Alien. Ethereal. Haunting. Deadly. Lake Michigan on a very cold day.

Running Cold

In which I learn more about life in Chicago

Chet Haase
4 min readJan 14, 2024

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It’s -9º Fahrenheit outside (-31 windchill, but who’s counting) — an insane temperature for a morning run. Plus there’s snow and ice on the sidewalks, making things slippery and fall-prone. If it was just you, you wouldn’t bother. Why suffer this experience when there’s a perfectly good treadmill inside you can use instead? Or, better yet, a comfy chair. Who’s to know?

But you’re in a running group, and the group is going out today, regardless of what a dumb idea that is. The great thing about running groups is the subtle guilt of peer pressure that makes you go out for a run on days when you would punt if it were just you. The bad thing about running groups is the same thing, especially on days like today.

But it’s okay. You have gear.

I might not have all of the recommended gear for today’s run.

You check a dressmyrun.com, a website that advises on appropriate running attire for the current temperature. Yesterday, it recommended hat and gloves. Today it looks more like this:

You start with layers: multiple long-sleeve shirts and a lightweight jacket to protect you from the wind. You put on not one, but two pairs of leggings (plus shorts, so you don’t look totally awkward and creepy going around in body-hugging spandex in public). You ditch your normal running socks (which stop at the shoes leaving too much exposed ankle) for your new wool socks, pulled up and over the bottom hems of your leggings. You break out the trail shoes for better gripping on those chunks of ice. You put on a cotton beanie to cover the head and ears, a hood from the jacket, and a gaiter that you hardly ever wear. You got this.

You start your run with the gaiter covering your mouth and nose, obviously. Exposing skin to these evil elements is bad to begin with, but especially those parts of your face with streams of cold air rushing in and out. A quarter mile in, the gaiter comes down, because breathing seems important.

The wind, already gusting at 20 mph or more, is piped even faster down the narrow streets between buildings, making it hard to move forward on a normal day, but especially when that wind is so very, very bitter. That wind makes your eyes stream tears, in your body’s desperate attempt to keep your eyeballs from freezing solid. This system works great until the tears freeze into tiny crystals throughout your eyelashes.

Your nostrils (with hairs freezing when it hits 10ºF and much more so at -9º) waver between freezing and running a constant gush, as they panic and try to compensate for this stupid decision.

Your toes lodge a formal complaint. Your trail shoes may protect against rough terrain, but they do nothing for small digits covered by just a thin layer of sock and flimsy “breathable” shoe material. They are the vanguard of the entire operation, plunging alone and first into the battle with every step, protected by just a thin wet rag. They are cold, miserable, and probably going to break off soon.

After a mile, it’s all mostly fine. Okay, except for the wind, which you would only ever be fine with in death. But otherwise your body has warmed up enough to deal with the general ordeal. So you do the run, somehow avoiding slipping on the icy bits. The group (down by half, since some saw sense and turned back a mile earlier) reaches the turnaround for the outing, just shy of the lakefront. This is where reasonable people on this unreasonable outing stop; who would choose to venture further into the vast wide open of the lake when your body is screaming to get you back inside? But you want to see the other-worldly vapor clouds on the lake that looked so beautiful from your nice, cozy apartment this morning. So you run across the snow to the lake shore to experience first-hand the ethereal and haunting cold of Lake Michigan on a freezing, windy day.

You need pictures of this, because it’s so beautiful and worth capturing, and also because nothing happens in life if you don’t record it. So you take off your glove to use your phone. Your hand hates you forever.

The Sun was shining, making for a beautiful day, except for the deadly temperatures.

You take the pictures you need, struggling to put your glove back on and store your phone. Simple tasks become complex and difficult when all motor skills die in the cold and your fingers refuse to move, both from cold and anger.

Now you can finally turn around and finish the run to the coffee shop, where you can slowly warm back up to human temperatures.

Getting comfortable is great… until you are done and need to go home, at which point you do it all again, running another mile through this hell. Now the wind that hit you directly in the face earlier as you ran north on this street is hitting you directly in the face as you run south. Physics is sometimes broken and evil.

You finally manage reach your building and recover, never to leave your apartment again.

Nature does not care about you — it just does its thing, regardless of whether you are there or not. Except winter. Winter hates you.

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Chet Haase

Android and comedy. Not necessarily in that order.