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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sooo... What happened, exactly?

I'm going to try to do a play-by-play of the events of the Mistletoe Half Marathon.

This is going to be looooooong.......

First, thank you thank you thank you to all the well-wishers.

I've been watching mysteries on Masterpiece Theater (Inspector Lewis), so in that spirit let's evaluate the circumstances of the case.

What was I wearing?
1. NIKE wicking baseball cap
2. fleece ear/headband (removed at mile 4-5)
3. poly wicking short sleeve shirt under long sleeve cotton shirt under cotton tee.
4. gardening gloves (my rose-pruners)
5. nylon running pants

Low 40's
rain (not hard, but consistent)
Wind steady at 5mph from the north, with gusts at 12mph around 930am (miles 10 and 11)

What did I feel/do?
At the start:
Waiting at the start was chilly and wet, but not to the point of shivering (I shiver and chatter easily). I could feel the ground just fine; no numbness.

First mile:
8 minutes. I took it easy (relatively) to make sure I could feel the ground fine and my form was good (no overexcited pushing off). Still no numbness, felt I was going to be fine.

Miles 4-5:
My head was getting warm, so I took off the fleece ear cover headband. That was probably a big mistake. My feet felt chilly, but I could (or at least thought I could) feel the ground. To be careful, I was flexing and wiggling my toes every chance I got.

Miles 10-11:
Here's where I think the damage happened. We were in a more open part of the course with fewer trees to block the wind, which had started gusting at 12mph. It wasn't strong, but it felt REALLY cold. I remember saying to the runner next to me "Jesus H Christ, that can stop any time," as my fingers (in gloves) started feeling really chilled. My feet felt warm.

I couldn't move my fingers enough to hang on to my ribbon. I have no idea where I dropped that thing. My feet felt fine. From the top, they looked fine. The bottom of my right foot was nauseating, with a destroyed blister and exposed black patch on the big toe, and a huge frozen blister on the ball, with a lot of blackness underneath. On the left, there was a black spot on the pad of each of the two toes next to the big one. I didn't show anybody and made a bee-line for the emergency room, swearing profusely. I started to feel pain as my feet gradually thawed. Then I put them in a tub of warm water (104 degrees is the suggested temp). The pain of that made me shake. Once my feet defrosted completely, the water felt cool. I thought my feet cooled the water, but the temp had stayed the same.

Here's what I think happened: the gusts of very cold winds at miles 10-11 blew away the heat my soaked, cotton shirts were holding in. My body, prioritizing my vital organs over fingers and toes, sent blood from my extremities to my core. My fingers were freezing because, ironically, they were warm enough to feel cold. My feet, as I said, felt warm. That should have been a warning sign, but I thought at the time it was a testament to improved circulation from running barefoot.

Remember, it wasn't just the 12mph wind from nature. I was running about 7:15 minute miles at that point, or a little over 8mph. PLUS, my cadence was around 200 lifts per minute. Spinning feet = more wind resistance. So we're looking at gusts of at least 25 mph on exposed, wet skin, farthest from my heart, that is repeatedly coming into contact with cold, abrasive, heat-sucking wet pavement. Man, when I put it that way, the outcome sure sounds obvious.

One other possible contributing factor: The day before, I did a quick 3.5 mile run around the neighborhood in about 30 degree (dry) weather. My feet stayed cold to the touch until I took a shower. Instead of warming them gradually, I just stepped into the steam. They were itchy for about an hour later, then felt fine. Maybe I had done a little preliminary damage?

The biggest lesson I learned from this:


This wasn't like the Hawg Run 5k, where my feet were numb for the first mile and then gradually started feeling the ground. The numbness came later, but I wasn't aware of it. It's bad enough not being able to feel the ground when you're in shoes; much worse to think you are feeling the ground when you're not. Up until the end, I was excited to show off my feet after the race. I had my jokes ready (my bare feet are fine, but my gloved fingers are freezing!).

Maybe if I kept my ear/headband on, and wore a windbreaker, I would have been better off. The best option would have been to skip the race altogether, but if I did that I would have regretted it, wondering what if; that envelope was going to be pushed eventually. Better now when I have time to heal.


  1. Thanks for the update. Hopefully, this is something we can all learn from.

    I can point to 2 runs over the last couple years where I pushed the envelope too far. One was where I just ran further than my feet were ready for. The second was a 5K I ran in slightly sub-freezing temps. I had done runs in similar temps in the past. But I found that racing at a given temp is a lot different than a regular training run at the same temp.

    As long as we live to tell the tale, I think sometimes we just have to push that envelope.

  2. File this in the "what doesn't kill you ..." folder. Glad to hear that nothing was amputated. Careful out there. Cheers!

  3. I think you're right that your hands and feet were cold because your core temp was. I know you like to suffer for fashion, but I think you can blame your frostbite on the cotton shirt.

    That same morning I did "Run at the Rock" 14 miler. For the forecasted rain, I wore a polypropylene shirt I got at the army surplus store for like $8. Amazingly with the ankle deep mud and puddles, my feet were not cold.

  4. The cotton sure didn't help. I knew better, too; should have worn the windbreaker.

  5. Ugh, sorry to learn of your slogging misfortune. Glad to read things seem to be improving, but what a freakin' pain. Congrats on an excellent time.

  6. What a bummer! I've been following your blog since I found you on Ken Bob's site. By the way, love your videos explaining barefoot running. I'm running barefoot in Cookeville, TN. I'm a little farther south than you are, but I'm definitely concerned after reading your story. I was set on running down to 20F like Barefoot Rick suggests. I think I will limit the distance of my runs down to 5 miles or so when the temp is in the 20s. Heal up soon!