February 05, 2008

The worst brings out the best in us

[By Merry]
The good news is, the worst is over.

No, I'm not talking about Madonna's fashion sense. A psychologist from Cardiff University says January 24 was the Worst Day of the Year, when people were the most miserable. He even has a formula to prove it: 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA.
W: Weather
D: Debt
d: Money due in January pay
T: Time since Christmas
Q: Time since failed quit attempt
M: General motivational levels
NA: The need to take action

Anything with that many variables makes me suspicious (okay, and confused). There are so many factors, I don't see how you can predict their interaction with any degree of reliability, no matter how many diplomas you have.

I think this study was memorable because humans like imagining the worst. It tends to bring out the best in us. In Oregon, they celebrate bad weather by hosting the Worst Day of the Year Ride. This bicycle ride has gotten so popular that they had to cap the number of people who signed up.

Another example is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, whose members swim every Sunday from October to April. In New York. Sounds insane to me, but they're all smiling in the picture.

Is the human race schizophrenic or what? One the one hand here's a large part of the population huddled by the heater whining about how lousy it is outside, and then there are these fanatics really enthused people deliberately going out into the coldest, most miserable weather -- and enjoying themselves! They positively embrace the fact that it's awful, instead of whining about it as any normal red-blooded human would do.

I envy them even while feeling irritated. I mean, they make the rest of us look bad. I think the most annoying part is -- well, you know how you felt when you got up crack o'dawn to go exercise or do something virtuous like that? You remember how good you felt afterwards, maybe even a little smug about the people who didn't get off their tuckuses and work out first thing? That's how I imagine these people feel. I don't want people feeling smug around me; it makes me feel inadequate.

Probably there's no way to stop feeling this way except to join the Dark Side myself, i.e. go out in the worst weather to exercise. I'm curious: does anyone know if there are more of these extreme weather workouts around? Do people like them because it's a chance to exercise outdoors and experience the excitement of a race with other people despite the inclement weather?

Or maybe it's just that we're attracted to the bizarre. There's one marathon, the Moonwalk, that takes place in Scotland, among other locations. It begins at midnight, and everyone participating wears a pink bra. (Presumably a pink sports bra, but you never know.) I like the idea of making exercise fun, but I don't know if I'm ready for that one yet. Because it's a marathon, yeah, that's the reason.

Besides, Madonna will probably be there. She's already got the perfect outfit.


  1. I'd have to say the people who do the Badwater Ultra Marathon pretty much deserve the vote for craziest folks making the best out of bad situations.


    "Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA in temperatures up to 130F (55C), it is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.

    The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at the Mt. Whitney Portals at 8360' (2533m). The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000’ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700’ (1433m) of cumulative descent. The Portals are the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States."

  2. Holy @#$!, scrumpy's b! That is truly insane. I could see doing the Worst Day ride, but 3 mountain ranges in up to 130 degree weather?

    I'll watch. In an air conditioned room. While shaking my head in wonder.

  3. I don't know of anythign official, but last week when it was -52 out there were people out *jogging*.
    I wanted to chase them down and give them a good stern talking to, but it would have meant I had to go outside and chase them down myself.
    I'm all for keeping it up in the winter (not that I *do* or anything...ahem) but when it's cold enough to die out, perhaps there's somethign indoors to do? I like the worst day ride idea. Seems like flipping the bird to the weather when ou need to most. I think if I was dressed for it I'd do it. But only once a year...

  4. There are a lot of "Polar Bear" swims in northern parts of Canada. Not something the Bag Lady would want to participate in. She can't swim :)

  5. I liked this line: "Sounds insane to me, but they're all smiling in the picture."

    Since when is smiling an indicator that you're sane? {grin}

  6. Even if I could swim the Polar Bear swims we have here are out of the question. It takes a certan kind of loopiness to do that and I just don't have it.

  7. I wonder if you can really predict the worst day - that seems not very realistic. What about predicting the happiest day? In Oregon we have another day, that's way cooler - rainmaker day. The only day it's never rained in Oregon, ever.

  8. Scrumpy,

    I visited that website...and not only is it absolutely insane (because you know that the top runners are probably doing 5 minute miles all in one go round, so about 11 hours of running total), but in the rules they also states that upon completion of the race, if the runners want to climb Mt. Whitney, they must remove their race identification numbers.

    Wtf?!! So not only are they running 135 miles in extreme heat, not allowed to have their support vehicles shade them or wear a cooling pack, but when they're done, they go climb the tallest mountain in the contiguous states?! This just gives me a whole new meaning of hard core.

