“This seemed like a good idea when I signed up in January.” Thus proclaims one of my favourite T-shirt sayings, available at most self-respecting race expos. It describes how I’m feeling at the moment. I haven’t run out of excuses to put training on hold, but I’ve run out of time to have excuses. The Chicago Marathon is in 11 weeks. Yikes!
First I had an injury to nurse. Stuff happens, so I bid my time. Then eastern Canada joined the rest of the east coast and many other parts of North America in experiencing an extended period of hot, humid weather. Granted, it’s not as hot as Florida, or even Ottawa, but it’s hot. We’re not used to this. Wow. How do you breathe when you’re running, all you runners who live in hot places?!
I’ve done some research; apparently your options are to get up at 3 a.m. when you have a few hours of fairly cool weather or to slowly acclimatize. My, my, my, what unpleasant options! I think I’m too old to acclimatize. It’s doesn’t have to be too hot or humid before my lungs start to tell me that running is a bad idea. I always listen to my lungs! And, although I have a plan to get up by 8 a.m. tomorrow to go running before it’s too hot, my self-discipline is much more impressive after 10 a.m. and even better after lunch.
The one thing my research has confirmed is that even small changes in heat and humidity challenge your body. It’s not just in your head. As we all know from how much we sweat on the trail, our bodies generate a lot of heat when we run, even when it’s -20. When it’s hot outside, our bodies can’t cool down and we keep getting warmer and warmer, which is not good. For those of us not used to these conditions – and for people who are older or who have some health issues – discretion is the better part of valour. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very bad.
What have I learned about coping? First of all, when it’s hot and you’re running, stay in shaded areas when possible, keep drinking cool liquid, pour a little water on yourself to cool down, and keep your electrolytes up. I do all that, but in this heavy air I just can’t keep running if I want to breathe. I have finally figured out that extending the walk part of my usual run/walk pattern helps bring my breathing back to normal, with the added bonus of resting my still-fragile hamstrings. But should I feel guilty for adding so much walking?
For any of you in similar situations, where prolonged periods of hot weather are not the norm, listen to your body. This chart, adapted from information available online, shows that you should not expect to go as fast in heat as you usually do. Your body has to work just as hard or harder at slower paces when it’s hot.
For example, if you typically run at a 10 min/mile pace (6 mi/hr), then if it is a muggy 78F (26C) you should aim for 11:45 min/mile to put your body through the same exertion. If it’s over 80F (27C) and humid, you should go a full 3:00 min/mile slower. Knowing this has given me a psychological boost. It means that my extended periods of walking make sense; I’m just doing what I have to do.
Now if I could just convince myself to get up early to beat the heat. That’s going to take more than a psychological boost; it will require a psychological kick in the butt!
Chart adapted from Over40Runner.com