She ran through Chicago's polar vortex. She sprinted through the Texan heat. Cross-country runner Victoria Bianco takes to the pavement rain or shine, day or night, dire cold or blistering heat.
“I can’t stand treadmills,” the Weinberg freshman said. “My coach really hates when I say that because we have to embrace all sorts of running, but I just don’t have the patience to stay stationary that long. I like the sense of accomplishment you get from seeing the world pass you by as you’re running.”
Bianco passes by about 55 miles worth of terrain during any given week. She runs six out of seven days, two of which are double-days, averaging at about 8 miles per run. 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit is her ideal running temperature, but since she is originally from Chicago, she has grown accustomed to extreme temperatures.
In the midst of last winter’s polar vortex, Bianco ran in her record low temperature: -40 degrees Fahrenheit. She wore three pairs of leggings, five shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket and a ski mask. And she was still freezing.
“I have it down to kind of a science,” Bianco said. “Usually somewhere in the middle of the run, I’ll shed a layer because once you start being active outside, after 10 or 15 minutes, your body temperature rises so you don’t need any of those layers. It’s only for the first 10 minutes that you dress.”
Not all of Bianco’s outdoor runs require this layering “science.” When she went to visit her friends in Texas one summer, she ran in the opposite weather: 106 degrees.
“It was a really stupid decision,” Bianco said, laughing. “I probably should have just ran the next day, but I was also kind of like, ‘this would be my highest temperature run, let’s go!’”
Though the cross-country team practices for three hours, three times a week, the coach prescribes OYO (on your own) runs to Bianco and her teammates.
“At Northwestern we’re so busy. Not everyone can make a schedule fit five times a week,” Bianco said. “They’ll let us run by ourselves, so long as we’re honest and we do it.”
According to Bianco, everyone on the team is really dedicated, and they never abuse that freedom. “Off seasons don’t exist with running,” said Bianco’s teammate and roommate Medill freshman Isabel Seidel.
Like Bianco, Seidel hates treadmills and only uses them when absolutely necessary. (For her, however, this includes when the temperature drops below zero.) No matter the weather, both remain committed to their sport.
“It takes a certain type of person, not only physically, but also mentally to be a competitive runner,” Seidel said. “It’s such a painful sport at times, but most people don’t understand how rewarding it is.”
Though Bianco has been running since she was 10, she did not fully commit to it until ninth grade, when she realized she did not have much of a future in soccer.
“[My soccer coach] literally pulled me aside one day at practice and said ‘Victoria, you really suck at the technical aspects of soccer, but you’re actually pretty fast. You should possibly go out for the cross-country team, now,’” Bianco said.
It was one of the hardest conversations she ever had. Soccer meant quite a lot to her, and she had trouble walking away. Nevertheless, she made the switch and ended up loving it, and she did so well that Northwestern's cross-country team offered her a scholarship. For her, it was a dream come true.
“Even though some of the cold days make me wish I would have picked a school in Cali or something, Northwestern is the perfect school for me,” Bianco said. “It’s the perfect balance of academics and athletics, and yes the cold can be a challenge, but it's totally worth it.”
According to Bianco, running is a sport where you get out what you put in. She loves the satisfaction she gets from a good run, and the reward is greater than the pain that comes from the cold.
“I feel like a lot of times you’ll put your heart and soul into something and it won’t work out,” Bianco said. “That happens with running as well, but with running you can really see progress. You can see how hard work pays off in such an extreme way, and I think it made me realize what a good work ethic will do for you. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s kind of the truth.”