Thursday, February 26, 2015

We Get the Point

Thank you very much for all the incredibly cold weather during February - it has spawned countless humorous stories about life in the big chill, big storm, big snow.  I'm the first to head out in -20C (-4F) weather for a run.  It's great to be outside, alone (you don't see many people reading a newspaper on their front porch), pitting yourself against the elements.  The slurred speech, losing all feeling in the toes, frozen water bottles.  Great fun!

I avidly track ice coverage on the Great Lakes.  This year is poised to be a record breaker!  Lake Erie went from zero ice at the beginning of January to 96% coverage in mid-February.  Ice coverage is well ahead of last year's figures, which hit a "recent" record.

Hypothetically, I also enjoy the first few days in late February / early March that rise above freezing and I can stretch out the legs on wet or dry pavement, without donning arctic running gear.  I say hypothetically, because when the temperature heads north of zero, I'm at the sugar shack, getting ready for the syrup season.  Otherwise, I would be out there, enjoying the first few frost free frolics.  What's the term for when you use too many words, all starting with the same letter?  Annoying?

This February is a little different than other years and I am starting to lose patience.  Yes, we all know how Mother Nature is queen, that the arctic air mass trumps the great lake's moderating influence on weather, we get the point.  Using the weather network's 14 day trend for Creemore, it will be mid-March before temperatures rise above freezing.  This is not funny.  For those of you who have not followed this blog, I make maple syrup.  I need +5C (41F) temperatures or the trees will remain dormant.  I went to Atkinson Maple Syrup Supplies today, in a bit of a panic.  I needed to purchase some jugs (early-bird perquisite for the Creemore Vertical Challenge race) and filters.  I woke up this morning and realized that it will be March this weekend!  I have to get ready now, in case the forecast changes (I realise this never happens...).  The season typically ends in early April.  This means that if the season doesn't start until late March, it will likely be a short season.  All the effort of preparing the sugar shack and tapping 325 trees, for a short season?

It has literally been too cold to work in the woods and prepare for maple syrup season!  -22C (cold F) this morning, the forecast calls for -26C (-15F) tomorrow morning.  I have to snowshoe 1 kilometer from the road to the sugar shack (and back) and I need unfrozen water (the best type!) to clean stuff.  I need to shovel the roof and check all the lines.  With 325 taps, this usually takes 4 days.  Once the cleaning is done, all supplies are brought in (including jugs and jars for about 300 litres of syrup - I hope!) I then need to haul in the evaporator pans and build the evaporator.  Much easier to perform when the weather is mild (sunny and -3 is perfect) than in -25C weather...

This has been an incredibly long rant on the weather, but it is -15C (5F) outside, so I can do nothing else...

Running is going well.  One bright spot is that both Lee Anne and I are tired of donning arctic running gear for a survivalist fight to complete a 12K training run.  Stepping on the treadmill is becoming anathema to a pleasurable run.  What to do?  Base Borden's Buell Gym has a 237 meter indoor track.  Rubberised surface, slightly below room temperature, it is a welcome change to running outside or on the dreadmill.  The first time we made use of the indoor track, I had forgotten how effortless it is to run in short and a T-shirt.  Running at 10 KPH felt like a warm-up.  Running outside with 14 layers of clothes on 3 inches of snow, dodging cars, it is difficult to maintain a 6 minute kilometer pace.  The indoor track was simply wonderful!  We intend to abuse this form of cheating the elements in years to come.

I will use the above as a spasmodic segue into a humorous episode that nearly cost me my life.  Our main parking lot can easily hold 3 cars abreast during the summer.  In the winter, I plow the parking area so that the tractor (Kubota with 6 foot snowblower) and 2 cars can fit abreast, but there is not much room between vehicles.  I keep asking Lee Anne to park close to the tractor, or on the far side of the parking lot, so that I can also park my car.  Without fail, Lee Anne parks straddling the 2 narrow parking spots.  This is usually not an issue, as I can also park in 2 other areas.  However, yesterday, I needed to blow the laneway, which might require boosting the tractor with battery cables, from my car.  So I parked between Lee Anne's car and the tractor.  This left about 2.6 inches between Lee Anne's and my car.  No problem, as I was going to change into snowblowing clothes (read arctic survival gear), quickly blow the laneway, then move my car.

