I was on a roll after completing my first half-marathon last October. I swore to myself that I would keep the distance running up, even as the winter winds came rolling in. I signed myself up for a 16-miler to keep myself on the right track. I purchased full-length running leggings and Under Armor turtlenecks and a little white headband to match. Six blizzards and four injuries later, I was nowhere near repeating my half-marathon performance, let alone reaching 16 miles in one run. It was a bitter pill to swallow, knowing I was going to — most likely — pull from the 16-mile race.
On a bitter, blustering day, barely a week before the race, I laced up my shoes, slipped on my headband, and stated, “It’s time to go running again.”
Even at high noon, the weather could not get past 0 degrees. The weather report let me know that, including wind chill, the air was a welcoming -9*F. I figured I would be okay, since I had said gear on, which included my wind-breaking gloves. I would simply have to run a little quicker than normal in order to raise my body temperature faster. I did my warm-ups inside, fastened my MP3 player to my arm, and went running.
I should have known things were going to go awry when my hands froze within the first two blocks. And I don’t mean, “they were so cold, they were like ice!” I meant they were frozen. My hands were so cold — even in my wind-breaking gloves — that the muscles in my hand stopped moving. Barely three minutes into my run, and it felt like someone had replaced my hands with porcelain replicas.
“No worries,” I said to myself. “The first mile always sucks. I’ll warm up soon and everything will be perfectly fine in no time.”
But I never did warm up. By the half-mile mark, my hands were simultaneously numb and on fire. When I hit a mile and realized that the situation was only getting worse, I knew I had no choice but to turn around and go back.
There was only one problem: I was now a mile away from home.
If I’m feeling especially spunky, I can run a mile in a little under 8 minutes. I have no idea how long it took me to scramble back, as the need to get home as soon as possible was counterbalanced by the excruciating pain in my hands. That, and it felt like time itself had stopped during the run back. I learned that afternoon just how relative time can be. I learned that E does not equal MC-squared — unless the “M” stands for, “MY HANDS OH MY GOD MY HANDS” and the “C” stands for, “CHRIST ON A CRACKER I AM GOING TO DIE OUT HERE.” (And “E” stands for “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” — aka the sound that started emanating from the back of my throat).
After a return trip home that could have rivaled Homer’s in The Odyssey , I stumbled up the stairs of my back porch, opened the patio door with my wrist, closed it with my shoulder, and staggered in.
I am not proud of what happened next, but, given that my brain genuinely thought I was going to lose my hands/die of hypothermia, I feel no shame in admitting it. I didn’t realize how much mental fortitude I was using to keep myself going until I made it out of the cold. Now in my kitchen, I felt my entire conscious mind collapse. All I could think about was how I couldn’t move or even feel my hands (just the excruciating pain emanating from them) and there was no one around to help me warm them up. I bit at the ends of my wind-breaking gloves — which did a superb job of breaking up the wind so the cold could seep into my skin in nice, bite-sized bits — genuinely unsure where my gloves ended and my fingers began. I scrambled to the folded blanket on my couch, awkwardly shimmying my dead hands between the folds and feeling absolutely, positively, no relief.
From the moment I closed that patio door and onward, I wailed like Nancy Kerrigan, only instead of a thug breaking my leg, the winter wind had broken my spirit. I didn’t so much cry as I cried out . The pain was so intense that I was past tears at that point. My stomach was so queasy from the whole ordeal that it wasn’t sure whether to throw up or pass out; so, in a supreme act of benevolence, my body gave me both signals. I removed my hands from the failure of a blanket, shoved my numb/fire hands under my arms, and stumbled into the bathroom, where I spent the better part of 10 minutes either dry-heaving into the toilet or laying on the cold tile ground. All the while wailing like my femur had snapped in half.
It is truly, truly, truly not a good look. On anyone. Especially not someone in a purple Under Armor turtleneck and spandex leggings with her hands in her armpits.
The only thing that kept me from completely collapsing into a paralytic state of panic was the fact that my fingers still had color in them. So while they felt dead, they weren’t dead just yet.
After a little while I could bend my fingers into my palm. I continued to warm them up as best as I could, all the while mentally reciting all the Dos and Don’ts that I remembered for dealing with frostbite (don’t stick your hands under super-hot water, don’t rub your hands together, don’t plan on playing the piano any time soon…). I knew I was on the mend when my dry-eyed wailing upgraded into standard tear-filled sobbing. Which eventually turned into a slight whimper as I finally got enough dexterity to get out of my running clothes and into a warm shower, after which I packed on the layers of clothing, crawled under the covers of my bed, and read until I drifted off into a well-deserved nap.
You know that feeling you get, after you burn your tongue on a hot beverage, and your tongue then reacts to the outside world in a different way? That was what I felt in the pads of each and every finger and thumb afterwards. Every touch and sensation felt oddly skewed and distant. Anything that was even remotely cold sent a sudden and violent shiver up my spine. Even as the day turned into night and to the next morning, my sense of touch was different. If there were ever a way to translate that copper taste in your post-burnt tongue into touch form, this was it.
I have done a lot of dumb things in my life, but this little stunt definitely tops the 2014 list so far. I learned just how important insulation is, even if you swear that you’ll warm yourself up running 6 – 8 miles. And, as I learned the hard way, there’s a reason why athletes wail like that after a major injury. Only I was too stupefied to even muster out a, “WHY?!” during my ordeal.
And to my neighbors: I’m sorry you had to hear that/Thank you for not calling the police. The last thing I needed was to explain my idiocy to armed personnel with two frozen hands under my pits.