Nine Things I Learned from the Chiberia Challenge

When I started the Chiberia Challenge, I honestly didn’t think 70 miles run over the course of two weeks sounded like that much. I still had the marathon mentality regarding my training, making any distance seem kind of skewed. “Oh, I did a marathon in October. 70 miles isn’t very much at all. I could finish in a week.”

So young. So naive.

I finished the challenge in a respectable nine days (other members of our rock star team finished in as few as six days!), and I found a few surprises along the way. In honor of my nine days spent running my ass off in the cold, here are nine things I learned from the Chiberia Challenge:

1. Cold is manageable. Dark is manageable. Cold and dark is rough to overcome. I found that the hardest times for me to run were first thing in the morning when it was both cold and dark. Separately, those two things don’t scare me off from running. Combined, they had me cowering in my bed. It required sky-high motivation to overcome the two.

2. Friends are the best fitness guilt trip. I went to a couple of the CRW’s Tuesday morning runs out of Fleet Feet Sports, figuring (correctly) that it would keep me accountable. I present you with Exhibit A- text messages from me to Cass Gunderson on the morning of a run, 20 minutes before I was supposed to be at her apartment:

Kristen (5:34am): The heart wants sleep. I’m sorry!

Kristen (5:39am): Dammit I’m awake and I feel guilty I’m coming

See? She didn’t even have to say anything to be effective!

3. You never regret a workout. Somewhat related to #2, I firmly believe that you never regret a workout (unless it’s the workout in which you tear your ACL or are held hostage in a Pilates studio or something). That’s what I kept having to tell myself on those cold, dark mornings when my bed was calling to me.

4. Weather isn’t as scary as you think it is. Yes, it’s cold outside this time of year, and yes, sometimes it snows. But honestly, the weather isn’t that much to overcome when you’re craving a winter run. I ran in the snow, and it was actually pretty fun, in a child-like wonder type of way. And I ran in the cold, and I survived and even had a girl in a car yell at me “Quit running! It’s too cold and you’re making me feel guilty!” It’s a pretty badass feeling.

5. Preparation is everything. Having the right gear and layering up for the weather is essential for a comfortable, non-frostbitten run in the cold. Buy the right stuff, and you’ll be able to use it year after year.

6. When you’re running several times a week, recovery isn’t optional. Early on in the challenge, I decided I was going to go all-out and knock out as many miles as I could right off the bat. I ran 20 miles in two days, and felt awesome and really tough. Then on the third day, my heel decided to get plantar fasciitis. I immediately backed off and took a day to recover, and spent some SERIOUS time rolling out my foot with an Addaday stick and a frozen water bottle. Recovery isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of wisdom.

7. Some of the best support you’ll find comes from a virtual running community. While I knew most of the people on A Sweat Life’s team for the Chiberia Challenge, I was only casual acquaintances with all but a few of them. That quickly changed as we started a group e-mail chain, a collaborative playlist on Spotify, and completely abused the chat feature on Nike+ Running. It was completely unexpected but so uplifting to get inspirational messages from these people that I didn’t really know. Whether it was a tweet or a comment on an Instagram picture or an e-mail saying “Keep up the good work, guys!”, our team really took “team” to heart, and I think that helped give us the edge in the competition.

8. You can fit fitness into any day. The days where I got the most miles were the ones were I incorporated fitness into my errands- literally running errands, you might say. Sure, I could have said “Well, today I have to be at work by this time and I have to go to the pharmacy and the post office- I definitely don’t have time to run six miles.” But by running two miles to work in the morning, then running four miles round trip to my apartment and the post office over lunch, and then running two and a half miles to the pharmacy and my house, I was able to exceed my fitness goal for the day. True, I know that I’m luckier than some in that I have the flexibility to get sweaty at lunch, but the point remains that small chunks are better than one long session if that’s what it takes for you to fit in a workout.

9. I love running, but I’m ready for a break. After a marathon, a half marathon, and a Chiberia Challenge, I still know that running is my thing and I love it. That said, after nine straight days of running, I definitely see the value in a break, and I’m looking forward to having mine over the holidays- and then getting back into running with a renewed vigor.

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

4 thoughts on “Nine Things I Learned from the Chiberia Challenge

  1. Great lessons! I just moved here from VA and am still a little wary about running in the cold, but so far as long as the temps are like this then it is manageable. Talk to me again next month…

    1. You can totally do it! One thing I forgot to add was that my body definitely adapted to running in the cold- I got faster later on in the challenge after my body had time to get used to it!

  2. That small chunks thing worked for me too. I didn’t hit my goal, but I did get more miles in than I had before by incorporating multiple shorter runs like you did. I don’t run faster than the bus on my work commute (3.7 miles) but it’s absolutely do-able if I organize my stuff right.

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