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April 11, 2007

Non Starters

I know I promised a photo essay about my new bike, and that post is coming … just not today.

For now, the unseasonably cold weather in the Midwest and on the East Coast, combined with a gloriously sunny week here in California, remind me of an observation I meant to post from a recent business trip.

One of the featured speakers was from Wisconsin, and is a classic type-A overachiever. His intense demeanor was apparent right from his opening remarks, but during the course of the presentation, he also came across as a very friendly guy.

He mentioned a couple of times that he was an avid cyclist, and his final slide was a picture of him and two friends on their bikes at the top of Alpe d’Huez. They were with a group that rode a handful of Tour de France stages on the same days as the professional event - early in the mornings, before the real Tour got underway.

When he was finished, a coworker (also a triathlete) and I chatted him up about his Alpe picture, and told him that we enjoyed cycling also. He asked where we lived, and after hearing our response, said “That would be awesome … you guys have it so easy.”

Now, I make no bones about my cold-weather intolerance on the bike (or anywhere else, for that matter). So I mentioned that I’ve only recently started getting in some decent bike mileage, because our morning temperatures have been below my “non starter” point – the point where the training and/or psychological benefit I would get from the ride is outweighed by the discomfort and difficulty of actually doing the workout. All the while, my co-worker was nodding his head in agreement.

Which led to the following exchange …

Wisconsin guy: What’s your non-starter point?

Me: 40 degrees, or any precipitation.

Wisconsin guy: (wild laughter)

Me: So, um … what’s yours?

Wisconsin guy: It’s 10. And that’s only if it’s dark out. If it’s 10 and sunny, I’m out there. Even in the snow.

Me: Oh … OK then.

It wasn’t exactly a revelation that I’m quite soft in this regard. I mean, that’s the whole reason I live in California in the first place. But now I’m kind of curious as to the non-starter points of other people in various areas of the country.

(Feel free to weigh in with your respective end points. I’m interested to know if I’m at the very bottom of the toughness scale, or just in the lowest quartile.)

The concept isn’t merely limited to cyclists, either – because I know that many runners have a similar temperature threshold during the cold winter months, or during the heat of the summer. For example, this year we had a cold spell when temperatures dropped to the mid-teens, and I blew off nearly all of my morning running that week. However, I don’t have any qualms about running in the rain, or venturing out into scorching heat.

In general, I think I’m a tougher runner than cyclist. But I’m still pretty much a lightweight on both counts.

And now, in the comment section below, is your opportunity to confirm it.


Distance Running Dave 4/11/07, 9:23 AM  

Fitting post for me to comment on today. Last evening I ran my first 5K since '94 and there was a strong crosswind. I found out later on the news that gusts in the area were clocked at 50 mph! It was a great distraction for me since I was moving at a snails pace, but an unusual experience to say the least.
I think thresholds change with the seasons. On a sunny day in the spring or winter 20 feels warm and is a beautiful day to be out, but in the fall temps above freezing can keep me in doors.
High School Nordic ski racing in Minnesota made me appreciate cold, that's why I moved to Colorado.
Have fun on the bike.

Backofpack 4/11/07, 11:09 AM  

Major non-starter: icy roads. Snow is okay, but not ice. Temps/wind and rain don't matter.

Second non-starter: 90 and above. I went out in the relay last year at well over 90 - big mistake.

That said, my preference is a sunny 55-60 degrees. That's perfect!

Deene 4/11/07, 11:42 AM  

Single digit temps would definitely keep me inside, rain, snow or wind are fine with me. Running in the heat above 90 - I cant do.

Dori 4/11/07, 11:43 AM  

I don't like to be cold, but the coldest I've run in was -3F for a Valentine's 5k. Here in Minnesota we consider it bragging rights to run in the cold. Of course, I've learned how to dress for it. I'm with Michelle though--I don't risk running on ice. Not a big fan of lightning or tornadoes, either.

When I move back to California, I'm throwing all my winter weather gear away!

Jeremy Peck 4/11/07, 11:48 AM  

I agree with backofpack, Icy roads will put me indoors. Rain/wind/snow I can deal with. So far this past winter I've tried to stay indoors when its below 10 F.

I've gone out when its above 90, but I've been careful to take it easy and keep hydrated and always with a group.

I find this interesting and I think a lot of it is geography. I'm in Central Illinois, and if I didn't run below 40 F, I wouldn't run for 3 months, cause I can't stand to do more than 4 miles indoors. In California you can probably afford to be a bit more choosy about weather, so that's what you've adapted to. Of course I know a lot of people here that refuse to go out in the cold and slog it out on a treadmill, or don't run.

Anne 4/11/07, 3:04 PM  

Great question, Donald.

As a former Alaskan and New Englander now living in Southern California, I can confirm that the place does make you soft. It happens gradually, though, where one day you realize it's 35 degrees and decide to wait until it's warmer whereas before you got out there when you had the chance. My old running threshold had less to do with temps (though anything below 20 degrees w/o windchill led to heated internal debates) than it did with icy conditions. I just couldn't run (or cycle) when the roads were super slick. Why risk a broken bone or sprain just to say you ran in such lousy weather?