    Then there's also the ironman competitions (I can't remember what it's called, but it has an official name). An Ironman is swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26 miles. But that's a piece of cake for the hard core ones, right? I heard about ironman competitions that had multiple ironman competitions back to back (I don't remember how many, but it was something like 3 perhaps, in a 3 or four day span).

    Going back to the polar bears - omg! I live in Boston and I know the ocean off NYC can't be that much warmer that here. In the height of summer, my skin has to go numb to withstand the cold of the ocean here, I can't imagine in winter!

  9. The Comrade's Ultra-Marathon in South Africa is a pretty serious event. My friend Tatiana Titova ran it a couple of years ago for the first time and finished 9th or so, basically running two sub 3 hour marathons in a row. When I asked her how she felt about her performance, she replied,"Next time I run it I'll be ready!" Ha Ha!! She a whole different kind of person. I can only imagine :-)
    Dr. J

  10. Some guy actually came up with a formula to calculate a "bad day." Wow! I don't whether to be impressed or disturbed?

    I heard about those people who swim in the Antarctic type cold water years ago. Brrrrr! Don't know how they do it.

  11. OK, I'm an Oregonian...
    I don't know what the worst day of the year would be...They are all kind of shitty when it's rainy and windy...It would be soooooo hard to pick just one...

    Jennifer: Rainmaker Day?? Never heard of it, I'm a bad Oregonian, must go google now...

  12. The funny thing is, I feel both...depending on the day. Sometimes I go for a run in freezing temperatures and feel all victorious and like I conquered mother nature. Lately I've been hating running in the cold. Bitter, angry, crazy hate.
    Tomorrow maybe I'll like it again, but I don't think so. I think Mother nature is wearing. me. down.

  13. Well, there is the Iditarod for the really crazy! And you get to take your dogs with you. For at least 9 days, you get to travel 1000+ miles over frozen tundra, most of it in the dark, because even in March the sun is not that far North yet. You could experience blizzards and whiteout conditions with sub-zero temperatures & windchills down to about -100 F.

    official website: http://www.iditarod.com/
    Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iditarod_Trail_Sled_Dog_Race

  14. But Reb, you get to travel with all these cute furry puppies! (Yes, I'm missing my dog.)

    Katieo, I heard a rumor that spring is coming soon. We're already at Mardi Gras, that means, what, six weeks until Easter? Isn't that spring?

    Sambo, I'd never heard of Rainmaker day either. (Jennifer, is it a Salem-centric festival?) Down in California, one of the foggiest towns near SF is Pacifica, which holds a Fog Fest each year. Naturally, they hold it on the one day that's guaranteed to be sunny. Mother Nature can be a mother sometimes, I guess ;)

    Stephanie, I suppose that professor could have been just making it up. I didn't read the background article on what lead him to develop that formula. Maybe he was trying to impress the Dean so he could stay employed. You think?

    between the polar bears and the desert runners... I have to say, that pink bra race is looking better and better!

  15. Dr. J -- your friend ran two marathons in a row? On purpose? I am impressed. No, actually I think awestruck might be a better word. I can't imagine doing that, but if I did, then I really can't imagine not being satisfied with my performance. Maybe ultra-achievers are designed never to be completely satisfied?

    Leth R., I think it's the same kind of person as Dr. J's friend that runs multi-Ironman competitions back to back. Geez, I get worn out moving out of a three-story townhouse. :(

    Leah and Bag Lady, I'm with you. We'll cheer the polar bears on from the sidelines. Maybe in a hot tub, or suchlike toasty warm place.

    Marijke -- I guess you're right. I think it's better to be happy than sane :)

    Um... Geosomin... did you say 52 below? Hooooooly crap! I bet they were neither happy nor sane!

  16. Thanks for the OR shout-out... we have all kinds of wacky athletic endeavors out here - even a midnight naked bike ride!

    Unfortunately, I don't consider myself one of these extreme athletes who embrace the shi&&y weather! ;)

  17. Oh my goodness, just reading about these things makes me tired. What an amazing bunch of bizarre masochistic races you folks have dug up, too--I had no idea!

    I have the same reaction, Merry, about not liking to be out-smugged, even by people who are doing things that are obviously insane.

    (Though I actually kind of like the idea of the pink bra competition, as long as there are guys wearing them too).

    And sorry I've been out of commission these last few days... will be back soon! But perhaps not until later today or tomorrow. So much to catch up on!

  18. I feel sorry for the people who live in New England that hibernate for the winter months and pray for warmer weather.

    I am certainly the minority and get excited when the snow flies. I absolutely love winter sports from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and snowmobiling (my favorite). I tend to use all my vacation time in the winter taking advantage of beautiful snowy days! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!!!

  19. I'm not crazy enough to swim with the Polar Bears, run in a pink bra or bike naked though.


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