When a Run is Not a Run, But an Encounter with Physical and Energetic Forces and Conditions

Force of Heat

Force of Heat

Yesterday I did not hydrate to prepare for a run.

Yesterday I did not eat much at all.

Yesterday was not a running training day. And although I ran, I did not run.

At the height of the late day heat in the 90’s, in full sun, underfed for the day, and poorly hydrated, I strapped on a hydration system, downed a Gu (Trademarked name) and took off running. I had no distance or pace in mind. It wound up at 4.21 miles.

My sole goal was to encounter heat and full sun while feeling unprepared for my run. I had planned with the Gu shot, and the hydration system, for my own safety net after the halfway point. The Gu shot would kick in after about 20-30 minutes, and I would feel lousy for over half the exercise period.

During the run I purposely ran on several different surfaces, regular and irregular, to do something against my expectations. I ran on river rock, broken granite, asphalt, dirt, deep grass, groomed grass, concrete, and on a few mulch areas. The route was mostly flat with some subtle rises, but it was all in the open sun with no shade until the end stretch.

In the first 30 minutes of this run, I felt very hot. My skin felt hot, my head felt hot, the air felt hot, I was thirsty, and there was very little or no breeze. When I felt a little lightheaded at one point, I recognized it coinciding with that hollowed-out feeling of stomach emptiness during exertion without blood sugar. I slowed down to adapt to the energy drain, reduce heat build-up, yet still keep running by a purely technical definition, no matter how slowly. I began sipping water when I felt lightheaded to make this a training interval, not self-immolation.

When the Gu finally found my bloodstream I felt the boost and picked up my pace. My stomach emptiness eased, and I  found some tree cover for the last half-mile of my encounter with the heat and my own deprivation. I could have become a treehugger for shade.

Did I train? By someone else’s definition, perhaps not. But the definitions I set had to do with addressing obstacles I have run into before in my training life, not adopting someone else’s focus, but my own, in the present moment. By encountering and adapting to:

Heat

Hunger

Thirst

Finishing determination

and

my thoughts and feelings about it all…

..the goal was to train my mind to adapt to all factors and conditions to continue, not quit, and not fall to a heat injury. You see, long ago, I did reach dangerous temperatures while running hills in a 100 degrees-plus, humid, still forests of Virginia wearing pack, boots, helmet, and carrying a rifle. My temperature was 106.4 degrees Fahrenheit before a pugnacious young Staff Sergeant from San Diego pulled me down, and started pouring gallons of water over my head. He saved my life and I’ll always be indebted.

I do not recommend anyone else do this particular heat / hunger / thirst forces session. Perhaps you would never feel the need. I recommend training on full hydration; after adequate nutrition; being judicious about training times and types given your own personal, physical history, profile, needs, and objectives. In other words, a run is a run, a training run is a training run, but your intention in training, your focus can change the interval into something else.

For me, this was voluntarily facing a convergence of forces to train to adapt to them despite having fallen to them in the past. The purpose? To gradually increase capacity to deal should unexpectedly arduous conditions be imposed on me at some future time. Next time, I’ll go slightly further, and so on under similar conditions. This also trains mind and body to appreciate and stay aware of hydration, nutrition, and preparation. It also helps train my mind to adapt and function when those elements are lacking — to push the envelope back and retrain my body’s capacity to adapt, endure, and do so functionally.

Had I wanted to enjoy the feelings of a “run in the heat” I would have prepared properly for it and billed it as a run. A run it was not. A forces training day it was. So if you are a runner, always prepare. Always adapt with as much preparation as possible. You will train longer, with fewer interruptions, and less wear and tear on the body with excellent preparation.

Think of the many times you have said or read about someone having a “bad day” training. A low energy day. Preparation would likely solve a healthy percentage of those days. Adaptation, a survival and enhancement skill, is the follow-up to preparation when unpredictable things happen.

Train prepared friends!

11 thoughts on “When a Run is Not a Run, But an Encounter with Physical and Energetic Forces and Conditions

  1. Sound advice. Every single one of my summer runs could be like the one you described, and most of us here in Texas purposely go out of our way to avoid the sun. The sun is not my friend during a run.

    • That Texas humidity with heat can be a big bear on a runner’s back. It increases my admiration for you and your running club down in the sliceable air zone.

