Winter Map    As the Hercules storm mounts the eastern seaboard, I am reminded that there once was a time when I loved running in the cold.  No, not the piercing cold many around the country are currently experiencing.  Rather, anything right around freezing when, after about ten minutes to get the blood flowing and system up to speed,  the feeling of well-being begins to spread like a juicy rumor in a closed-minded crowd.  Yes, that experience had a very specific charm about it. Even better, with so many other primates remaining indoors to avoid the cold, more of this pristine real estate was left for me to explore at pace.

But like New Year’s Eve drinking, you had to know when to say when, because a sudden change in conditions could lead to real difficulties, as I learned one unfortunate winter’s morn when I took off on an ill-conceived out-and-back twelve miler from my Boston apartment.

Wearing a long sleeve cotton tee shirt under a nylon shell, close-fitting tights accenting the strong curve of my rhythmically churning legs, I generated my own warmth as a thin scrim of sweat encompassed and sealed the machine.  Man, that was living at a keening pitch. But as the miles passed, I noticed the temperature dipping rapidly as the wind had shifted, and now came whipping from the east as I concluded my outbound western leg.  It was the kind of turn that can (and did) transform supple muscles into rigid stone on marathon day in April.

Though the world around glistened in its refracted refinery, I began to experience a troubling discomfort in my nether-regions as I made a 180 and headed for home.  In those halcyon days before the advent of high-tech winter wear, we met the winter in layers, often bundling four or five deep while (immodestly) donning pantyhose beneath nylon sweats on the seriously cold days.  But I hadn’t anticipated the sudden dip in temperature and was not so cozily contained.

So there I was about six miles from home, discomfort turning to actual pain, and I realized I had placed myself at the borderland of penile frostbite — or as close to it as you can get without seeking medical attention or causing nursing derision. My choices were limited, and polarized: do I stuff my hand down there to create some warmth, but in so doing surrender land speed (meaning more time in the elements)?  Or, do I turn on the jets and get the little fella home as fast as I can while upping the wind-chill in the process?


I opted for speed, but, oh, the pinkling price — didn’t help that my little fella’s turtleneck sweater had been snipped at birth, either.  But what eventuated was perhaps best illustrated by the genius of Seinfeld, in the episode where Jerry’s weekend date on Long Island caught George stripping off his swim trunks after he took a dip in the pool.

 Shrinkage“If she thinks that’s me, she’s under a complete misapprehension,” George lamented to Jerry.

“Do women know about shrinkage?” George and Jerry finally asked Elaine, vainly trying to explain what cold water does to the delicate dangling thermometer.

“Whataya mean, like laundry?” she queried.

“Nooooo.  Like when a man goes swimming…afterwards…”

“It shrinks?”

“Yes, like a frightened turtle.”

“Why does it shrink?”

“It just does.”

And as Elaine walked out of the room she summed up the matter perfectly with, “I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things.”

Because we have no choice, Elaine, that’s why. But having lived through my own winter shrinkage episode — and believe me, coaxing the tiny fella back out is when the real soldiering begins — thus do I currently live in Southern California where such tearful reductions don’t exist (outside a chilly ocean dip).  So to all my eastern and mid-western running pals, have a happy (and protected) weekend of running.  And don’t forget an extra sock for the single-eyed pocket turtle.


10 thoughts on “BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

  1. I have had this problem on rare occasions as well. I’ve gone for the relief of putting my (fortunately) warm hands out of my glove and down my pants to warm up my unit and prevent frostbite. It might have looked silly and/or perverted, but I sure didn’t want to do permanent damage there. Walking backwards info a cold wind while doing this will also help. Also, if your hand gets cold switch hands and warm up the cold one by putting it in your armpit. Believe me, you will look ridiculous while doing these things, but in nearly every case, you will avoid frostbite.

  2. Great piece Toni. Reminds me of the Swansea 10K in South Wales here in the UK, back around 1980. I think Steve Jones won in about 28:30 – a truly superhuman effort as the return leg of the out-and-back coastal route was into strong winds, sleet and temps many numbers in to the minus’s. And yes, I finished in about 10th, in around 30 minutes,and in a lot of pain, both from the general conditions and because my one-eyed-trouser snake, had retreated and was waving a white flag. At least it felt that way. My college girlfriend had come to watch and luckily was sheltered in a marquee while we suffered our half hour of frozen torment. When I met her after the race, I was bitterly cold all over but in particular, was in agony with a frozen John Thomas. And I mean FROZEN. As she was in possession of two warm, soft hands and I was in danger of requiring hospitalisation, there was only one thing for it. She did the decent thing in a quiet corner, plunged her hands in to the abyss, and after 10-15 minutes, Lazarus had returned, so to speak. And 12 years later I was still able to start a family – sadly, not with her. But it’s not a bad bit of advice; if you don’t have a sock (Toni’s advice), have a close friend waiting at the finish.

  3. My dad’s old truck still has teeth marks in the steering wheel from when I thawed out after a h.s. nordic ski race. We were racing on an open, breezy golf course in Kenai, AK, it was -10F, and I forgot my undies at home.

  4. This week is one of coldest weeks of winter in Eastern Canada but February has yet to come, this morning I ran 6miles in -41 in Québec city about 6min/mile pace, Montréal too had about the same forecast. We have the best Equipment and you actually get used to it!

  5. Running in Maine in the 70s, this was a constant worry. We used to take off our hats and shove them into our shorts…leading into the inevitable jokes about cocked hats and the like. And Brian remembers the same thing I do–getting in the shower, and having things thaw, was painful.

  6. Ah, Toni. Back in the 70s and 80s, without benefit of modern running gear, I had a few runs where I suffered the same malady. And as I recall, the initial freezing didn’t cause nearly as much pain as did the eventual thawing out, no?

  7. Toni, I remember my one and only experience with frostnip (frost-tip?) too, Thankfully, does not happen these days, though we’ve had some zero degree windchill here in KC in the last couple weeks, and is forecast to happen again this week. Happy New Year’s Warm Weather Running

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