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So, I want to run high mileage this winter.


AND THEN… on November 2nd, the sun finally deigned to grace downtown Juneau.

After 31 days of persistent precipitation, puddles large enough to kayak across, and clouds that settle so low over the mountains one begins to feel like a steamed vegetable, finally seeing the sun lights me up with an irrepressible urge to sprint around grinning and pumping my hands in the air because it feels like I just set a world record in every event in the Olympics and simultaneously we have achieved world peace and somebody discovered the cure for cancer and everyone in town is skipping and cartwheeling through the streets and the bald eagles are soaring around singing songs from musicals and the whales are high-fiving one another mid-breach. 

Sun, friends. It’s a miracle.

And then, this morning?

It snowed. And I slipped and fell so hard on my run that I earned a notably bloody knee and bruised hip. I spent five seconds blinking away the sudden shock of being horizontal — face inches from the dull bluish tinge of my headlamp’s light on the freshly plowed street — and then another minute dragging myself to my feet and sucking air sharply in through my teeth as the pain ebbed away.

No lasting damage occurred, but the incident’s relevance is this: I recently suffered a fit of utter delusion that led me to register for a January marathon, momentarily oblivious to the ugly reality that this would necessitate training for a January marathon.

What caused this momentary paroxysm of foolishness?

Well, September and October were great running months for me, with mileage weeks of 63, 72, 87, 88, 71, 71, 77, and 90. In the past, I’ve had a few higher weeks like those, but never such a consistent string of miles above 70 on only five (sometimes six) days of running.

There was no objective behind all this running aside from genuine joy, desire, and luck in that I managed to stay healthy. In fact, I was feeling so strong and loving it so much that it felt wasteful not to have a winter marathon to look forward to. It would have been perfect to run one in early December, but as I’m currently balancing three part-time jobs in order to afford living here, that option definitely wasn’t going to fit with my work schedule. And flying anywhere to or from Alaska during the holiday season would have caused an even more massive bank account hemorrhage than usual, so I decided to wait.

But back to this morning. As I sit typing with my throbbing knee and violet-colored hip, I’m remembering just how much of a fight it is to string together a productive week of running in wintery circumstances. I’m remembering why I usually use winter to cut back on running and crosstrain more. I’m remembering why there have been ice studs and yaktrax collecting dust forlornly on a shelf all spring, summer and fall. And I’m remembering last February when I headed out for a run in the snow, slipped, tore my calf muscle, and whined relentlessly on the stationary bike for two months.

For me, September and October offered an excellent running environment. Sure, it rained every day, and sure, it was dark every morning I ran, but neither of those things presents any true obstacle to putting in miles and gaining endurance. You invest in a headlamp and then you get out there and suck it up.

Now, things have changed. Juneau is entering it’s cycle of snow-rain-ice for the next few months, which means the roads will morph into knee-ripping, hip-bruising, calf-tearing asphalt slip’n’slides with wipeout potential looming at every curb and corner.

For me, those are treadmill conditions. It may be wimpy, but I’ve come to recognize that I will not accomplish much worthwhile running outside on ice. Yes, I would rather be outdoors, but the uncertainty of icy roads is insurmountably frustrating to me on any day I’m trying to have a decently fast run: Should I wear the ice spikes or the yaktrax? Will I have to take them off or put them on halfway through the run if the conditions change? Will I have to map out a route that doesn’t go over the bridge today? Will the sidewalks be too difficult to manage due to snow piled up from plows? 

Make no mistake, I do fine with cold, snow, and winter in general. I wouldn’t choose to live here if I didn’t. But I see no convenient avenue for accomplishing quality higher mileage in Juneau this winter without a treadmill, so I’m steeling myself against the imminent test of staring at my face bobbing up and down in the gym mirror for 12-15 miles at a time, fussing with the incline and speed, trying not to count every tenth of a mile, and listening to the same playlists over and over again. I’ll still be pulling out the ice studs and yaktrax on days that it makes sense to do so, but I’ll probably have at least a few treadmill runs per week.

