Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beat the Heat: 13.1 in 79 Degrees

Is it odd that someone like me who absolutely hates running in warm weather, was really excited for this morning's long run? Instead of dreading it like I typically do for hot runs, I was really looking forward to the challenge.

The high for the day is forecast to be around 105, and this morning's low was 79.  By 8:00 it was forecast to be 85. This meant that even starting early would still mean a ridiculously hot run. My coach, who hates treadmills with a passion, suggested that these conditions were hot enough to make the treadmill a viable option. For me, however, it was not a viable option because I was afraid of getting injured. I attribute my three stress fractures to running a 20-miler on the treadmill after not having run on one in a year, so I wasn't about to risk that again. Plus, it's just not at all enjoyable.

Greg, on the other hand, opted for the treadmill, so I was alone in my long run this morning. This didn't bother me because I enjoy running by myself. I rarely run alone, so it's a great opportunity to have "me" time.

In order to tackle this weather, I needed a strategy. I've run 13+ miles many, many times, but never in this kind of heat. Today might even set the record for the hottest day that Washington DC has ever seen. Not just the daily record high, but the record high of all time (or at least since they started tracking these things). I struggle with the heat more than most runners. In hot races, my ranking/placing is significantly lower than it is in cool or mild races-- which I interpret to mean that I am more adversely affected by heat. In the past, I've done runs in the heat where I have seen black spots afterwards and felt dizzy/spacey for the rest of the day. I wanted to avoid this at all costs.

Yesterday, I planned out what I would do to be able to run safely in the weather. My strategy consisted of these elements:

Adjust Mileage if Necessary: The original plan called for 14 miles this weekend, but I figured that with the marathon being so far off, I could certainly afford to knock that down to 12 or even 10 if necessary. I'm also still recovering from being sick for so long that even if it was perfect weather, 14 might be a stretch. I decided I would go out planning to run 10-14, based on how I felt.

Hydrate: Yesterday, I drank water throughout the day and threw in a coconut water for electrolytes, plus some Pedialyte. I am not a fan of most hydration tablets because they contain sugar alcohols which upset my stomach. I prepared a handheld bottle of G2 to carry with me for the first six miles, and then I would stop home and get another bottle of water. (I am not fancy-- I use Deer Park 24oz sports bottles as my hand-helds). Before leaving the house, I would put the refrigerated water bottle in the freezer, giving it about an hour to get really, really cold but not frozen by the time I needed it. If I did decide to run 14 miles, I would stop at mile 10 and fill up at a McDonald's, which is conveniently located 4 miles away from my house.

Route: In order to execute this hydration strategy, I needed to plan a route that would bring me home after six miles, and then to the McDonald's after another four. I knew of a 6-mile route throughout a neighborhood near me that's not shaded. I figured that would be perfect for the early miles because I wouldn't need shade. I also have a standard 8-mile route which does not go through that neighborhood, but through a shaded one and has a McDonald's at the halfway point. I figured I would head out that way, but if I didn't want to do the full 14, I could turn around early in which case I probably wouldn't need a refill on my bottle.

Timing: I set my alarm to 4:30 and hit the start button on my Garmin at 4:47am. This allowed me to run the first five miles before the sun had risen, and the rest of the miles while the sun was low in the sky. I finished a few minutes after 7:00-- just as Greg was starting his treadmill workout. :-)

Wrist bands with mini ice packs
Being "Cool": I recently purchased a pair of Be Cool Bands which are designed to keep your body cool in hot conditions. They are wrist bands which contain an ice pack thingee that touches the inside of your wrist. Apparently, ice on the inside of your wrist is one way to keep your entire body cool because of the veins there. Or something like that-- I don't really know why, but putting ice inside your wrist is a very efficient way to cool the body. Luckily, these bands came with two sets of cooling packs. I planned on swapping them out when I stopped at my house at mile six so that I would have a new, frozen pair. They felt amazing!!!! It also felt great to be holding that water bottle which had been in the freezer. These are my equivalent of the "hotties" I wear in the winter to keep my hands warm. :-)

Pacing: Very slow! This was not a race and I didn't want to make the mistake of trying to run a certain pace and then getting to exhausted to finish. I've been running in the 10:00's all week due to the heat and my recovery from being sick, so I was fully prepared to continue that trend.

Music: I usually don't run with music, but for solo long runs it's nice to have. Yesterday I downloaded a bunch of songs from the DC101 playlist as well as the new Linkin Park album (only $5 on and the new Shinedown album. I figured new music would make the run more enjoyable.

My excitement came from wanting to see how all of this would come together for me. So how did I execute all this and how did it go?????