      • It makes us tough, and when the temps finally start to cool off, we realize how fast it’s made us. It is, however, not easy to run through a Texas summer. Heat is one thing, but humidity is the worst.

      • By the way, I believe I just saw that you made a donation in my honor to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition? Thank you so much, Mike. I am truly touched and honored that you would do that.

  2. I’ve recently realized the impact proper nutrition and hydration can have on my ability to perform on a run or on my bike. I always tried to deny it before, saying it shouldn’t matter what I’d put into my body that day–it ought to be able to perform the same. I was wrong. Haven’t purposely trained in less than ideal conditions before, though. This was a great post analyzing what that is like and how to look at the way we train…

    • Thanks for reading it closely. It’s helpful to me and to others who pass by to pick up on your insights in well written comments as this one. Hydration and nutrition do impact performance, and it is so widely denied because it is so obvious. We miss what is in front of our faces too often!

      I have heard that Ben Franklin did not really have a kite-borne key struck by lightening; that it is a tall tale. It would be too dangerous, I read.

      I’ve probably done the heat re-exposure equivalent of the tall tale. Duh. In my defense: I finished, did achieve cooling without stopping, and did adapt successfully on this relatively easy test.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Yes, definitely. I met Micah True in Leadville and we chatted about the book, the native Indians of his Mexican home, and his malfunctioning laptop. I was there for Mt. Elbert, and he was there for ultra distance races. He inspired me about barefoot running, and my feet are on their way to back to normalcy with lots of room to splay when running.

  3. Heat is something we know about down under, I try to do my runs at the times of the day I will be running a race. Unfortunately my upcoming half ironman is in the hottest part of the year and during the hottest part of the day, I’m expecting to be running in 100 degree heat (36degC). It wont be fun doing the training runs, but its the only way I can think of to acclimate myself. Any advice?

    • Hi Simone! There are excellent multi-sport resources for this. I’m posting those below. After that, my highlights from the summer, weight-bearing hiking or running perspective:

      Professional Multi-Sport Fueling:

      Master Race Day Nutrition:
      http://www.ironman.com/triathlon-news/articles/2013/06/race-day-fueling.aspx#axzz2aAEqlXGN

      How the Pros Hydrated At The Hawaii Iron Man:
      http://triathlon.competitor.com/2011/10/nutrition/how-the-pros-hydrated-at-the-hawaii-ironman_41584

      Fueling for Open Water Swimming (underlying science & practical detail included by USA Swimming):

      Click to access Nutrition%20Strategies%20for%20Open%20Water.pdf

      Our fellow WordPressers you may already know have lots of practical posts:
      http://waterbloggedtriathlete.com/

      My running hydration lessons learned:

      1. Hydration with electrolytes;
      2. sipping not gulping;
      3. steady sipping;
      4. steady nutrition bearing in mind your temps and humidity as they will impact your calorie burn rate (your thermostat and cooling system needs fuel to work efficiently);
      5. Seek out cooling opportunities during your Iron Man, i.e. shade, cool presses, ice to rub on your head, whatever’s legal, efficient, and doesn’t overly distract you.
      6. If they allow hats, us a hat;
      7. proven moisture wicking training wear (in my book I cite research that such garments have a micro-wind tunnel effect).
      8. If you are thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so sip at first sign your mouth feels dry;
      9. Recognize climbs may boost your need for replacement fluid;
      10. Have a plan and method for hydration, fueling, transition and practice / perfect them during training and races.
      11. Occasionally train yourself without adequate nutrition and hydration to train yourself to recognize or remember the signs of trouble early, before they turn into trouble; to practice adjusting / adapting if something goes wrong; KEEP THESE TRAINING SESSIONS SHORTER THAN THE NORMAL TRAINING SESSION — you don’t want “authentic battle damage” in training, BUT you do want to gradually increase your capacity and tolerance for hardship; unexpected snafus, changes in conditions; etc.
      12. If you show symptoms of dehydration (thirst, urine darker than a light yellow) boost your continual sipping of electrolyte fortified fluids, redouble your focus on efficient form in your sport, seek cooling opportunities (shade etc.) be sure you’re breathing efficiently, and…

      Watch for symptoms of heat injury (cramps, exhaustion, or stroke), which may be found here:

      http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/survivalist/2013/07/survival-medicine-signs-and-field-treatments-heat-illnesses
      http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heat-stroke/DS01025/DSECTION=symptoms

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