Problem:  I did not realise Lee Anne was in her car.  For those in sunny California or other weather-exotic locals, it is not always possible to see through glass at -20C (-4F) as they are covered in snow, ice, frost, etc. and remain so, even after driving your car.  I have had frost on my rear window (yes, I have and use a rear window defroster) for 4 weeks.  I have never had the nerve to ask Lee Anne what she does in a parked car, for so long.  Let's quickly move on.  While changing into boots, snow pants. parka, etc., the phone rang.  I thought Lee Anne was in the pottery studio, and I have learned better than to answer the phone, as it usually entails stopping what I am doing and starting a task I have been allocated by Lee Anne.  I was almost dressed when I heard Lee Anne leave a message.  The message, without swear words was this:  "   ".

Trying not to laugh too hard, I went out to the driveway, just in time to see Lee Anne move from the driver's seat to the passenger seat in order to exit her car.  The humorous aspect of this episode was based on the assumption Lee Anne made, that I KNEW she was in her car when I parked so close.  It took some explaining to convince her that I did not see her in the car.  I would include the dialogue, but it lacks cohesion without the expletives.  My wounds should be 85% healed before March...

So, we are now ready to start signing up for some races.  Lee Anne is helping with marketing for OUSer (Ontario Trail and Ultra Series races), so she has free entry into the Niagara and Dirty Girls races.  I have signed up for the Limberlost and Horror Trail races.  Eventually, we will both be signed up for the same races!

According to my running log, I am starting to up my mileage.  I ran 169.5K in January and I am currently at 194.5K for February.  As I hope to run long tomorrow (Friday) and possibly squeak in a run on Saturday (February 28), I should have a healthy total for such a short month.  I still hope to run during the OUS Spring Warm-up on Saturday April 11, but I might also be making maple syrup.  For those who would like to know more about the SW:

The SW is a fun run with reduced numbers (compared to the races) and is a great venue for chatting with other runners who frequent the OTS and OUS races.  As purely an academic note, in some years, there have been more spot prizes (maple syrup, pottery, grand prize) than participants.  Not that a jug of maple syrup should be the deciding factor in spending $35 for a fun run...


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Trail Running in February

I have a litmus test for successful winter running.  This personal gauge is to see if I can run trails at least once in each month of the winter.  For southern Ontario, the key date is early February.  There is usually a thaw in late December or early January which provides access to the trails at the beginning of the year.  By late March, the normal weather patterns reduce snow in the bush to either hard pack (run on top of the snow) or a foot of slush.  Either condition allows for easy and fun running along the trails!  For those of you who have run in a foot of slush and are currently yelling at me, please speak to the hand.

A brief explanation on the above term "Southern Ontario".  I am using the definition that refers to the area that includes the snow belt.  People in Toronto (sigh) commonly use the descriptor NO89 (North of 89) to define the snow belt, but the proper definition is Southern Ontario.  Toronto is typically defined as "South of Southern Ontario", which includes places that don't get any real snow (less than 4 feet per year, if you can imagine that!).  SOSO includes Toronto, Miami and LA.  You get the picture.

A brief note on the explanation:  89 refers to highway 89, an east-west road approximately 1 hour drive north of Toronto.  What Torontonians are thinking when they say NO89 is "wild wild country with crazy weather and unstable inbred farmers that cannot differentiate between rednecks and latte toting accountants".  I will spare you what we (NO89'ers) think of those SOSO dweebs...

Success is attainable this year, as I have been able to run a 7.5K loop that I run frequently, on both February 2 and 3 (today).  Yesterday's run was tough, as we received about 8 inches of snow overnight, it was -16C (3F) and a strong north wind.  Today's run was balmy (-4C or 25F) with a gentle southwest wind and only a few spots had drifted over.

Well, I broke down and started a running log.  I realised to be serious about training this year, I would need to track my progress.  It is humorous how a log forces you to get out and run.  Can't have any gaps on run days now, can we?  Broken leg?  Cut your run down to a 15K.  So, my weekly totals have now edged over 50K, with my long runs finally crossing the 25K threshold.  The total for January hit 169.5K, which makes me happy, even though Lee Anne would see it as a heavy week...

There is usually a February challenge, but I have not heard about this year's version.  I had to chuckle about last year.  My running was not great at this point last year, but Lee Anne was churning out some impressively wild numbers.  She heard about the challenge on February 2 or so, but her posting on the 3rd was a lie.  She had run 40K on the first, 50K on the second and 30K on the third (yes, 120K in 3 days!) but she posted less K's because she didn't want people to think she was a freak!

Challenge or not, enjoy running out there; it will give you something to remember during the hot runs.