Monday, March 17, 2014

My Long Runs and Polar Vortex!

All of a sudden I was maneuvering acrobatic moves and sliding and eventually found my balance and a clear spot to land my foot without falling and kept running. My running buddies behind me said that was a close one! They asked if I was okay, and I said “yep”! And we kept going. 

It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp, icy and cold day for our Sunday long run.  I was feeling great and loved seeing a lot of people running, smiling, and saying good morning. The run had started pretty well with the four of us and our pace was anywhere between 5 to 5:30. Heading west and then south the wind was behind us which helped a lot that morning (Wind Chill of -23). We were to complete 26K.

January 2014 - London Ontario Canada

Around 12K I started feeling a bit tired and I remembered the same had happened last week and it was short-lived and I was back at it full force. I made a mental note and kept pushing through telling myself just get through the next couple of kilometers and I’ll be fine. I told the other two to go ahead as I planned to run a bit slower. I waited for the fourth person to join me and I told her that I didn’t feel 100%. So, I took easy.  She said she also was not feeling it today and her goal was just to finish the run.

At this point we were heading north and the wind just slapping my face and the wet running gear touching me felt extremely cold. At some point the two ahead of us took off, I’m in the middle and I kept glancing back to make sure she’s not too far behind.  As we started heading east the wind and cold became nasty and I just kept telling myself that I can get through this, but my body had slowed down so much.

Far away I saw Devin, another team member, who is really fast! He yelled at me, “come on, Mahnaz, you can do it”! I was happy to see him. I told myself, as long as I have him in my view I can keep going. He stopped to fix his laces and I got to him and it was only then when I started talking to him that I realized my face was frozen and I was so slow to talk to him. I told him I think maybe I did too much yesterday and that’s why I’m so slow. He started talking to me about not giving up and ….can’t remember what he was saying…

I started running again but it wasn’t running. I was simply dragging one leg in front of the other. I told myself I’m going to get the bathroom (thankfully the city opened them up last week!) and get warmed up.  I started stumbling and could not keep moving on a straight line. I was dizzy. I was cold. I started feeling numb in my hands with sharp needle-like pain in my finger nails. Devin caught up with me and said “Are you OK?” I said yes. Just keep going I’m going to the bathroom. This was my first mistake. I did not want to hold him back. I did not want to be an obstacle to his run. But I should have told him I need help. 

As I’m going to the bathroom I see the fourth person from our team and told her that I ‘m going to the bathroom, so she knew where I was. She said “Do you need help?” Again, I said no, I’m good. I thought I can do this. I go to the bathroom and hardly can do anything with my frozen hands and dizzy head. I sat on the floor, closed my eyes and slowly took off my gloves (double gloves! since my near frost bite incident a few weeks ago). I don’t know how long I stayed there. But I headed out determined to get the run done and get over this extreme cold.

As soon as I stepped out, the cold wind swept through me and I realized how weak I was and I couldn’t handle it. But I kept running thinking I should always have my house key in my pocket. I could have gone home now. Then I would tell myself don’t be so weak, snap out it. Be strong and just keep going. But I could not run - I was dragging myself. I decided to exit the park and head to the street thinking I can get to my ex’s place and ask him for a ride to the Running Room where I have left my wallet, and cell phone in a secure place! I started walking towards his place but my body was shutting down very quickly. I felt scared, stressed out, and hopeless that I’m not going to make it to his place. I only managed to complete 18.5K.

I see a police car and I wave at him; he stops for me and rolls his window down. I try to tell him I need help but my words are not complete and my mouth is opening and closing just like someone who has a speech impediment. He looks at me and says “Excuse me what did you say”. And I try my hardest again to tell him that I’m a runner and I’m freezing and need help. I manage to tell him I need to get back to the Running Room. He says he’s on call and starts talking on his radio. I ask him to call a cab for me. He does and then asks me “Are you OK?” Stupid me I say yes, Instead of saying NO. Take me with you somewhere warm now. He leaves and I drag my body again across street and wait for the cab. It seemed like a very long time before the cabby showed up. Every car that passes by gives me a look. They see tears running down my face, with my hands tucked under my arm, and obviously distressed to the max but they just keep driving. I never knew how lonely and isolated someone could feel right in the heart of the city.

The taxi shows up and I wave to him yelling and crying with my slurry speech saying  “Yooooour Lattttttttte” and I repeat myself crying saying you’re late. I sit in the back seat and cry just like a child into my hands and the poor driver is freaking out saying so sorry…so sorry…OK…I wait….I only take a breath to say head downtown towards Richmond as I don’t see myself capable of talking. I cry and he gives me tissue. He puts his heater on high. And I just want to cry and I’m shivering.  I try to stop crying and compose myself but each little conversation with him ends up with me crying.

Finally we get to the Running Room. As I go in to get my stuff, Devin says “Mahnaz, you made it” and I say “No. Not really. I cabbed again”. Eric comes to help me with my bag and he walks me to the cab, I pay him and go back in. Eric is one of the Running Room instructors. He asks me to sit and grabs me a cup of water and a Cliff Bar which I have to say was very delicious. He starts warming up my hands one by one. John Paul, the manager who runs with our group just gets in and starts rubbing my shoulder. Karen our group leader gets in and says I know it was way too cold and hugs me. Some other runners come in and they all express their feelings about the run and how cold it was.What nobody knows is what I have been through just now. Well, I’m always cold but today was different. My body shivers intermittently, and I don’t see a point staying in my wet clothes and I don’t see myself fit to go to my usual yoga class. Karen gives me her dry mittens which helps a lot. I thank them and leave. I was grateful for their love and support.. 

