DIARY: Hypothermia and other Meet preparation

So, I've gone ahead and done it: Signed up for my first track race - the 5000m event at the Cobber Open (hosted by the college team Concordia Cobbers). No doubt, racing against young spritely college athletes will be a humbling experience but I am equally excited about watching some of the other events.

It's a classic indoor event with seeded starts on a 200m track. So 25 laps and to reach my goal of 17:30, I need to be running every lap in 42 seconds (average pace of 3:30min/km or 5:38min/mile). This doesn't seem to bad, my main worry sitting here at breakfast is my legs are still tired from the many new resistance drills (I'll pop them in the jacuzzi in a moment) and my head is tired after a night out with my new Fargo colleagues yesterday (albeit alcohol intake stayed under 6 beverages).

Doing a run in -17 degrees the other day I had come away with two few layers especially from the waist down. At first I didn't notice getting colder as I was trodding along at a relaxed pace (5:09-5:17min/km pace) but turning back for the 5k home the wind hit me and I noticed just how numb and cold several of my "extremities" were (and for the sake of the readership I shall not delve into further detail).

In a half-panic I pushed the pace in a desperate effort to get back into the heat suddenly running closer to 14kph and arriving in the lobby light-headed and relieved.

As heat streamed back into my system the whole world turned violet for about five minutes, the first time I've experienced this: Like someone put a filter over your eyes. After a reviving hot shower, I got another sensation I saw recently on Discovery in a soldier who had been submerged into ice water for a period of time.

The feeling was of cold water pouring through your veins in your core, like a deep inner chill: This happens because all the cold blood from the extremities is finally allowed to flow back into the core. An interesting reaction to watch out for in more dangerous situations as it lowers the body temperature for a second time (albeit very briefly if you are in a heated environment).

Now, I was only out in the -17 (which with windchill unfortunately hits closer to -30, for I have run more comfortably in -21 before) for less than 47 minutes from my work to the frozen Red River and back. It shows that when temperatures drop to a certain level extreme caution in your choice of gear is an absolute necessity: Even in an urban environment, the speed by which you cool in high sub-zero temperatures is astounding.

On the plus side, there is a good morale for endurance runners from this story: Despite cooling severely, I could keep speeding up for the last five kilometres to reach home. I attribute this to high fitness level allowing fat burning to propulse you forward at effective speeds even as the body dips into its energy sources to reheat the system. A less fit person may very quickly "burn-out" in such conditions. (of even greater advantage was that the highest speed of the day were still strongly aerobic for me. How dipping into anaerobic intensity in such conditions would have affected the situation I don't know, but I suspect adversely).

In other words, the trained endurance runner can get out of a tight spot faster and more effectively than the average person and in extremely cold temperatures a difference of 10-20 minutes could be of huge importance.