Friday 28 August 2015

From hills to heat

I'm quintessentially Celtic.  Red hair, green eyes, fair skin and freckles.  I don't belong in the heat.  I'm just not designed for it.  I go purple, moan like a bitch and swell up like a space hopper.  But I like a new challenge and - like most ultra-runners - thrive on pushing the boundaries.  Always searching for new levels of stupidity. 

So Spartathlon's next.  I don't have high expectations.  It's a bucket list race, and I'll be happy happy if I get to Sparta.  Ideally, on foot.   Link to British Spartathon team website 

At the start of the month, we went on a heat training camp...I mean family Croatia.  Temps were around 37 degrees every day, so it was a feet-first introduction to to the similar conditions I'll experience in Greece next month.

Wow.  It wasn't pretty.  I literally got my ass handed to me on a (hot) plate.  But I spent the first 18 years of my life in desert climates and I don't recall melting and I certainly didn't wear suncream every day, so surely it's a case of adapting to heat?  Maybe not adapting to comfortably running 153 miles in it, but just making it a little more bearable would suffice. 

That was actually my happy face ;-)
At first I did a few easy runs early morning and late evening, because it fitted better with our not-so-hectic holiday itinerary. OK, it fitted better with attacking the resort's buffet meals better.

Day three I went for a mid-day 10-miler.    Just an out and back on a cycle dirt track, without the benefit of the sea breeze.  It was relentless.  I had to lie down after four miles and I honestly didn't know how I was going to get back.   I was emotional, dehydrated and beyond melting point.

Taking relief from the heat while standing in the middle of a hotel's sprinkler system, I had a major confidence crisis.  What was I thinking? How am I ever going to move in that heat, let alone run? But backing out of it never crossed my mind. In fact the shock of that day was just what I needed.  

I learned so much and subsequent runs were much better.  

1) Knocking back the pace:  Slow isn't slow enough. Even just 20-30 per mile made a huge difference. If I'm overheating, I'm going too fast.

2) The point of no return:  I made the mistake of overheating too quickly and it was hard to back down from that.  Starting slower certainly helped keep temperature in check. 

2) Dousing myself in water whenever possible kept me cool.  Although even after my sprinkler session,  my clothes were bone dry after about half a mile.

3) The conditions were much drier than I'm used to.  Scotland is very muggy and humid.  Although I didn't think I was sweating as much, my skin was really salty and my clothes had white salt marks. 

4) I needed heat!  So I went along to heat chamber session at Napier University and I'm incorporating a few sauna sessions per week from now until race day.  

5) Saunas attract some right weirdos.  Then I remembered.  I was sitting there too.