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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Running Long in the Heat

In June the temperatures began to rise.  We had some weekends with highs in the 90s - and I thought THAT was hot.  Despite the warmer weather, my body was adjusting and I was able to hold my goal pace for my workouts, including my long runs.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when week after week I was running 14 miles right around an 8:00/mile average pace, finishing faster than I started every time, even in that heat.  I remembered reading an article in the Washington Post that was published in late May, it was all about the science behind how our bodies adapt to the heat.  (It is a fascinating article - you can read it by clicking HERE.)  It said it would take "fit" people about 2 weeks to acclimatize to the heat.  I put myself into that category and thought Okay - two weeks - I can handle that.  By July I'll be feeling fine in the hot summer weather.

WRONG.

That would have been the case I think, except that temperatures have been WAY above average lately and especially over the course of the last week.  Yesterday the high in the Virginia Beach area was a staggering 11 degrees above the average for the day.  The heat index was something like 119 degrees.  WHAT?!!  That is insane.  90 degrees IS hot, but when you compare it to what we are dealing with now, it almost sounds like a cold front.

Last weekend I set out for my long (16 mile) run and tried to nail the same paces I had been hitting the week before when it was a full 10 degrees cooler.  The higher temperature combined with the fact that I wasn't able to leave the house as early in the morning as I usually do meant that I found myself running in really hot and sunny conditions.  I tried to fight it, and by halfway through my run I was slowing down no matter how hard I tried.  My pace dropped by more than 40 seconds per mile and I felt like I was cooking - I was overheating (chills and all) and was walking most of the last mile.  My average pace for the run was 8:50/mile (which is great, accept it is slower than I should be able to run and I also felt like death).  The last mile took me 11:44.  I felt completely beaten down by the run and by the heat and have never been so relieved to be DONE with a run as I was on that day.  It was a terrible feeling.

All week long I had to come to terms with the fact that this heat meant I would be running slower than I wanted to in order to be comfortable and safe.  Here I am on vacation, running along the beach on one of my favorite locations and every single run felt harder than it should.  It was frustrating - I wanted to ENJOY running here but instead I felt awful.  Until I realized that my body was once again having to adjust to the heat - because a 15 degree increase in temperatures is a BIG deal.  I accepted it and made some changes.  The biggest change I made - run slower.  Throw pace out the window and run by feel.  And it worked.

Yesterday morning I had 16 miles to run again.  I was determined to not let the heat beat me this time.  I wasn't going to push my pace.  The goal was to be SAFE.  To FEEL comfortable - as comfortable as one can possibly feel while running 16 miles in the middle of record heat.  I chose a route that had plenty of fountains so I could refill my water bottle and mapped out a run that would bring me some shade (not the easiest thing to find at the beach) during the latter half of my run when the sun would be stronger.

My first mile - 9:35.  Perfect.  I ran along the ocean and the morning clouds had still not lifted.  I was feeling good but did not let myself get carried away by that feeling.  There were 15 more miles to run and I wanted to feel this way for as long as possible.

Miles 2-10: 8:58, 8:47, 8:56, 8:49, 8:56, 8:44, 8:46, 9:00, 8:52

The start of Mile 10 brought me to my favorite park in Virginia Beach - First Landing State Park.  I LOVE running through this park and have logged more miles and made more memories here than I can count.  It is as near and dear a place to me as any other.  But I do not run through this park all that much in the summer because of one reason -- deer flies.  I have been bitten BAD by them in past summers.  I've literally gone on runs where one evil fly swarms around me and lands on me and bites me for miles and won't leave me alone - it is miserable!  I'd been in VA Beach for a whole week already this trip and hadn't yet braved the park for fear that I would be introduced to another deer fly.  But yesterday I decided it was the day to test it out, because it was over 100 degrees and that park is full of trees.  And trees provide shade.  And I needed SHADE.

a favorite place
I entered the park and saw other runners coming off the trails and asked them about the flies.  Nope - no flies today!  Ahhh, thank goodness.  I started running along the trails - dirt and sand and pine-needle covered - and could tell immediately that I was in the right place.  My legs were happy for the break from the concrete boardwalk.  The shade was so perfect and the trees more beautiful than I ever remembered.  It was hot for sure, but not nearly as brutal as the boardwalk was.  I kept my pace steady and finished the last 6 miles feeling strong and renewed.

