Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running Hot: Tips for Racing in the Heat and Humidity

The BMM shirt this year- the eyes glow in the dark.
This was supposed to be a post about the 2013 edition of the Black Mountain Monster 24 hour, but a week after the Leatherwood 50 miler I had a moment or two of stupidity.  Okay maybe three.  First, I decided to go really heavy on legs in the gym, which made my hamstrings hurt.  Then the next day, I did speed work on the track for the first time in months   This made my hamstrings hurt.  So, in order to stretch them out, I did about 50 yards of walking lunges.  This did not make my hamstrings feel any better.  Did I mention that this was a week after Leatherwood?  What it did do was keep me from running very much for the next four weeks.  So in order to compensate for my lack of common sense, I decided I would use BMM as a training run for Vermont 100, run a 50K and go home.

This is how my training has gone.  It's not a pretty picture.

The BMM 2013 was therefore, pretty uneventful.  I showed up late, got to see a bunch of old friends, and left early.  But as I was running my 5K loops during the hottest part of the day, I watched what some others were doing and saw how some of them were suffering pretty badly, which caused me to reflect on some of my hot races.  BMM, pretty much every year.  Merrill's Mile, where the temperature registered 100 on the track. Old Dominion, the year of 100 plus degrees with near 100% humidity.  Laurel Valley.  Woods Ferry.  Chattooga. North Fork 50. In all these races, I fared better than many others in the heat, so I thought I'd share a thing or two that has worked for me.  Keep in mind, this is my experience and what has worked for me, but it may not work for you. 

1.  Downshift.  While it is cool in the morning, I try to get some decent miles in.  I don't overdo it so I am worn out, but I run with a purpose.  During the hottest part of the day, I just run steadily, but take many more walk breaks and try to keep my heart rate down.

2.  Sun vs. shade I watch a lot of people running  on double-track or gravel roads and not taking advantage of the shade.  They pick a straight line and run it.  I snake my way down the trail staying in the shade, even if it is a little tiny bit, as much as possible.  I figure that even if it is just part of my body in the shade, that is better than being in the full sun.

3.  Walk breaks.  At OD there is a really long stretch of runnable dirt road in the hottest part of the day.  During the hot year, I watched a lot of people take advantage of that and fly past me, only to DNF later.  Keeping with the theme of downshifting, I took walk breaks in the shade.  It might seem to make sense to walk in the sun so you are not exerting yourself on the hottest parts of the course, but I look at it from a time perspective.  If I walk in the shade, I spend more time cooling down.  If I run in the sun, I spend less time in that heat. 

4.  Nutrition.  During the hottest parts of the day, I eat what is easiest for me to digest, generally gels.  I know my body is working hard to keep me cool, so I give it a break by not having to divert more energy to the stomach. I do a lot of orange slices, just drinking the juice and not eating the pulp, which seems to get my sugar in line.  Pickle juice is great during the heat.  If it is a 24 hour race, I keep a jar in the my cooler and take a swig now and then.  I have taken a gel flask filled with it on trail races.  At North Fork, they even had some at an aid station. 

5.  Ice, ice baby.  A small ziplock bag filled with ice cubes is a wonderful thing. I put it in my hat, on the back of my neck, in the waistline of my shorts and in my sports bra.  I can open it up and get a cube to suck on, which is a nice treat a couple miles after an aid station. At aid stations, I fill my water bottle with ice and water and I get a nice boost by downing a cup of coke on ice before I go.

6.  Wetting yourself down.  If I am on a course with creek crossings, I stop at each one to scoop up some water and splash my face, neck and arms with it. However, too much water on you can cause issues.  At OD and North Fork, water in buckets was available for you to pour on you.  At OD with the humidity, once that water hit my shoes and socks, they never dried out and I ended up with some blisters.  At North Fork, with no humidity, that was not a problem.

7. What to wear.  A white hat to reflect the sun.  Wicking, light, breathable clothes in light colors.  I am almost always in my Brooks uniform, which is fluorescent yellow and is breathable mesh that dries pretty quickly. A couple of times in a race I have worn the Brooks D'lite Micro Mesh top, and I wear it frequently to train in. It is very light and breathable, but it is also see-through.  I like their new Race Day singlet, which is also very light and airy, but not see through.  I carry a bandana on hot days to dip in water and put around my neck or use it to wash my face. I change socks a couple of times to try to keep my feet as dry as possible. I use Body Glide and try to reapply it during the race.  At OD, I did not and I had chafing lines every place a piece of clothing touched me.  Every seam in my clothes left marks on me.

This is the Brooks D'lite top

8.  Water and salt.  There has been a lot written lately about overdoing it on water and salt in ultras.  What works for me is to not to try to force water down, but drink when I am thirsty, which happens to be frequently in the heat.  I take one to two Succeeds depending on how much I am sweating.  I have only cramped up once in a race and that was remedied by some Gatorade and Succeeds. 

9.  Lower your expectations.  A brutally hot day is not the day to PR.  Usually my goal is to be one of the survivors.  At the hot OD, over half the field DNF'ed and finishing that race was a greater accomplishment than when I ran it under 24 hours.

As I said, these thing have worked for me in the past and I guess we'll see if they still do when I run Vermont next month, known for the heat, humidity and full sun.  If you have any other tips, I would love to read them!