When I run from home I can go left or right out of my drive onto a gravel road. After a half mile I am faced with the same choice again. Either way I’ll soon be running alongside cow pastures. I enjoy running occasionally on these country roads. Every few minutes a vehicle will come along, usually a pickup truck. Everyone I pass gives me a wave, whether I know them or not. During my runs the last two days, folks paused a moment when they saw me. Instead of all four fingers lifting from the steering wheel, for a moment just the index finger rose, pointing, before the other three fingers followed. One woman couldn’t help but stare as her car drifted straight toward me.
We finally had got some heat around here. After weeks of cold drizzly wet weather, the sun shone and the afternoon temperature reached (barely) into the eighties. So naturally I jumped on the chance to get out, in the late afternoon, when the temperature had peaked and the pavement had stored up maximum solar energy. My family watched as I donned long sleeves, nylon pants and vest, and a black cap. I took a water bottle in each hand and headed out, yelling “bring the heat!” I ran comfortably for about twenty minutes. Then I started the feel the sweat dripping down my back. I smiled, and my face started to glow with the kind of radiance that only comes this time of year.
This is the time when I am looking forward to races that last all day – on days that will be hot. I’ll be running the Old Dominion 100 on June 4th. It will be uncomfortable, and much of that discomfort will be due to the temperature. I’m not a glutton for punishment. I want to run as fast as possible, and that means staying comfortable as long as possible. And that means preparing for the heat. Heat management lies right at the core of our success as runners. Better than any other animal, we can cool ourselves by sweating. Still, our bodies can tolerate very little deviation from 98.6 degrees. Even the sense that we are heating up faster than we can cool off will cause us to feel more fatigued and slow down. And that happens before any change in core body temperature! The volume of water that has to be moved by osmosis through our skin during a summer 100 mile race is staggering. Creating the osmotic pressure to move that water requires sodium. Of course we have to drink water all along the way and consume ample sodium as well. Calibrating those variables with the effort and the heat and the need for fuel (!) is what makes running 100 miles possible. I’ve missed more than I’ve hit.
Fortunately, we get better with practice. That’s what the next few months are about – I’m going to do everything I can to get better at the 100 mile distance. My neighbors – even some members of my family – may look on, dumbfounded, at the bearded figure loping down the blazing highway dressed for winter. My mindset, if twisted, is simple: “bring the heat.”