Neon yellow. Pure white. Ice gray. Bluish-black.
These were the colors of my morning running with Bob and Sam in the bucolic Jericho Woods of Weston, MA. We were set on running the 6 mile course for the new TARC Spring Classic, which we will be hosting on April 23rd. We got lost and ran 8.5. The course is a flat and fast loop. We didn't quite get to the "fast" part (course record stands at a stunning 3:35). We were still smiling at the end.
Last weekend I ran the GAC Fat Ass 50K and wore my New Balance 506s, a cross country spike (I figured the metal studs would aid with traction). Bob, who was also running, commented on the rather flashy, neon color of the shoes (the comment referenced visibility from space). I decided to wear them on our reconnaissance thinking the paths would be packed and what was left of the spikes would come in handy. Yet both Bob's and my car read -2 degrees for the outside temperature when we met. I thought little of this until we left the 10 foot stretch of paved road we walked before jumping into nearly knee-deep snow.
Running in snow is wonderful. This morning the woods were adorned in a coating of unadulterated white fluff from the this week's storm. The depth of snow, coupled with our need to navigate, led us to a slow crawl through most of the run. Running through snow in the past, my feet have never gotten cold. Today, with our extended walking/navigating/snow too deep to run in, my feet got cold. Most of the trails we ran had been frequented only by deer (or us) since the mid-week storm. The snow was still deep. On the trails frequented by other bi-pedal locomotives, ski tracks added an interesting jersey-barrier obstacle between our feet. The snow is beautiful. The snow is also really cold on your feet after three hours.
We reached what will be around the 4 mile mark of the course and ran along the perimeter of a picturesque farm. Bob was explaining to Sam and I the foresight of Weston's planning board, which has created numerous easements for public access to wooded areas, resulting in around 300 miles of trails in the town. That's incredibly encouraging for those of us who appreciate open spaces. At this point, we were attempting to follow what appeared to be a faint path on the map. We were likely off any easements and were simply walking through a frozen swamp (which many deer had been calling home, it appeared). My left foot broke through the snow-covered ice as we bushwhacked through the area. It took us about ten minutes until we finally decided the path we were trying to follow was actually the stream we kept jumping (and, in my case, placing my foot in). This led us to a more obviously marked path (out of the swamp), at which point we ran some beautiful trails and, with many more navigational pauses, made our way back to the start. During this stretch I noticed ice cubes forming around my ankles. These were not the typical clumps of snow that form when running through the woods in winter. No, these were blocks of frozen water. We had been running for about 3 hours. My feet felt like bricks (actually, my feet were too numb to feel. My legs felt as if they were lifting bricks with every step).
It was with a bit of relief (on my part at least) that we reached the cars. My feet being frozen bricks, coupled with the ice forming around my ankles and feet had started causing me a bit of worry. The thought of warming my feet with the car's heater was at the fore of my mind. After talking running and TARC with Bob and Sam for a bit I was on my way. Once in the warmth of the car the feet began to, happily, thaw. I realized my shoes, being soaking wet, were slowing the rewarming process so I decided to take them off. The left shoe came off easily and the foot started warming much more quickly. I tried to take my right shoe off. I couldn't. It was stuck. It was stuck exactly where it had been coldest. It was stuck exactly where, for the last 2 hours of the run, I had felt something poking my foot. I feared one of the metal spikes from the shoe had pierced my numb foot and was keeping it attached to my shoe. A grotesque scene played out in my mind as I worked to remove the shoe, fearing part of my foot coming with it. There was a distinct tugging/pulling sensation on my numb foot with the gentle separation of the shoe. The shoe finally acquiesced to my desire.
To much relief, a large chunk of ice covered the outside of my sock. At least it wasn't skin. Yet I had just had a piece of ice pressed against my numb foot for about two and half hours. It was not a relaxing drive home.
"I'm afraid to take my socks off. I think I have frostbite." This is what I told Liz, in an effort to be honest with her, but mostly myself. I know what frostbite looks like. I know the damage it can do. With a touch of anxiety, the socks came off (I wanted to start warming my feet as quickly as possible). Where the ice had been on the outside of my right foot looked a bluish-black color. So did a quarter-sized area on the arch of the foot. When I got them in warm water the color darkened further. Images of Beck Weathers on Everest danced in my head. After warming, the feet were covered up - out of sight, out of mind. The colors of the morning pushed to the back of my mind, replaced by self-scolding at the foolishness displayed. Thirty one years of living, including years of playing hockey, outdoors, in sub-zero temperatures, and I had never done anything this idiotic relating to the cold.
Fortunately, I think, this story has a happy ending. After the kid's nap, the whole family headed up to the Y to go swimming (in the, thankfully, incredibly warm, turquoise water of the kiddie pool). The feet were looking better - no longer bluish-black, but a fleshy pink. Sensation returned. They felt swollen, but at least they felt. As I went to bed, I noticed the massive blisters over the areas that had been affected - a sign of superficial frostbite, which given my idiocy, was a welcome relief.
Now all remains is to heal, and, with any luck, learn a couple of things about humility and respecting the cold. Either that or just make Bob and Sam wear snowshoes next time to pack the trails down for me!