Marathon Training: Respect the Heat


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I’m at the two week countdown to marathon day and my confidence heading into the race is at the lowest point that it has been this training cycle. My major goal for last week was to get in a final, solid 20+ mile training run. Well, I ran 20 miles last Tuesday, and it was far from solid. In fact, it bordered on disastrous.

I’ve never had a good experience in a Spring marathon. Boston 2011 left me in the med tent at the end, and both previous times I’ve run the Vermont City Marathon resulted in me hitting the wall hard around the big hill at mile 15. I think the reason is twofold. First, my training is typically lousy through the winter (due to work and weather) and I enter the marathon buildup with an inadequate base. Second, I start the training cycle in cool weather and finish it in the relative heat of late Spring. I’ve come to realize that I am really sensitive to the change in temperature, and I need quite a long acclimation period before I can handle running long in warmer weather.

The plan last Tuesday was to get out as earlier as possible since the forecast was calling for the warmest day of the year so far. Unfortunately the morning wound up being busier than expected and I didn’t leave the house until around 11:00 AM with temperatures nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Being the stubborn runner that I am, I opted to go for it anyway and set out for the 21 mile run that Caleb had put on the schedule.

My legs have felt dead for a few weeks now, but I felt ok at the start of the run. Not great, just ok. Given that it was going to be warm, I opted to wear a hydration pack and bring along a few gels. I planned to stop back home at about the midpoint for some sports drink, and the first 12 miles were fairly uneventful aside from the fact that I was tired, hot, and getting really hungry. I stopped at the house around mile 12 and had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some Powerade. Shortly after heading out again things started to go badly.

“This one was a complete mess. I made the epically stupid decision to run at mid-day on one of the hottest days of the year so far here in NH. By mile 14 I was reduced to a walk-jog mess, but was determined to get in the full 20 (finished the run at an average 9:37 per mile pace). In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have pushed it because I think I ran myself into heat exhaustion. Started cramping in places I’ve never cramped before after I stopped (neck, abs…) so think it was salt/hydration related and not just neuromuscular fatigue. Cooled off in the kiddie pool with some cold water, cramping the entire time, and it was intensely painful. Had some salty bouillon on the couch and fell asleep for about an hour, felt better when I woke up. Need to work on strategies for running long in heat, don’t ever want to feel like this again. On a positive note, the Saucony Kinvara 4 worked well, my feet are about the only part of me that doesn’t hurt :)”

So yes, miles 14-20 were a total mess. I’m pretty sure the heat was the major factor. I was caked in salt by the end of the run, and the cramping was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Bad day all around, and not how you want to head into your taper. I’ve taken it super easy over the past week so I don’t totally wreck myself, we’ll see what happens…

So now I’m left to figure out how to approach the race in two weeks. My original plan was to just go easy since I knew I’d be doing a rapid and inadequate buildup, but a really solid 18 miler several weeks back got me to thinking about pushing it a little harder. That may have been my big mistake as things started to fall apart shortly thereafter. Not sure if I pushed the training too hard too soon, or if the heat is the really big factor. Probably a bit of both.

I’ve come back around to just heading into the race with a plan to have as much fun as possible. That’s how I approached Disney back in 2010 and it was probably the most enjoyable race that I’ve run. I’m not shooting for a PR (that was never part of the plan) so there’s no point in running myself into the ground and dealing with an extra long recovery. If the forecast is hot on race day I’ll need to go really easy since it’s clear to me that I’m still not ready to run long in the warmer weather. I’ve solicited some advice on Facebook about using S-Caps or Salt Stick and I think I may give that a try.

I’m reminded once again that marathon training is hard, and I’m trying to figure out what to do in the Fall in terms of races. I don’t think I’ll be doing a road marathon. I had a blast training hard for the half-marathon last summer (I like shorter and faster better than longer and slower on the roads), but I’m also suffering a bit of peer-pressure about running the Vermont 50K in September. Decisions, decisions…

On an unrelated note, my blogging has been minimal the past few weeks since I’ve had to prioritize packing up my office and lab, and tying up loose ends at the day job. My contract is up at the end of this week, so expect a return to normal posting soon. Tons of reviews to get through!


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