happy at 16 miles
Miles 11-16: 8:59, 9:01, 8:53, 8:48, 8:45, 8:59

My average pace for the run was 8:56.  I was sweaty - I could hear my feet squishing in my shoes they were so wet from my sweat (gross).  I was HOT.  Hotter than I think I have EVER been.  I was muddy - in the best kind of way.  And I was happy.  I wasn't defeated by this run.  Yes, my pace was slower than it was last week - but I never felt like I had to walk, I never felt like I was overheating or asking more of my body than it could give me.  It was solid training and I didn't want to quit.  In the last mile I told myself - I am fit, I am strong.  Because of all the things this heat has done to me the worst has been that it has shaken my confidence in my fitness and that is just not acceptable.  I have worked hard to get to this point and I do not want the summer weather to derail my progress.  In order to hang onto it and improve upon it, I have got to flex my mental muscle and I have got to train smart.  Which means making adjustments due to the heat and also means continuing to believe in myself even when my pace slows.

done!
I came home from this run and was floating.  I was so happy to have finished it feeling strong rather than defeated.  This morning I went out for an 8 mile recovery run and my legs are feeling good.  I am moving forward with this attitude, one foot in front of the other.

muddy feet
I have one more week of running in Virginia Beach and I am determined to enjoy it, to be safe and make it count, no matter how hot it gets here.  I know now what I have to do to insure that happens.

What I've come up with as my must-adhere-to tips for super hot weather runs:

* run as early as possible
* bring a water bottle and make sure there are plenty of places to refill it
* run slower, not worrying about pace -- run by feel, always checking in with yourself
* make sure to be hydrated -- before, during and after ALL runs and especially long runs
* run in the shade whenever possible
* run with a phone, in case of emergency
* flex the mental muscle -- remember this is excellent mental toughness training!

Do you have any tips to add to my list of hot weather summer run tips?  Did you run long in the heat this weekend?  How did it go?  What did you learn?

13 comments:

for me I add

bring salt tablets
wear light color clothes...tops and hat white if possible...no black

running and LIFE in the TX heat means we've gots to get up and do everything earlier :)

Great tips! I have been doing my long runs with a run club that provides aid stations. It's been heaven to know that ice cold water is never far away to refill our bottles or to dump on our heads. You are so right about flexing mental muscle. It's making us tougher and stronger runners!

I've heard running in a tank that is loose helps keep you cooler than one that is tighter...

I agree with your tips and the other one to wear loose tops! Running in the heat is brutal! I usually get through the summer mileage and then pick my speed up in the fall! Great run!!!

Early morning runs have been a savior in terms of beating the heat! Great tips!

I am missing out on all of the hot weather. I am running in 75-80 dry temps out here in Southern California So you may be saying "Thanks Lisa, stop rubbing it in" but I am thinking this is the place (SoCal) where runners get weak. :) No really, I miss running back in VA. but I'm pretty sure I can do without those temps. Over 100 is just too much.

GREAT TIPS! I started training for my first ever Marathon, and training in this heat has been a HUGE challenge

You're doing great in the heat! It is so much more tolerable to run early early. I notice if I run in just a sports bra I'm a lot cooler (even though others out there probably wished I didn't!). I wear a white hat too.

Your run through the park looks lovely. I live in the middle of no where surrounded by corn fields so there is no shade anywhere on my runs. It makes it hard sometimes, but running early morning or later in the evening helps. Also wearing clothing that doesn't soak up all my sweat. It's so hard to slow down, but our bodies just can't do it...

The heat has been insane!! I keep seeing all these updates from folks out running and I can't even imagine. I guess it's a good thing that I have my knee as an excuse for not running in the heat? ;-) Your tips are great

Great tips! I start training in the next few weeks for a half marathon so I will be using them!

Heat kills me. It really does have an impact and it's important to adjust our training and expectations to that to train smart and safely. Great job on that run! I would have felt super accomplished too!

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