The Beast From The East. A band of weather so severe it was going to bring the entire country to its knees. Visions of being knee deep in snow were projected by the mass media conglomerates. Social media getting into a tizz. People panic buying.

Spare a thought for those of us who have to actually train in this. I know, I know. First world problems. But coming from a country that doesn’t always (these days) get such (relatively) harsh winters, the last time I remember it getting this cold was back many years ago. We had a Siberian weather pattern come over, oooh, I don’t know… around 20 years ago. The wind chill made the weather feel like roughly – 14C. In the UK. There wasn’t much in the way of snow, as I remember, but it was bitingly cold. Not that this didn’t stop our P.E. teacher sending us out for a game of football on a bone dry pitch in our shorts and long sleeve jumpers, which weren’t thermal in the slightest. Unsurprisingly, the game ended 0-0. I played right back and the rest of my defence stood there, rooted to the spot, arms clasped around themselves, absolutely shivering. It was a bracing experience. One I fondly (is that the right word?) remember. I didn’t have the commute or our rubbish public transport system to worry about back then!

Now true, there’s been the odd moment the last few years when I’ve got up to go out for a run in icy weather, found nothing but ice until I’ve got into the hills of Halifax or the Upper Valley of Calderdale, which for myself I have a good few miles to run before I reach them, some too far away to be worth considering. But by and large all I had to contend with was cold air and black ice. The latter not conducive to running safely outside, but there’s always the local park at least to get off road, or the treadmill at the nearby gym & pool. Quite possibly, thanks to global warming (perhaps?), the temperatures more often than not sit comfortably in the low single figures, but just enough that within half a mile that you realise a jacket wasn’t necessary and you end up wearing it around your waste for the vast majority of 19 miles – as I did the weekend before the Beast landed. Acclimatisation can be a millstone, sometimes.

Nonetheless, after having its merry time with the rest of the UK, my part of Yorkshire finally got a decent snowfall on the Wednesday (February 28), which meant I could go out for a run in it. I didn’t manage more than about 4 miles, but that was all my training called for, and in the end I did a decent job going up towards Lower Wyke and back down again. It was a frosty – 6C that morning too. I quite enjoyed it! However, we got the absolute motherload arrive the day after, as all my routes to work got leathered by the white stuff that day, meaning I had to work off site and hope for some abatement in the weather to actually be able to stick to some sort of program that same night. Thankfully, by mid afternoon the monster had gone for a snooze, and I squeezed in another 4 miles that night.

Looking back down Whitehall Road, Lower Wyke, 01/03/2018
Wellholme Park, Brighouse, 03/03/2018

The litmus test to come was in the form my Saturday and Sunday runs. I decided against going out too far from home, as much as I enjoy adventure, and decided to keep to either my local park, or the main road above it. Ten miles of marathon pace training in the snow seemed extra challenging, but it was firm enough without being too icy in the park that morning, and I completed the run successfully. Despite placing what seemed a greater load on my joints than the norm, I ran every mile inside 6:45 mile pace and set myself up for a potential banana skin. A workout I’d picked up from the forums suggested a 20 mile workout consisting of 10 miles easy (7:40 mile pace), the latter 10 miles at (6:40 mile pace), the aim being to average 7:10 pace, as well as hit your mile targets. That’s one thing in theory, but to potentially run it on disappearing snow, and possibly ice?

My footsteps on Bradford Road, Brighouse, 04/03/2018

Thankfully, Sunday morning is a quiet time on the main road linking Bailiff Bridge with Brighouse Town centre, and the snow was fairly fresh from new snowfall overnight. Back and forth I went, initially at the slower pace, as my Salomon Speedcross, my trail shoes for quite a while now, squeaked awkwardly as they made tracks. I’d sometimes chuck in the local park for good measure, and as an added bonus, got to practice picking up water – such an oft-forgotten art of race day preparation – by leaving it on a wall near a turnaround point while I took a gel, or those awesome Sports Beans. My trail shoes later gave up at mile 13, the lace snapping on one side, meaning I had to nip home and change into my road shoes for the remainder. It was safe enough to run on the road at this hour, and I ran marathon pace for as long as I could thereon. I finished up with an average 7:10 mile pace. Somehow, I’d hit my target, despite what the weather could throw at me. Every damn target I set, it keeps falling, even throughout this weather.

But there’s only so much out and back running I can take. The weather had pinned me into training pretty much in my hometown only, aside from club training on Tuesdays, by which time the Beast had subsided at last. A mere two weeks later (March 17/18), as I planned a great big 20 mile loop of Huddersfield and the surrounding area, we got more heavy snowfall, so much so that when I woke up for my run, the snow on my street was ankle deep. Having only just obtained my new trail shoes at this point, a 20 mile run wasn’t the time to break them in. And so I had to slip and slide down to the main road again, which thankfully the local authorities had done a great job of gritting and clearing overnight, meaning I only got my feet wet in slush after 2 miles and ran with all the joy of a bulldog chewing a wasp. It was attritional alright. Shorn of my free roaming plans, I cut my run down to 16 miles to ensure I got back in time for the kids getting up, this allowing my wife a bit of a lie in, and entirely without nutrition too, save for water. The snow had almost gone the next day too. The bloody cheek of it!

The point I’m making, I guess, is that this winter, more so than recent years, has been quite a testing one for those of us training for our spring marathons. Sometimes, running in the snow can be a thrilling experience, a phenomenal workout, a rarity to behold. In the UK at least. Weeks of bitter cold and disruptive cold weather is enough to drive a runner crazy, the mere thought of potentially falling over on ice or getting stuck in some great big snow drift to force us into the gym or onto main roads only. In my case, the death of my Speedcross came at an absolutely terrible time!

So here’s to all of us. The early risers, the lunchtime runners, the club mates and those who run at all hours. Marathon training isn’t easy at the best of times without having such conundrums as how many layers to wear, are my gloves sufficient, wearing the right shoes depending on the type of snow, and so on and so on. And that’s before worrying about staying on your feet or how long you can last before the terrific wind chill factor absolutely bites down on any supposed enjoyment you’re to obtain from these rare experiences of subzero running.

It’s less than four weeks to London from here. My last 20 mile run is Easter Sunday. Surely the cold weather is behind us now. Surely…