Running errands today in 16 degree weather (-9C) reminded me of a time playing Ultimate in college.
I think it was the year we were in the finals of most regional tournaments against Wesleyan and expected to make nationals, though I don’t remember exactly since what do I remember exactly from around 1990?
In any case, the only times we could all meet was super-early, maybe 6am. This was during the off-season, so we were meeting maybe January or February at 6am in the middle of campus to walk down to Central Park to practice.
The weather that morning was as cold as I’ve felt in New York, probably around 10F. We didn’t question that we would practice so we all showed up. Imagine about 20 guys around 19 or 20, none of us considering missing practice, but deep inside fearing playing.
The cold alone isn’t the problem. I’ve ice skated and skied in colder weather. You can’t play in coats or much insulation. You can’t hold back from diving for a disc. The ground would feel like concrete, as would the disc hitting our hands. We didn’t know which would hurt more. Running warms you up, but not your extremities and breaks in the action cool you down.
We were scared.
I’ve played other times in snow and rain, but I don’t think as cold as that morning.
We walked about a mile to the Central Park field. That season we had a coach, Juno Lee, who had helped take us to Nationals a few years before and who played with Graffiti, a top New York club team. He had graduated from Stuyvesant High School, where he played with their team Sticky Fingers, which had graduated a lot of top players. Juno dressed and groomed incredibly stylishly.
Juno lived somewhere on the Upper West Side and would meet us at the field. As we arrived, our eyes and hearts seriously in fear, we started getting ready to cleat up, apprehensive about cold air against our feet with just a sock on, even for a few seconds.
Juno arrived shortly after we did, holding a steaming coffee.
“Go home,” he said. “No practice today.”
Maybe the most comforting, welcome words I’ve ever heard.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, here is a highlight reel from this year. These competitors play at a higher level than I did in college, but it gives you a feel for the game.
I also remember running the 1995 New York City marathon, about which the New York Times wrote
1995 A year after one of the hottest races, New York followed with a brutally cold, wet and windy day for the coldest of the New York City Marathons. The temperature reached only 40 degrees, although it was colder at the start when the wind chill factor was 18 degrees, with a mix of rain and snow and winds blowing at 20-30 miles per hour with some gusts to 58 m.p.h. There were no serious cold-related medical emergencies, but there were thousands of wet runners.
I remember also fearing that morning taking my shoes and socks off before the start, which I had to do to put petroleum jelly on to avoid blisters on my toes. Normally I take care to apply it evenly. To minimize time for the cold wind against my skin, I took a big glob of it on my finger, slabbed it as fast as I could on my toes, put my socks and shoes back on, and wriggled my toes to distribute it.
For the rest of the day and race, I experienced a new, odd feeling of toes swimming in petroleum jelly.
Including waiting to start and after finishing meant we were out in 30 to 40 degree windy weather for 7 or 8 hours.
The 2007 Philadelphia marathon was also in the 30s, windy, and drizzling at the start, though I got my best time in that race: 3:51, as I remember.
I’m glad for those experiences. They’re hardly extreme. My podcast guest Jethro Jones rode his bike to work as a school principal all school year last year in Alaska.
Still, they put days like today in perspective.
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