Chicago is held in October, a month that is usually relatively cool in the Midwest. On the day of the race in 2007, however, the temperature in Chicago rose to a nearly unbearable (for marathons, anyway) temperature of 88 degrees. Thousands dropped out of the race before it even began. Those who did run in the event were stopped from continuing at the 3:30 mark depending on how far they were, when it was determined by race administrators that it was unsafe to continue the race any longer. 400 people required medical attention, 30 were hospitalized and one person even died.
The reason for this history lesson is simple: I am running the Baltimore Marathon in October, and I figure there is no reason why a weather anomaly like what happened in Chicago in 2007 couldn't happen in Baltimore in 2011.
While preparing my training strategy I've looked at everything I may face on race day. Obviously, 26.2 miles is a long distance and I've been gradually upping my mileage and varying my training runs. Baltimore is known for having a lot of hills, so most of my training has been done on hill routes.
Up to this point, however, I have mainly run in the morningtime to avoid the summer heat. By doing this I've enjoyed better weather and more comfortable conditions, but I've lost a chance to prepare for weather conditions I may very well face. With this in mind, I have decided to incorporate a little heat training into my workout regimen. After all, it's better to prepare and not need to, than to not prepare and come up short on race day, right?
To kick off my new strategy I skipped my morning run yesterday and replaced it with an easy eight miles along the Mount Vernon Trail near D.C. in the afternoon after work. This idea sounded great to me while I was sitting in my air conditioned office; I began to have second thoughts about the strategy when I arrived at the trailhead around 5 p.m. with my vehicle thermometer reading 95 degrees.
By the time I hit my turnaround point at the four mile marker I was feeling the effects of the heat. My goal pace had been an easy nine minute mile and I managed to hit that mark nearly spot on (35:00), but heading back in I knew there was no chance of maintaining the pace. I quickly began to realize that just getting home was preferable to heat exhaustion or worse, so I spent extra time at the water point heading back home hydrating and dumping water on my head. I threw my pride out the window and walked a few times heading up some of the steeper hills. I finished the eight miles in a total time of 1:03:00, just one minute over my goal pace but with a slower second half split.
So what did I learn from this initial heat training?
First, I realized just how much hot weather can drain out of you. Last weekend I ran 10 miles in 65 degree weather and felt fresh when I was finished. Eight miles in 95 degree weather, at a 30 second slower pace than the aforementioned 10-miler, pushed me to my limit. I always knew heat had a draining effect, but this was a wake-up call for me.
The second lesson I learned was the importance of nutrition prior to running in the heat. To get out of work a little early yesterday I skipped lunch and grabbed a few banana nut muffins a coworker had made in lieu of real food. I have no doubt this played a huge role in my lack of energy at the end of the run. Also, water and hydration becomes exponentially more important when the heat is on. I know that sounds simple, but if the temperature is cool Im normally able to knock down 5-10 miles without having to worry about carrying water. With yesterday's 95 degrees, however, I was pushing myself to simply make it to the water point at the three-mile marker.
The final lesson I took from yesterday is to be realistic about my goals on race day if the conditions are too hot. Even with heat training, there is no way I'm maintaining an 8:30 minute/mile pace if the temperature spikes up to 90 on race day. I know I'll push myself on race day regardless of the conditions, but I can't let my pride allow me to push myself to injury (or worse).
There you have it. I highly suggest incorporating heat training into marathon training, even if your race, like mine, takes place at a time and location when heat usually isn't an issue. If nothing else, you'll at least feel better about how to handle the issue should it arise and may learn more about your own limits.
One last note: If you do incorporate heat training, make sure you don't need to be anywhere afterward. If you're like me it may be a few hours before you stop sweating!