Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This is your brain... on heat training?

This is pretty embarassing, but too instructive to keep to myself.

I'm in Louisville for a few days. I spent most of my life here before moving to Virginia six years ago. I decided to stay on after bringing my kids to spend two weeks with their grandparents. Burning River 100 is a week from Saturday. Like any summer ultra, it will test participants' ability to manage heat stress. Louisville in summer is a heat sink. It lies low in the Ohio valley trapping all the radiating heat in thickly humid air. The city is currently under an extreme heat warning with a heat index around 110. I figured spending a few days here would help me prepare for Burning River.

Now I've been here since Saturday evening, and today's noontime excursion was my sixth run. On Monday I ran for 2 1/2 hours starting at noon. My run today couldn't have been simpler. I drove to Eva Bandman, a park along the river that I know well from the days when I launched rafts full of schoolkids from its mucky river access. I ran west toward downtown paralleling the river on the riverwalk, a paved recreational trail. The run was exposed, but flat. I went past downtown, checking out the new pedestrian access to the old railroad bridge, the new Yum! sports arena, and the approach to the locks. After 30 minutes I turned around to head back to the car.

I was carrying a water bottle that I had already finished. I refilled it at Waterfront Park downtown and continued running. Extra-hot air off the pavement washed over me in waves, making me want to avoid inhaling. My soaked shirt was pasted against my body and sweat flung from my fingertips with every swing of my arms. I wiped my finger across my brow every minute or so just to keep the burn-inducing liquid from pooling in my eyes. A few expletives started to leak from my mouth (as in, "this is f*ing hot.") And that's not the embarassing part.

Get this: I'm 61 minutes into the run and wondering why the h*ll I'm not back yet, and why I'm running along Beargrass Creek. (Note: Beargrass Creek is a tributary to the Ohio River, and so basically perpindicular to it. My route was supposed to be simple: out and back along the river) So I find a path back to the riverwalk and proceed with what should have been a couple hundred yards of running back to Eva Bandman (Second note: Eva Bandman, where I started, is at the confluence of Beargrass Creek and the Ohio river). I run for an endless couple of minutes and then notice the "future Louisville Botanical Gardens," a landmark I had ALREADY PASSED. I look up and see the downtown Louisville skyline back in front of me. Holy sh*t! I did a 180 by accident on an out-and-back with unmistakable linear geographic features for handrails in an area I'm intimately familiar with!

Let's just say when I turned around (again) I took the last couple minutes of running VERY easy. I immediately thought of "into thin air" when some of the descending climbers got lost only hundreds of yards from base camp. They had a lot better excuse than I had! I can only say, on my own behalf, that the pavement along Beargrass Creek was not there when I was using the park years ago (still no excuse for not noticing that I passed under River Road!!), and that I was starting to flirt with hyperthermia. Heat, apparently, is not good for brain function. If nothing else, at least I learned that. On the slim chance that northern Ohio achieves Louisville heat next Saturday, I'm going to go slow.