I think this will be worth it. I’m curious about what I can accomplish in a marathon if I keep my miles up consistently. I’d absolutely like to break 3:20, and if I stay injury-free this winter, maybe I can even reach for more.

Then again? Running through the winter in cold, snowy, icy places becomes a matter of managing one’s expectations. I don’t want to turn into a pansy just because the road conditions have become more challenging, but I also don’t want to commit myself to a course of action that will only injure and/or frustrate me.

Here’s what bums me out about the winter running situation: Over the past year, I’ve become a very “zen” type runner. On any given run, I don’t pay much attention to my pace or exact miles. I don’t follow training plans. I don’t do any kind of structured speed work and wouldn’t even consider stepping foot on a track. I run faster or slower whenever I want and as long or short as I feel like it that day. Yeah, it has probably made me darn slow for a 5K, but it has also been a study in truly listening to my body. (Speaking of which, here’s where I make the obligatory plug for Eat Drink and Run’s Your Body Called: Part 1 and Part 2. Too true and too good not to share.) For me, it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to listen to my body in the winter, when every run involves last-minute planning and adapting around weather conditions. It’s also harder to listen to my body when I’ve committed to a treadmill run that day and suddenly paces and numbers are staring me rudely in the face, taunting me to go faster even on a day that might have been better suited for taking it easy.

This week will probably end with mileage in the high 60s. I backed off the miles to see if it might freshen my legs up for an 8K race tomorrow. I was hoping to PR, but with the snow and ice, I’m yet again readjusting my expectations in anticipation of a slower run. My new goal might simply be to remain upright and avoid shredding my other leg.

Lastly, I keep accidentally typing mileage as “mileagle.” LOL.

Oops, another long, disorganized and incoherent post from me. Oh well.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/04/2011 17:45

    I love to hear how your running’s been, that sounds absolutely heavenly. Running because you love it with no restrictions.

    I think you’re smart going for a January race, despite your upcoming TM involvement. Here you’ve developed this kick-ass base and while it would be natural to let that slide due to the winter, the race gives you a built-in reason to keep it up. Then, if you can just get through the second half of winter, you will KILL in Spring races. That’s my plan anyway. 🙂 And your weather makes mine a lot harder to complain about.

    Good luck with the 8k!

    • 11/05/2011 13:56

      Thanks! Yes, I am hoping for a kick-ass base, and it’ll all be a matter of avoiding injury.

      AND SECRET SPILLING TIME: if you live anywhere in the northeast, my winter weather is probably not much worse (or better) than yours. Little known fact: southeast Alaska is pretty mild. I get all the benefits of Alaska: northern lights, fantastic scenery, wildlife, mountains, a more “off the grid” feeling than the rest of the U.S. … but my daylight and weather situation never gets as extreme as it does up north and in the interior.

  2. 11/05/2011 02:54

    Yes, good point from Flo about being able to kick on to the Spring races off the marathon-inspired base.

    Running on a treadmill can be Zen in a way, once you block out the crawling tenths of miles (and tenths of kilometres go just as slowly!). Just don’t try and race the bloody thing — set it at a reasonable pace and tune out. Makes sense to mix indoor and out runs during those winters. But what would I know? I live in the sunniest capital in Australia :o)

    • 11/05/2011 13:59

      I am all about covering the screen up with a towel. I can’t take the numbers staring at me. And I agree, I think it’s completely possible to get into a groove or a “happy place” on a treadmill. It’s not as nice as being outside on a perfect sunny day, but it’s a hell of a lot nicer than battling a nasty headwind in your face and ice at your feet.

  3. 11/05/2011 02:57

    Forgot… I read in a magazine article once that Ingrid Kristiansen did all her winter running on a treadmill. But she also did cross-country skiing…

    • 11/05/2011 14:00

      If we get a good snowy winter here (it varies year to year), I really want to get out on xc skis more. I can also borrow snowshoes from work. I really have no excuse not to get outside on those things.