I start my car, teeth start chattering. I have never had that experience before.  My only thoughts were to get home as soon as possible. I got home, removed the cold, wet clothes. Fixed myself my fav breakfast (oat meal with raisin and walnuts) and tea, and crawled into my bed with my hot water bottle. I cried a good cry and decided that I hate running in sub zero temperatures and I won’t be doing any Sunday long runs as long as the temperature is like this.

Then, of course being really frustrated with the long, bitter cold winter I tweeted about my experience:

Immediately I had replies of support and encouragement from #TYS10K, my digital running buddies which were very comforting. 

I also noticed on my timeline tweets like "Running is tough guys...." showing Mo Farah falling! or "Mo Farah collapses after finishing second in New York half-marathon".

I noticed a lot of elite runners expressing how bitter cold the day has been. It made me feel a bit better about my experience as I was judging myself for being too weak. Then I tweeted this: 

I always need to reflect on my day and analyze what has happened. I started searching hypothermia online   and if some people are more susceptible to it than others. I've been in Canada for 25 years and I have adapted to the Canadian winter. My body has not adapted for the combination of Polar Vortex and long runs. 

January 22, 2014 ; -23 degree ; 6K run

What I have learned from this experience that can help someone else too:

*Have Your IBC: Id, bus ticket (cash/passes/...), Cell: I have my phone, id, & a bus ticket with me when I’m running by myself. From now on, I will do the same during group runs as I may wander off confused by myself and needing to get home asap!

*Ask for Help: I had several opportunities to ask for help but did not. I have been on my own so long that asking for help is not second nature to me. I always think of others before me. But I need to learn to ask for help when I’m in trouble right away. I should not be embarrassed by my own vulnerability.

*Be Honest and share your temporary defeats and triumphs: I have been running since 2008 casually, but started running seriously since July 2013. I have been educating myself and learning more about the sport through research, books, and following runners, coaches and exports on Twitter. This is my first Canadian winter running and the Polar Vortex has not helped a rookie like me. I’ve learned about proper winter gear (but I’m always cold regardless!), proper hydration, proper diet for runners, and done my best to stay strong and encouraged to get through the difficult training. If you are new to the sport of running, don’t hesitate to ask questions and share your moments of defeat and triumph online with others as you not only teach others about your experience but also receive lots of support that you need to carry you further.  

*Don’t Do Drugs and Run: Well, certain drugs in extreme cold weather!  Google can provide you lots of info about hypothermia.  Reading about it from WebMD, I came across something and that immediately shed light on why my day had swirled into the chaos that it did. That morning I had taken one 400mg Ibuprofen for some aches and pains. And guess what? Ibuprofen can increase risk of hypothermia.  I had done everything right and the same as every week before, but today I had taken a pill. I certainly won’t be repeating the same mistake twice.

*Know Your Body and accept that you are different:  YIN/YANG – I’m strong and weak. I know my body can handle minus 30s for short runs up to 7K. I have learned my body does do well for long runs of minus 30s. I love the beauty in nature and the stillness of everything amidst the quiet, cold winter days. But I absolutely cannot stand long winter months. What gets me through it is my imagination and love of palm trees and warm tropical temperatures. But every day I put that gear on knowing my weaknesses and strengths and keep moving forward.

If you are a single runner, adventurer, 40 plus, living in a tropical island and looking for a partner look me up! NOT KIDDING! @nomadicrunner45

All the wintery pictures are taken by me during my runs in January and February 2014.


  1. It's been such a hard ~ and long! ~ winter for runners, Mahnaz. The posts where we make it through the tough running conditions and raise our arms triumphantly are easy to write; what you've done her is much harder ~ painting a realistic picture of the hard and scary parts of running in extreme conditions. All of us who have wished we could teleport home mid-run or fallen on ice (I have, twice this year) or cut a run short this season thank you for being so candid about your experience.

    I will promise you this, though: Despite feeling like we've been running slowly and not very effectively in these winter conditions, it's actually working all kinds of muscles we wouldn't normally and stretching our systems (albeit in a different way than intervals do), which means come spring and the good weather, we're going to be fitter and faster than we might believe at the moment! And we can all look back on Winter 2014, thankful that it is in the past and thankful for what it taught us about running and ourselves.

    1. Hi Jodi, Thank you for your kind words.Your Instagram has been a source of motivation for me to get out there and train hard. I look forward to see Tilda every morning as she puts a big smile on my face. In the running community we inspire and get inspired by other runners. I'm so glad to have met many amazing people such as yourself. I look forward to see you for our #TYS10K and hanging out afterwards. Much love to you and Tilda :)

  2. You are so inspiring Mahnaz! We know just how you feel...running in the cold weather is difficult. As an endurance athlete I push myself every day, as do you! What you've learned here "to listen to your body" is one of the biggest challenges athletes have because our passion overrides so much of what we do. I am proud of you that you have decided to share your experience with others because you are impacting other runners and helping them to improve. Stay strong! Your body changes from one day to the next, so never say never! Sometimes when we try and tell ourselves to just keep going we have to slow down and listen to our body. You were lucky enough to get the warning you know what those are and you can manage your runs to your ability for that day! Again, so very proud of you!

    1. Dear Monica and Shayne, Thank you so much for your support. Your encouragement and words of support here online and when I'm training with you at your studio means a lot to me. Your professionalism, sincerity, and caring character is priceless. You taking the time reading my blog and commenting demonstrate the fact that you really do care about your the people you interact with. Much love to you and of course "Simba" ! :)


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