Fantastic! I couldn't have been more pleased with this run. I did everything according to plan. As I started the run, I realized that I wasn't getting a heart rate reading because I had forgotten to put on my heart rate monitor! My first instinct was to go back inside and get it, but then I realized that it might actually be better to not have it. I have been running in zone 2 all week and I know what it feels like. Plus, my heart rate was bound to get above that zone, even at a really slow pace just because of the heat. I was prepared to be in zone 3 for a lot of this run, but not wearing the monitor left me free to run by feel. I'm really glad I forgot to put on the monitor and didn't go back for it. I was able to run without looking at my heart rate the whole time, which I know I would have been doing. And. . . I had one less piece of "equipment" to wear, which was nice.

I ran in the dark for the first 3-4 miles and then the sun began to rise. I kept the pace very slow, didn't look at the Garmin very much and just enjoyed the music and the feeling of running. I had missed it so much while I was sick!  I returned home after six miles, traded water bottles, drank the leftover G2 that didn't fit into the first bottle, swapped out my "Be Cool" ice packs and was out of there in less than two minutes!

Back on the road I was mentally prepared for the second leg. I had the ice packs on my wrists and the water bottle from the freezer felt awesome. I figured I probably wouldn't need to go to the McDonalds because I drank all that extra G2 at home, so I wouldn't need to drink from my water bottle for the first 15 minutes-- leaving me more water for the end of the run.

About 8 miles into it, I started to think about how many miles I would run. 10 would be no problem, and 12 also definitely doable. But 14 was an unknown and with the sun rising quickly, I didn't want to take the risk of heat exhaustion. So I settled on 13.1-- a half marathon!

I turned around at the point on my route that I knew would get me back home at 13.1 and was so pleased that the run continued to go well. I felt really good! After so many bad experiences in the heat, this kind of surprised me. But then I realized that I had all the "tools" I needed to deal with the heat, so there was no reason to have expected it to go poorly. With one mile to go, I picked up the pace just a little bit and it felt awesome!

I came home and my face was bright red and my clothes were dripping with sweat. I was drenched! I immediately got into the shower and let the cold water hit my face. HEAVEN! I also checked the weather to discover that the temperature was still 79 degrees, but now with a "real feel" of 90!

I think the fact that I paced this really slowly prevented me from ever feeling tired, sluggish, or overheated. I had fully expected those last few miles to be very difficult, but they weren't. This run was actually relatively easy. I did not push myself, but that wasn't the goal. My goal was to run 10-14 miles safely and I accomplished that. I attribute my success to:

  • Careful planning
  • Positive attitude (excited for the challenge vs. dreading it)
  • Very conservative pacing
  • Smart hydration
  • Having been conservative with my return from illness earlier in the week, so I wasn't beat by the time today arrived
  • Letting myself enjoy the run and the new music with no pressure to run at a certain pace or heart rate.

Just goes to show what a little planning can do. Yeah-- I beat the heat!!!!!!

This was actually faster than I expected, given my recent illness and the heat!


  1. Great job making a plan and sticking to it!

    I really needed to see your paces. I normally run a 10ish minute pace as my easy run when it's cool out. I've been kicking myself because I'm struggling to run those paces, even though I know intellectually that the heat is slowing me down. It helps to see that even fast runners get slowed down by the heat and I should cut myself some slack.

  2. I am so happy for you, Elizabeth!! Great job on your run. I'm going to try to take inspiration from you, though I seem to have lost my motivation. Thank you for the Be Cool Bands recommendation, too. I'm going to order a pair to help me get through this brutal summer!

  3. There you go! Now, transfer what you learned and what you did today to your races. I have a really good feeling you are going to conquer the heat from here on out! I'm so glad you are feeling better and had an awesome run! WAY TO GO!

  4. Nice! Those Be Cool bands look much better and easier to use than the handheld one I have.

    I overslept this morning and walked out at 8:30. I made it two miles and could not take another step! Smart move getting it in early!

  5. MCM- the heat can slow you down A LOT. Even at 65 degrees you will run slower than you will in 55! Glad to hear that it helped you to look at my paces!

    Runner NYC- Enjoy the Be Cool Bands. They don't last for very long, especially in this heat, but it's nice during the time they are cold.

    LA Runner- So, does this mean I get to stop by my house during my races!? :-)

    Dash- I went to the website you gave me for your handheld and I didn't like the idea of having to hold it, so I did more research and found these. They aren't perfect because the cold wears off, but better than nothing, for sure!

  6. Great job on your run! I have been out the door by 5:30am for my long runs. This heat just sucks!

  7. Oh yes, Saturday and Sunday were ALL about the shade :)

  8. Well done! I'm super-impressed you got out there, and that you adapted so well! Also, I'm now kind of obsessed with the idea of the Be Cool packs. Interesting.

  9. WooHoo, way to be SMART about it! Great job planning this! Happy to see you excited about running too.
    Those Be Cool things look amazing, I may have to find a pair for myself!