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Icy hot

Winter warriors keep fit in the coldest conditions. What's your excuse?

(Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
January 21, 2013|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

If you're wondering who invited Jack Frost to stick around Chicago, it was Joanne Singleton of Lincoln Park.

When Singleton was training last winter for a 50K (31-mile run) in Alaska, she savored the ice and cold. After a heavy snow, she would take a Metra train to Highland Park at sunrise and run more than 20 miles on trails near there before they were plowed.

This year, she's had to wait a bit longer for winter, her beloved running partner, Chilly Willy.

"It's my favorite time of the year," said Singleton, 40. "If you have the right running gear, you can run in any weather. I absolutely love it."

While some Chicagoans were elated that 60-degree weather made a cameo in December, Singleton is one of few Chicago winter warriors who revel in training and participating in cold-weather sports. These subzero heroes prefer to bask in the snow, ice, slush, base layers, neck warmers, running tights and wool socks that accompany winter.

They'll get their chance to compete against Mother Nature these next few days. The National Weather Service expects wind to make the Windy City feel like it's 20 degrees below zero Tuesday, and the bitter cold is expected to stick around for the rest of the week.

This is good news for Paolo Urizar of Peterson Park, who calls himself a "dirtbag" because of his love for off-road cycling. In 2004, when he attended the Illinois State CX Championships at Montrose Harbor, he marveled at cyclists battling it out in the snow and found a new love: competing in the winter.

Urizar, 38, competed in the USA Cycling CX National Championships earlier this month in Madison, Wis., and is training for the Southern Cross 50-mile bike race in February in Georgia, where nasty weather is a possibility. He said training in Chicago in the winter gives him a leg up on competitors from warm-weather states.

"Especially in cases of bike handling ... it definitely gives me a bit of an advantage dealing with subzero weather," said Urizar, who routinely bikes to his job downtown. "I'm comfortable being prepared for the winter."

To combat the cold and ice and frozen mud when he's riding his handmade bike along the trails, Urizar said he wears two or three layers, including a base layer that wicks away moisture. When the temperature drops he wears a balaclava, headgear that exposes only part of the face, and when it hits subzero he wears ski goggles.

It's important to bundle up when exercising outdoors, said Jim Winger, a Loyola assistant professor of family medicine. While there are concerns about overheating and dehydration when running in very hot temperatures, Winger said there are fewer worries about training in extreme cold.

"When you are active and doing something athletic like running, you raise your own core temperature. When you're running in the cold, that works to your advantage," Winger said. "If you cover up enough to literally protect yourself from the elements or wind or protect yourself from heat loss, you can exercise safely in nearly every common temperature you'll see."

Kimberley Stedman of the Near East Side tends to wear multiple layers (no more than three) when she's running outside in the cold, but she usually skips the headgear. Instead she carries water in a fuel belt, since the Chicago Park District shut off most water fountains along the lakefront path before Halloween.

The lakefront path is where she has hosted the F^3 Half Marathon in January since 2010. (F^3 stands for [Bleeping] Freezing Frozen.) Each year the race has lived up to its name, yet it continues to attract more runners—from 100 its inaugural year to 1,850 runners this year, a sellout.

"We never thought it was going to be this big," said Stedman, 30. "We found a niche. I think we found a good little network of crazy runners."

For as much interest as there is in running in the winter, there aren't many race options in Chicago before the April 7 Shamrock Shuffle, the unofficial start to spring running season. F^3 will be held Saturday. The Chi-Town Big Game 10K/5K is set for Feb. 3, while a 1-mile undie run in Wrigleyville is slated for Feb. 9.

For their part, Singleton and Stedman will spend the winter months outside training for upcoming races outside Chicago.

Stedman is training for the Illinois half-marathon in Champaign in April and the Chicago Spring Half Marathon in May.

Singleton, who said all of her personal records have come in cold-weather races, is training for the Illinois Marathon in April and a May Ragnar relay from Plymouth to Provincetown, Mass. On the trail, she'll join elite runners training for the Boston Marathon in April.

If you spot Singleton along the lakefront, she'll probably be wearing thermal underwear, wool socks and a smile.

"In the winter when I run outside, everyone I meet is smiling. We're just as crazy as each other," Singleton said. "We're out there because we love running."

tswartz@tribune.com

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