  4. 11/05/2011 05:53

    I think I now, finally, understand how it is that Chris Clark was able to train for the Olympic Trials completely on a treadmill. I’d always seen “but she’s from Alaska!” as the reason and never actually understood it.

    Good luck.

    • 11/05/2011 14:05

      I’m not sure if you’ll even read this response (does anyone come back to read followup comments? Mehh, I dunno) — anyway, here’s the secret:

      Southeast Alaska, where I live, has a nice mild maritime climate. I get all the benefits of Alaska: northern lights, fantastic scenery, wildlife, mountains, a more “off the grid” feeling than the rest of the U.S. … but my daylight and weather situation is nowhere near as intense as it is in Fairbanks, Barrow, etc. As a point of comparison, my winter weather conditions are probably no worse than those experienced in most areas of the northeast — in fact, having lived in central New York for four years, I can tell you those winters were far tougher to get through.

      • 11/07/2011 02:25

        I come back! I come back! It usually takes me a few days, but I come back!

        I’ve heard that Alaska can be pleasant. I remember learning geography in middle school and being STUNNED that Juneau could get to 80 degrees.

        BUT – you have bears. Bears! That trumps everything.

  5. 11/05/2011 07:44

    i have totally been rocking the “fast or slow as i feel like, however far i feel like” thing and loving it…although i am in awe of your mileage. did you do doubles to fit in that kind of miles, or no? i’m already thinking ahead to what i want to max out at during boston training and i’m thinking of trying to go a little higher but i have no idea how.
    i’m excited to see what you can do in a winter marathon, TM or no…with that kind of miles and how fast you ran that half something tells me you will destroy it.
    oh, AND (longest comment ever)…i loved your comment on CNC asking how many miles she ran a week during her ‘squishy’ marathon training. nicely done. 🙂

    • 11/05/2011 14:13

      I did have two or three doubles in there somewhere, but most of it was in singles. I like doing my one run and then just being done and lazy the rest of the day. I am not against the idea of doing doubles to grab more volume, though, and will definitely call upon them if I feel like it or become run down trying to get it all done in one shot. Seems like the overall volume is more important than trying to cram it all into singles anyway… but what do I know?

      Squishy! Argh. Man, I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

  6. 11/07/2011 05:22

    Sorry to hear about your fall; but you know what –mileagle — you can fly thousands of miles on the dreaded treadmill and get in the run; it may not be as beautiful and glorious as outside, but it’s a tad safer — just keep the incline up and down — safe guard your shins! Bust it out in January! P.S. I enjoy your writings!

    • 11/11/2011 05:57

      That’s the tough part of the treadmill for me — changing the incline. It’s nice how you never have to bother with that outside… it does it automatically 🙂

  7. 11/07/2011 16:30

    Did you say which race in January? As a change-up from the treadmill you should try snowshoe running. I may actually attempt a snowshoe race this year – my pace is slow but my heartrate is high.

    • 11/11/2011 06:02

      No, I didn’t say. I am running the first ever Louisiana Marathon (!)… I’m going to be traveling there anyway at that time, and I like the idea of supporting a new, smaller race.

      Are there certain types of snowshoes that are meant for running? I’ve tried to run in some random ones before, and man, it is not easy. They’re the kind that flip up/down/back as you walk… it was exhausting. Are they all like that? Yeah, one thing’s for sure, my heartrate certainly wouldn’t be low!

  8. 11/14/2011 15:03

    I’m WAY late on this, but that is a NICE string of running for the last couple months! impressive! one thought (because I also hate treadmilling) is, does juneau have a college campus? because that was the one place where the sidewalks reliably got shoveled- or maybe they have an indoor track that’s not too expensive to get a pass for?

    • 11/14/2011 16:00

      Those are good thoughts.

      There is a <150m indoor track and a teeny tiny college campus, but getting to either of those places ends up taking far more time and trouble than it's worth! The wonderful thing about the treadmill/my gym is that I don't need to depend on the bus in order to get there.

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