Saturday, July 21, 2012

How To Run in the Summer

Anyone who runs in the South in the summer learns quickly that most days this time of year just aren't going to be good runs.  In my case lately if I have one good run a week that's enough to keep me motivated enough to go into the next week.  May and June were relatively cool and dry: I felt great after a whole winter off, but as I've ramped up mileage here in July, and since the weather took a turn for worse in biblical proportions, my legs feel heavy and slow.  These are the "Dog Days" of summer.  Baseball players go through it too.  Unless they are on PEDs.

If you are training for a fall race, you get used to this time of year.  It is part of the annual cycle of running.  I remind myself that suffering through this is the necessary part of getting to the 'peak months' in the fall; by late August, the days will be shorter but the air will be cooler and drier.  By October/November, the leaves are changing and the days are perfect to hit the trail.  Sadly, if you are training for a marathon on say, October 27 (like me), you will begin your taper just as the best part of the year for running is starting.  So it goes.

I'm not a strong summer runner -- all of my best times in any distance I regularly run have been in either March or November versus July, but the way I was able to get those times in the fall was learning how to deal with summer running over the years.  Some pieces of advice I've picked up along the way:

Do not bother the Horseflies - naturally, they love places where horses go.  Unfortunately, this includes two of the best places to run in the Triangle: the dirt section of the American Tobacco Trail and Umstead Park's bridle trails.  There isn't a whole lot to do to deter them completely.  Unless you can hold Usain Bolt's 200m pace for miles, you cannot outrun them.  Best course of action is to wear a hat, light colors, and not swat at them if they follow.  They will generally leave you alone after a while if you ignore.  If you try to kill them in the air, you're in for a long miserable chase.  Running with other people helps too, so they have multiple people to pester.

Be cautious off the trail - unless you like collecting ticks and chiggers, stay on the trail.  Don't sit on the ground; even a curb near the grass is dangerous.  In 15+ years of running, I've only had a tick or two and one chigger attack (from sitting in the grass).  Avoiding these pests is one of the main reasons why I have not taken up the "hashing" subculture.  Drinking a few beers and running...  no problem for me.  Running randomly through the woods too?  Not my bag.

Hydrate and take salt - I bought something called "Saltstick Caps" at REI recently.  They seemed to have helped me feel better during my runs in this weather.  Beforehand I was running with a bag of salted almonds, which also seemed to help, but was a little messy and weird.  The hydration thing is common sense, but it helps to find routes that have water fountains along the way (like Umstead) or bring a small hand-held water bottle.  I've never been a fan of the bulky 'fuel' belts.  The Camel Paks seem to be popular among the ultra-marathon crowd, but that's just too far for me to try to run this time of year.

Become a morning person or learn to love the treadmill - even the days it went up to 105 degrees, it was usually about 73 in the early AM.  By 10 AM it isn't hardly worth bothering running outside.

Adjust your expectations based on the humidity, check both the temperature and the dewpoint going into a run - (**WEATHER NERD ALERT**)

In another life I may have been a meteorologist.  When I was a freshman at Duke I asked my advisor if Duke had any classes in meteorology and he told me I should have gone to State for that... which would have saved a ton of money... oh well.

Anyway, this may seem like common sense to anyone who has run a long time, but most people don't really understand the science behind all of it.  We often exaggerate epic runs in the heat by saying things like "it was 90 degrees with 100% humidity" (this almost never happens except in places like the Middle East; the heat index would be 132).  

The thing is some days are not that hot, especially in the early morning, but just feels gross.  The reason why is more the dewpoint than the temperature itself.  When the dewpoint equals the temperature, the relative humidity is 100%.  When the sun comes out and burns off some of the humidity, it sometimes actually makes the air feel better, until it starts getting really hot.  But in my experience, a dewpoint over 70 means it isn't going to be a great day for a run and to adjust expectations accordingly.  By mid-July, there is no avoiding a high dewpoint.  Even at 6-7 in the morning, it is still muggy, and when the sun starts to go down, the temperature drops and humidity rises again.

Last weekend I ran 14+ at Umstead, and it was one of those days where I felt awful early on and it never got any better.  It was only 75 degrees, but the dewpoint was around 72, meaning the humidity was 90%.  (random fact according to wikipedia: the world record heat index was in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia when the air temperature was 109 but the dewpoint was 95 for a heat index of 172.  What!) is a site I go to for weather stats.  I looked up some of my recent runs to see how the humidity impacted how I felt.

6/13/12:  ran an 18:47 5K as my last event in summer track and felt really solid.  75 degrees (same as my 'torture run' in Umstead) but the dewpoint was only 59 which made for a fairly comfortable run.  My recent summer track outings haven't been so great even though in theory I'm in better shape.  Reason being that it's more humid.  Or at least that's my excuse (hey, whatever works...)

5/11/12:  ran 6 miles at Umstead Park; in my running log, I described as 'perfect weather'.  The sky was clear and bright blue.  It was 73 degrees, almost the same as my miserable slog through Umstead Park last weekend.  The difference:  the dewpoint was 39 degrees (30% humidity).  Compare a 73 degree run at 30% humidity and one at 90% and you'll realize that the temperature means very little by itself.

if all else fails...

Take up another hobby

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