When it comes down to it I think I’d rather run in the cold. Instinctively I’m more afraid of heat-related problems (dehydration, sunburn) than those induced by the cold. I guess it’s because I cut my teeth on the Scottish Winter Cross-Country circuit: running around muddy fields between November and February in the most unpleasant conditions Scotland could throw at us. Once enveloped in Fife AC, I stuck with the group through the cold winter nights. Do one complete winter season of running, racing & training and you’ve broken cleanly through the apathy.
Scotland is still warmer than Switzerland though. This year has apparently been especially biting on the Continent with a cold snap all the way down to -10 degrees Celcius and beyond. Snow and ice stuck around in town. I put on a couple more layers and pushed on with the Basel Dragons, even when it was cold enough to burst water pipes.
Then along came the Leimentaler Langstrechenauf. A 15 K run around countryside and suburb-villages of Basel. The calendar timing, distance, location & price made it an ideal training race for my half-marathon (13 miles or 21 K) in Freiburg this April. My last race was the Basel Stadtlauf back in December – I was keen to get back into the swing of things.
The mentality of racing is very different from that of training. When you’re going out with a group you feel like everybody is in it together: if people are struggling with the pace then the group usually accommodates this. You’re running along familiar routes, which ease the psychological challenge of the run. I know what a 10 K loop of the Rhein feels like…it’s thus easy to put in strong times. Racing in a unfamiliar area alongisde people who are doing their damndest to overtake you…well, that makes things harder.
Racing In The Cold Advice #1. Print out a map to the Start, think ahead about what time you want to get there. Unfortunately I misread the public transport proposal put forward by my co-runner – confusing expected arrival time with planned departure time. So…I got to Therwil with barely 30 min to go before the race started. Luckily I was able to follow the steady trail of runners to get to the start/registration. Still, I arrived late, somewhat stressed and completely un-warmed up.
Racing In The Cold Advice #2. Stay well wrapped-up and warm up fully. It was -7 degrees Celsius in Basel-Landschaft on race day. Heading out into the exposed contryside made it seem even colder. I’d got all my thermals, mittens & layers on, but that didn’t stop me from developing cold legs at around 7 K. I say “cold”…it felt like they were freezing. Semi-frozen legs don’t move all that fast. A more extensive warm-up may have delayed or mitigated the observed effect: as it was, my “warm-up” was the first 2 K of the race.
Racing In The Cold Advice #3. Once It’s Over It Gets Better.
Despite the associated boredom that comes from staring at white stuff for over an hour, I did really enjoy the race. The arable Basel countryside looks postcard-perfect in winter. There was a hot drink pitstop at around 9 K, which was precisely the point where I was starting to think ‘Blast, this is really cold’. It was quite a scenically undulating race through forest and around farm fields; passing through allotments and village fringes. The marshalls en route were an encouraging sight to see, too. I overtook more people than overtook me, which I think means that I’ve got a good handle on sustaining & improving my pace during the race. I also started slowly, that stopped me from burning out.
My total time for the 15 kilometre race was 1 h 16 min 11 seconds. That translates to a pace of 5.04 min/km. In training I can sustain a 4.50 min/km pace over 13 K quite well: so the time isn’t too bad. All things considered.