I’ll be the first to tell you I like running in the cold. Give me 25 degrees over 85 degrees any day of the week. At least for running. I always say there is drinking margs outside weather and running weather, and those two types of weather are not the same.
However. Running in single digits, with a wind chill in the negative teens, is just a little too cold even for me.
The beyond frigid temps didn’t stop me on Christmas Eve, though, when I ran the coldest race of my life in Pittsburgh (Allison Park, to be specific. It’s like it was meant to be!)
It was one of my slowest 5Ks in quite a while, but the entire course was covered in snow and the temperature was 3 degrees when I finished. So I was more than fine with that. My time of 23:51 got me 2nd place female and I won a sweet campfire mug!
And I drank out of it all day at my grandma’s Christmas Eve party!
Why a Christmas Eve race?
With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday this year, it dawned on me that just maybe there would be a local race happening. We were planning to travel to Pittsburgh for the holiday, so I started looking around to see what was going on. And sure enough, the week before Christmas, I found a 5K scheduled to take place in North Park in the suburb of Allison Park, about 15 minutes from my sister’s house.
The weather didn’t look great. Meteorologists were calling for much of the country to be in a deep freeze, and at the time, the predicted race day temperature was 10 or 11 degrees. Brrr. I decided to sign up anyway.
As Christmas weekend drew closer, the forecast got more and more brutal. The predicted high dropped to 6 degrees. Then 5 degrees. The wind chill looked like it was going to be positively cruel. My mom said the race would probably get canceled, and I thought it might as well. On Dec. 21, the race directors sent out an email saying they would still hold a live race, but also offered participants the option to run the race virtually any time the week after Christmas, once the weather warmed up. But I was committed to running the live race if it was going to happen. First, I’d already paid for a live race. Second, I ran enough virtual races during 2020. I’m over them! I kept checking social media and my email, expecting the race to get canceled anyway, but as of Dec. 23, it was still on.
On Christmas Eve morning, I woke up and it was 0 degrees. I think the wind chill was around -15 (it got all the way down to -35 the night before!) I put on two pairs of running tights, two pairs of socks with toe warmers, two shirts, my Boston 2019 jacket, a running vest, two pairs of gloves with Hot Hands hand warmers, a hat, and a ski mask. I wasn’t going to wear sunglasses, but Micah was concerned about my eye protection and convinced me to wear his. He and my brother-in-law Justin drove me to North Park, where they waited in the warm car while I did my thing. Packet pickup was inside the North Park Boat House, and there was some drama going on with a fire alarm going off in the men’s bathroom and frozen water all over the steps – a few people slid and fell. But I was happy to have an actual bathroom to use before the race, rather than a port-a-potty!
After getting my bib and race shirt, I did a quick warmup (LOL, “warmup”) outside. I realized quickly that the sunglasses were going to fog up, and that the Alpha Flys were a poor choice. There were several inches of snow on the ground and I stupidly assumed – you know what they say about assuming – that the roads would be clear. Oh well.
More than 800 people had signed up for the race, and only a little over a hundred showed up for it in person. We were the crazy ones! The race kicked off right at 10 am when the temperature had risen to a balmy 2 degrees. Honestly, though, I never felt cold and the race was in an area that was wooded enough that the trees were blocking most of the wind. But two things made this race really difficult almost immediately. 1. The damn ski mask. I’ve run in it before on cold days, though it’s been a while and I’ve never worn it during a race when I’m trying to run at race pace. It was hard to breathe in this thing. And then there was the issue of the sunglasses fogging up! 2. The snow-covered roads. It was really hard to get a momentum going and again, the Alpha Flys were just not it. I knew within the first mile it was going to be a struggle and my whole goal was just to finish in one piece.
The course wasn’t very hilly, especially considering we were in western PA, but we did go up and down one long stretch of road in the second mile, with a turnaround right at the 1.5 mile mark. That’s when I slipped and fell on the snow. At least the snow made the surface feel a little softer, and I wasn’t hurt at all. I got back up and kept going.
At around mile 2.5, I stopped to walk for a few seconds. Yes, in a 5K. It happens! A man who was running near me asked if I was OK and I assured him I was fine, just having a hard time breathing in the mask. I actually ended up finishing before him!
When I stopped my watch after crossing the finish line, I saw I had just barely cleared 24 minutes. More than 3 minutes slower than my last 5K, the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, and more than 4 minutes off my PR, just set last October. But as I said, I was on the struggle bus immediately and just wanted to finish.
I had read online that there was going to be an awards ceremony for overall winners and age group winners at 11 am, but when I went inside the volunteers told me they weren’t having it due to the weather and people wanting to get to their Christmas celebrations. One of them told me he was pretty sure I had at least won an age group award and to feel free to take a mug – so I did. I was happy to see later that I had placed second!
My dad wasn’t happy at all that I did the race and told me later he was very concerned about my skin being exposed. But I felt that I dressed appropriately and was safe. Do I want to run in these conditions again? Not particularly. And I probably won’t. This sure made for a good story, though!