Now that I live where it rarely rains, I'll actually go out of my way to run in it -- just for the novelty.

Megan 4/11/07, 8:52 PM  

First let me say that I was born, raised and currently live in Chicago. My whole life. And when it comes to biking, there is no f-ing way that I would be out there under 35 degrees. I did it a couple of times, but the discomfort, like you said, far outweighs any potential fitness pay off. Now runnign is different, and I have been know to trek the lakefront at 6 degrees, but that's way easier than riding in that weather.

And let me say this - I can't believe that guy laughed. I know a couple of those "bike-at-any-cost-because-then-I-can-prove-I-am-a-tough-guy" cyclists in the area and frankly, they bug me. It is crazy that guys who are only able to do one sport bag on those that work on three. Yuk. I get salty just thinking about it.

SkiRough 4/12/07, 9:23 AM  

My non-starter point is below 30. Anything below that and I'll run, but not bike.

momo 4/12/07, 10:33 AM  

since i live in az, it rarely gets lower than mid-30ish in the mornings, so we pretty much ride outside all year long. i don't know that i could ride in much colder, though, it wouldn't be fun and to me, the whole reason to ride is for the fun of it.

running, well, for running, i'd go into the teens, but probably not much colder. i think my blood has thinned living in this heat for so long.

and speaking of heat... we ride, run, swim, hike, just about everything during the summer above 90, often above 100, we just do it early.

olga 4/12/07, 11:40 AM  

I believe those points should be different for biking and running, so I am no help. In NYC I ran in below zero F. Here I won't do it if it drops under 20. Snow doesn't matter, but driving rain drives me nuts, so I try to find a break in it to get out - after that it's all fine, pour on. Just not at the start.

rick 4/12/07, 2:03 PM  

One of our triathlon coaches grew up in Boston but these days lives in mostly sunny Marin. Doesn't like to train when it's cold and rainy. Doesn't swim in the Bay because it's cold. Complains about the weather in track sometimes when the wind is blowing and the fog is thick....He's coaching, we're the ones running! But the guy has a great pro record, still fit and strong today. So I don't think wimping out on the cold is a signifier of actual race performance. If memory serves me correctly you had a great time at Big Kahuna Half last year.

As for me. I'll run in the rain, cold, storm. So long as the winds don't threaten to blow me off the Golden Gate Bridge or at the top of the ridges in Marin. And as of Western States last year, I found with proper training I can run in over 100 degree heat too. I love running trail in a good downpour, foggier the better. Biking, I can ride in the cold and the rain and the wind too. I can ride in the 20's. However I've just recently made a decision not to ride in the rain anymore. It's no longer a question of toughness and bike handling skills but safety. I'm unwilling to trade the small increase in fitness to the huge risk associated riding in the rain with traffic. Being on the roads with drivers with diminished vision. And lastly swimming. I've been in the open water when it was 50 or so degrees. I won't go in when it's colder. I prefer not to swim in the rain. I don't like pools but outdoor ones are nice especially the heated ones.

I am a much tougher runner than I am a Swimmer or Cyclist.

Dante 4/12/07, 4:47 PM  

Being in Melbourne, snow is unheard of, but I know for sure I'd never venture near it if I had the option. On the bike, I won't head out if the starting temp is less that 5C, or there's some nasty wind. A little drizzle is fine, but serious rain will likely have me indoors too.

Running on the other hand, I don't find too many excuses work and will generally run no matter the conditions.

teacherwoman 4/12/07, 6:57 PM  

I think I would be somewhere in between you and Wisconsin guy. I say if it is above freezing, with no wind. I am good to go. If there is some precipitation, I like it to be a little warmer! I don't think I could do it in 10 degrees.

Katie 4/13/07, 5:45 AM  

Weather is a constant challenge during the winter months. I never check the temps before going out for a run unless you count me sticking my big toe outside the kitchen door to see if I need tights or shorts. With that said I managed some runs in the 25 degree range ( we don't have these temps for long). Once I got past the fact my face was frozen and I couldn't move my mouth for conversation it wasn't all that bad.

Now heat is a different ball game down in Texas. I can pretty much run in the 100 degree range and honestly we don't have much of a choice. I will tell you I never have races during summer so it's only maintenance runs.

I will be getting back on the bike this year so be really glad you don't live in Austin;)

Sarah 4/13/07, 9:10 PM  

So far in Portland, OR I haven't run into any non-starter weather conditions yet. The lowest temp I've run in has been 20. I've run in ice, snow, rain, wind. High temps might stop me, but it's always cool enough in the early mornings. So I guess I haven't really been tested yet.

Annette 4/13/07, 9:30 PM  

The only time I thought it was too cold to run over here was when it was in the teens/low 20s - which rarely happens. Too hot - when it's getting around that 90 degree mark - although I did have to run in that heat on Rainier to Pacific last year. . . . BRUTAL! It's all what you're used to.

robtherunner 4/14/07, 9:09 PM  

The weather here is mild enough where it's almost a treat to run in extreme conditions. Buckets of rain will keep me inside unless I am meeting someone. Other than that I enjoy the cold and the heat.

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