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. 


Marco Consani said...

Being affected by heat is in the mind. We are all capable of running in warm dry weather - in fact our bodies are designed for it and we have a evolved methods to cool down efficiently. Don't get me wrong - it will be hard but don't let your mind tell you that you can't cause you can and will do fab. Trust me.
I of course will take it even easier than Croatia. All from my Air Conditioned car. :-)

Robert Osfield said...

I also have struggled in the heat (blame my celtic heritage:-) in the past but after reading Mike Stroud's book "Survival of the Fittest" I was encouraged to test heat adaptation myself. I recommend the book if you haven't read it yet, quite a few amazing stories and insights.

A couple of years back I had holiday in Spain and like you kept to just running in the morning to avoid the heat but steadily moved to running in the day and keeping the pace down. By the end I was able to run a tempo run at the hottest time of day without overheating. As soon as I stopped and got in doors into air conditioning the sweat stopped evaporating and I was completely drenched in sweat. Pretty extraordinary how well my body had adapted, all for someone who used to hate the heat.

Alas Scotland doesn't really had many days in the mid 30's to really test. I know Caroline McKay did pretty well from her time in at Napier preparing for the Western States 100. Paul Giblin did pretty well off it too when prepping for the 100k.

I've taken to having hot baths after runs as form of heat training, the bath is often tougher than my actual training. It may be a imperfect substitute for actually running in the heat but does seem to help me cope with hot days better. Studies have found that heat stress helps with promote aerobic adaptations as well, so you not only get better adapted to heat but your response to training is improved as well.

Best of luck with training and adapting.

Robbie Drummond said...

Best of luck Debs. I think the body adapts pretty quickly. I do Bikrum infrequently and then in bursts. The first one is hell, but the second and third get easier quite quickly. Would recomend Mike Stroud's book also - we were designed to run on the Savannah! Anyway hope it gives well - fantastic challenge. Robbie