My fingers are stinging. Worse, my thighs are stinging. I’m going to get frostbite on my legs and they will be damaged for life. It is -36 C: there is an extreme cold warning in effect for Regina. I have greatly underestimated what I would need to wear to keep my legs warm throughout the Hypothermic Half Marathon.
In order to keep myself from thinking about having to amputate my legs, I decide to use a mental technique I got from ultramarathon runner, Stacey Shand: I call it the “check-in.” The human body was designed to run – my human body has been training for this for a year. Running 21. 5 km is not a physical feat – it’s a mental one. I have to keep telling myself over and over I can do this because my mind keeps telling me I can’t.
At kilometre 3, my iPhone dies – it’s too cold. I will be on my own now – just me and my thoughts – for the next two hours. If that’s not enough to drive you crazy, I don’t know what is. To keep from getting bored, I start the check-in. I start with the top of my body and I work my way down. Usually, it takes about 20 minutes, then I start over.
The crown of my head – it’s fine. Not cold.
How about my forehead? It’s covered. So is my nose. Surprisingly my face is warm thanks to my balaclava.
Eyes? Eyelashes are collecting ice and it’s affecting my vision, but so far it’s bearable.
What about my breath? I’m struggling. I’m anxious. I keep thinking about frostbite and that’s affecting my breath. I need to calm myself down. I need to focus on my inhale and exhale. I speak to my lungs. I tell them how valued they are. I ask them to slow down and fill themselves up. I concentrate on nothing but the sound of my breath and the love for my lungs. After one kilometre my breathing is better, stronger.
I continue with the check-in.
Shoulders? They’re sore. My neck and upper back feel like they are carrying extra weight. I fix my posture and do some arm circles. My arms are cold and so are my fingers. I do wrist circles and clench and unclench my fists, trying to increase circulation.
My core is warm at least. How about my heart?
I listen to my heart for a few paces.
Strong, I think. I love my heart. Keep breathing.
Then I get to stomach. There’s a problem. We have just passed the water station a few kilometres back and I drank the hot Gatorade too quickly. I am feeling nauseous. Just keep the pace up.
Soon it passes.
My legs are still cold. It feels like they are being pricked with tiny needles. I almost forget about them with my concentration on my lungs and then my stomach, but I can’t ignore anymore how badly they hurt.
And I am hungry.
And then my ankle starts to hurt.
And then my nose starts running.
The energy it takes a get a Kleenex from my pocket and put it to my nose is more than I want to expend. I have to coach my breath again back to normal.
I am so cold and there is still over an hour left in this race. I need to think about my pace – one foot in front of the other. Moving forward. Always moving forward.
I am going to finish.
It isn’t an affirmation. It is a simple fact. I am going to finish. It is inevitable. It is guaranteed.
It’s a relief.
One step and one step and one step – and I will eventually make it to the finish line. What else can you say that about in life? The thought makes me very happy. I am in the process of finishing. I am cold, but I will finish.
And then I can eat bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.