Friday, January 3, 2014

2014 Polar Dash: Pace Report

Frozen eyelashes, beard-cicles, and numb extremities along with a great co-pacer made for a memorable Polar Dash fourteen mile race. I guess Team Ortho thought it'd be cute to do a 14 mile in honor of 2014 The past couple of years I'd volunteered at Polar Dash, first as a course marshal and then as a hot chocolate technician. This year I paced this beautiful race for the first time, running along the Mississippi with a group of 3-10 runners looking to make their New Year's dreams come true.

The day started out swimmingly when my old Honda Accord coughed to life after spending the night outside in sub-zero temperatures. I'd packed it full of all the necessary running paraphernalia: two hats, three pairs of gloves, hand warmers, Saucony Peregrines, and a penguin suit. In the spirit of fun, all the pacers and many of the volunteers sported fashionable yet comfortable penguin attire.

On my way out the door
The race started at Shriner's Hospital for Children.Team Ortho did a nice job with the starting area by having some propane heaters spread around the lower level of the parking ramp for runners to huddle around. Fortunately for me, as a member of the illustrious Team Ortho Polar Dash Pace Team, I was able to join the rest of the pace team inside Shriner's to keep warm before and after the race.

I hadn't seen several of my running buddies in awhile, so it was great to meet a few of them at the start of the race. I had the privilege of co-pacing with Nate Wohlfeil, a pretty talented runner out of Winona. It'd been awhile since I'd run with Nate, and it was cool pacing with him rather than trying to keep up with him in a half marathon or during a leg of Ragnar.

Our fearless pace team leader ended up rolling in slightly behind schedule, but he quickly got us our pacing signs and sent us on our way. Nate and I elbowed our way to the front of the 573 fourteen mile runners and 1142 runners of the 10k as the National Anthem played over the loudspeaker. I did my best to assure runners that I meant no disrespect to America as I squeezed my way through the packed bunch of bundled runners, doing my best not to poke anyone with out 1:35 pace sign (see some photos of the start line here).

The race itself was pretty memorable. I had a great time chatting with Nate and cheering for runners--for awhile at least. We traded off the sign frequently since wrapping our fingers around the wooden dowel made our digits numb in a hurry.

The course involved several out-and-backs on Mississippi River Blvd. While the wind wasn't blowing too much, it was gusting just enough to make it pretty uncomfortable whenever we were running into it. Somewhere around mile eight the race became far less fun. I tried to stay chipper and encouraging, but my hands were painfully numb and my eyelashes were so frozen that every time I blinked I could feel the ice crystals shatter.

Nate did his best to stay chipper as well, but his eyelashes were just as frozen as mine. He had gloves that were warmer than mine, so he graciously carried the sign for the last couple miles. We did have three runners stay with us for the duration of the race, and one started chatting with us right before the half marathon timing mat.

"I've never run a half marathon before," he said.

"Well," I said, "you're going to now." Nate mentioned that we weren't quite there yet, so I made sure to caution the half marathon would-be finisher not to hurt himself in the next half mile.

Our half marathon split was 1:34:14, and since the course didn't appear to be terribly accurate and has a track record of being short, I'll count it as a win. The last nine-tenths-of-a-mile was cold, but seeing the finish line was sweet. If I pace this race next year, I really hope it's not 15 miles. A half marathon is more than far enough when the temperature is cold enough to form icicles on my beard and nearly freeze my eyes shut.

After the race I hung out with the other pacers in the Shriner's building. After listening to pacing stories, eating my post-race pretzels, banana, and salted nut roll, I bundled back up and made the half-mile trek back to my car.

While pacing Polar Dash was miserably cold, it was a great start to my running year. I notched 14 miles the first day of the year. Then, on the 2nd, I knocked out another more miles when I accompanied my buddy Don Sullivan for 15 miles of his 40 mile birthday run.

Today I'm enjoying my first rest day of the year, catching up on some reading, and doing a little school work.

Happy Running!


Michelle (The Runner's Plate) said...

So what was the temperature? I hear no school on Monday--lucky duck. I sure do miss the schedule of a teacher. At the end I thought you said you went running with 'Dan Sullivan.' That's the mayor of Anchorage.

TCHusker - Nate said...

It was -5.

It is nice the kids don't have to stand waiting for the bus on Monday. I didn't have school anyway due to our year round schedule. I do enjoy the long breaks :)