket for the bagel and coffee and get to the bagel shop to warm up before the post run chill set in. I grabbed my medal and the chit, and headed for the warm bagel shop. I did not pay much attention to my time, but did notice that my pace had dropped to an 8:52 overall, which I was still happy with, as that was the training pace that I would normally be running these longs at right now.
Once inside I got in line. It was warm. My face started to thaw out. The line was long. My fingers and toes started to thaw a little. Then I started to feel funny, maybe a little dizzy again. Yikes! It will be okay, I thought. I just need coffee and a muffin. There was no way I was getting out of that line. We moved a little. I started to feel kind of nauseous. I am two people from the front. “Come on,” I thought. “How long does it take to order your damn coffee?” In retrospect, besides the nausea and dizziness, I may have been a bit cranky.
Finally I got to the front of the line and ordered. I was soooo nauseous by this time. I knew I had to get out of the line. I said to the girl, who had decided at that moment to do something to rearrange her cash drawer, “How much longer do you think this is going to take because I think I am going to be sick.” She took a quick look at my face, shoved the coffee cup and change into my hand, and I sprinted off to the ladies’ room, which was mercifully empty. After a few minutes of being sick, I felt better but was starting to get chilled. Back out I went for the hot coffee. It was ambrosia.
I looked around the coffee shop for Sharon. She wasn’t there so I headed back to the car. She was there and had run a great race. Soon Ruth and Steve came back, both as chipper as could be. It seemed that I was the only one of our group who had suffered. We went inside for the awards. I was sure I had not won my age group, but I was hoping it had been good enough for 2nd. I really wanted one of those little Ice Cube figurines. Unfortunately it was not meant to be. Some speedy 50+ women from cold places like Marquette were in the race. I ended up with third, and no Ice Cube (I am still pouting over that). Of course, Ruth and Sharon both picked up 1st in their age division. I run around with some fast women. J
I would like to say that I recovered quickly from the race, but that would not be true. In fact, it was several days before I even wanted to try running. It has been two weeks, and my legs still don’t feel quite right. As much as I want one of the cute little Snowmen or Ice Cube awards, I am not sure if I will go back. Okay, maybe I will -- but only for a 5k or 10k.