Let me start this post off by giving a big Thank You! to the volunteers who braved the cold today! Awesome job folks!
I signed up for this race at the last minute (like 4 days before race day) to basically kick my butt and get me pushing the training again. It helped that the race starts a couple miles from my house and runs on trails that I have run on several times before. The race takes place every year at the Fort Whyte Alive! Nature Center here in Winnipeg but it was my first time giving it a try.
What didn’t help was that the weather forecast kept dropping the temperatures lower and lower for race day.
In the end it was -45 when I finished up layering on my gear and heading out to my vehicle. I was scheduled in the 2nd of 2 waves and was supposed to start at 8:45 am. Kind of a different start time for me but it meant that the sun was up and I could also watch the Disney World Princess Half Marathon tweets rolling in. Was feeling very envious there (I bet it was much warmer).
The race name of the Hypothermic Half is there a for a bit of chuckle but with the temps the way they were frost bite was a legitimate concern that needed to be watched for!
Gear consisted of 2 pairs of socks, calf sleeves, 2 pairs of thermal leggings, thermal running underwear, thermal running undershirt, long sleeve technical shirt, arm sleeves, Nike Elements winter running jacket with hood, balaclava and 2 pairs of gloves. Plus my Hoka Cliftons. Lots of clothes!
Had about a 6-7 minute walk from my parking spot to the Fort Whyte Nature Center main building, in that short walk I was starting to feel the weather biting already. Not too bad though, so I felt fairly confident that once I got running I would be comfortable…at least mostly.
Once in the building I found the highest concentration of crazy in Winnipeg for the day – lots of runners there and ready to go!
About 10-15 minutes before the race they went over an email / facebook post they had made the night before (that I apparently missed or did not get) talking about course changes they were making due to the extreme temperatures. Basically instead of an outward run with a loop before returning along the same path they would switch to a there and back partial loop that didn’t require crossing any large roads and more importantly would not require crossing a set of train tracks. Can’t imagine getting good and warmed up on the run and then having to stand in the cold for 5 minutes waiting for the train to cross – would have been hell and potentially dangerous as well, which I am sure played into their decision to change the course.
So instead, the lap they marked out would be about 4.6 miles long and anyone completing even one lap would get a time and the medal – safety first! But if you wanted to continue on, 3 laps would get you over the half marathon mark (for a total of 13.8 miles).
That would certainly take some of the pressure off for someone getting beat up by the cold due to gear issues! At this point not finishing the race would not be about not having the endurance, it would be about avoiding losing limbs and appendages.
And then it was time to go back outside and things started to get real.
Line up and off we go! And things are good for about the first mile before we head out of the tree lined trails and out into the open…and I really start to feel the wind biting my thighs, even through 2 layers of thermal leg gear…this could be a long run…
We keep passing runners and walkers from the first wave still out pushing through the cold – awesome! That helped keep me motivated even through the biting cold.
About 2 miles in my Garmin starts chirping about a low battery? It was fully charged before the race…so it doesn’t like the cold either, apparently.
The Garmin settles out and starts acting normally about 20 minutes later and seems to be ok – I finish the first lap at around the 39 minute mark. I do have some confusion with the turn around to go back out for the second lap…so I end up crossing the finish line (hopefully that doesn’t count as my official time – edit: unfortunately it did) before getting righted and heading back out on the trail.
The second lap is a bugger with the wind really biting my upper thighs and face. At this point the liquid I brought with me is frozen solid and things like my balaclava are rigid and I can’t adjust them anymore. Things are very real at this point and I have to start watching to make sure the pain in my legs doesn’t slip to numbness – which would be a real sign that things have gone bad and I would have to withdraw to avoid damage. The frozen drink pretty much also means I am doing the rest of this race without fuel.
At about an hour in my Garmin up and called it. I was over 6.7 miles at that point and still had energy but was very concerned about my legs. I decided at about the 3 mile marker of the 2nd lap (7.6 miles in) that I was going to have to call it when I got the lap done.
But as I continued running into the sun with the wind at my back, I actually started to get faster and started passing a few runners that had passed me earlier in the lap. And I started to feel pretty good, obviously the cold was impacting my brain at this point. That and the sun on my black thermal running pants warmed my legs up pretty decently.
When I finished the 2nd lap, I decided I had to try and continue – I was feeling strong and the cold bite on my legs had faded (and not into numbness luckily). So the journey of crazy continues…9.2 miles down
Either the temps had come up a little or the wind wasn’t quite as bad through this lap as I didn’t start to feel the pain in my thighs again. They were definitely cold but they weren’t starting to scream – so that was nice (taking the positives wherever I can find them at this point).
Kept pushing pretty decently on the last lap and managed to stay pretty focused. I did take a couple 30 second walk breaks around the 12 and 12.5 mile points to recover some energy.
I apparently missed the 4 mile marker on the last lap (would have been 13.2 miles total) – I kept looking for it (I know it was there because I saw it on the other 2 laps) but I obviously was past it before I started looking. So I was starting to get concerned I was going to fall apart because once I hit that marker I probably still had about 6 minutes of running to go and I wasn’t sure what I had left considering I hadn’t fueled or taken in liquids the whole race. (They had water at the turn around point but the idea of water that cold was not a pleasant thought at that point)
But, yay! The finish line! I survived and kept all limbs and bits!!
Got the very cool medal, snapped a quick selfie and went in to grab something to eat at the included brunch. (dig the frost on the eyelashes!)
The brunch was pretty good (yay protein!! Not just carbs) but I realized fairly quickly that I should have given it a miss and kept walking out to my vehicle instead of stopping.
Once I stopped and had a chance for my gear to unfreeze, I noticed I was soaked and things like my balaclava and gloves couldn’t be worn outside again because they would start to freeze immediately against my skin.
So the walk (and run because holy crap it was cold and walking took too long) out to my vehicle was pretty awful – I was shivering and shaking by the time I got in the vehicle to the point that I had to wait for a few minutes under a blanket until I felt steady enough to drive!
But I got home ok and I survived with no permanent damage done…and did more than a standard 13.1 mile half marathon in the end as well.
I would say I am glad I did the race…or that I am glad that I had the perseverance and the drive to finish what I started…but I can’t imagine doing that again in that kind of cold.
Kudos to the folks at the Running Room and the Fort Whyte Alive! Nature Center for a well organized race and again a big thank you to the volunteers stuck standing out in the cold to keep the crazies safe!
Not sure how it took in the end to do the 13.8 miles but based on the time of my finish line selfy and the scheduled start time, I must have been right around 2:10 if we started on time. I might not get a good official time in the end either because of confusion and crossing the finish line after the first lap. But I would say I was pretty close to 2 hours for the actual half marathon distance – which considering the weather, the lack of fuel and the many extra layers of gear is not too bad.
I’ll take it!