If you’ve been hanging around the ol’ blog for long enough, you know that there are two things in the world that I hate: birds and summer running. Despite the fact that I am now in the midst of my eighth summer as a runner, I have never gotten better at it, never enjoyed it. In fact, most of my summer running has typically consisted of doing just enough to maintain a minimum fitness level without throwing up or passing out.
I can’t tell you how many times I have uttered the phrase “I just don’t run well in the heat,” both out loud to others and while silently cursing myself in mid-August. It has, in a way, become part of my identity. After all, some people hate running in the cold and don’t do well running in the winter, while I don’t run well in the summer. That’s a thing, right? Some people just suck at it? That is what I have always believed, for a variety of reasons. For one, it makes me feel better about how terrible I feel while running, and two, it excuses me from having to work hard in temperatures that I simply don’t like, regardless of what I am doing in them.
While I do think that some people truly do run better in certain types of weather than others, I have always dismissed the idea that “acclimation” was possible. I mean, it seemed like my runs never got any better, so that must just not be something that happened for me. Maybe I just can’t acclimate to heat, and that’s my lot in life. I believed that until June 1, 2016.
What happened on June 1? Well, basically the pinnacle of my career as a writer thus far. I interviewed legendary ultrarunner and human badass, Pam Reed, for a feature piece in Women’s Running magazine. Pam was the overall winner of the Badwater 135 Mile Ultramarathon in 2002 and 2003 (a 135 mile run through Death Valley in the dead of summer) and has completed hundreds of races of over 100 miles. This is a woman who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to running in the heat! You can read the interview in Women’s Running this fall, but suffice to say that we talked for an hour and she was one of the nicest, most genuine and fun people I have had the pleasure of speaking with. Talking to her about running and training made me excited about it!
Although the feature really has nothing to do with running in the heat, I couldn’t help but ask Pam how she became so good at it. I mean, she ran 135 miles in 130+ degree heat, after all. And won. Twice. What she told me shocked and humbled me. Basically, when Pam moved to Arizona from Michigan for college, she had a terrible time running in the heat and basically stopped running entirely. She had a physiology professor who happened to mention in class that it was possible for the human body to acclimate to the heat – and literally, the rest is history. Pam said it had never occurred to her that it was really possible for the human body to adapt, and from that point on, she just decided that she would become good at running in the heat.
It seems so simple, and so ridiculous, right? But her words actually had the same effect on me. Until I talked to her, I knew that acclimation was a “thing,” but it wasn’t a thing for me. It wasn’t possible. But then I talked to someone who had believed the same thing and became one of the greatest heat runners of all time…and suddenly, it seemed like maybe I could do at least a little better.
So on June 1, I decided that I was going to get better at running in the heat. I started following Pam’s advice – go for short runs or walks at multiple times throughout the day: in the morning, when it is cooler but more humid; in the middle of the day, when it is warmer and dryer; and at the end of the day, when the sun is at its hottest. I’ve been doing this for about 3 weeks now, even if it means just taking 20 minutes on my lunch break to go for a short walk. That, coupled with my newfound belief that I am capable of acclimating to this stupid, stupid weather (it was 98 degrees today), has actually produced results. I mean – speedwork in the heat? Running my race-pace runs too fast – in the summer? Who am I?
While I may never be the best hot weather runner on the block, I have noticeably improved. When I stopped feeling sorry for myself, really believed I could get better, and actually took the steps to make it happen, it did. So if you think that you “just don’t run well in heat” – maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t. But maybe you could. I mean, if Pam Reed can run up Mt. Whitney in some of the hottest temperatures on the planet, I think we can survive easy runs on summer mornings, amiright?
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you run well in the heat? Have you had success acclimating in the past?
Well, it’s officially summer, and I’ve officially completed two weeks worth of my half marathon training plan as I work towards my goal race at the Pocatello Half Marathon. It’s been largely a mental battle this week, as I find myself really intimidated by the following concepts:
Running in the heat. This is my eighth summer here in South Carolina and I still loathe this time of year in every way. I need to get over it, and I am – more on this later this week.
Running fast(er). As it relates to item #1, I am even more intimidated by running faster than I normally would be because I am convinced that I am going to collapse and die and then melt into the boiling asphalt. All that will remain is a puddle of sweat where my body used to be.
Hitting my paces. I touched on this a bit last week, but I really stress out about hitting my goal paces. Surprisingly, I’m not worried as much about going too slow – I worry about going too fast. Because I haven’t done speed work in a long time, I don’t rely on myself to “run by feel” when it comes to my goal race pace or tempo speed. I have no idea what those speeds are supposed to feel like, so I just assume they should feel really hard. Then I end up gunning it and running these workouts wayyyy faster than I should, which is a great way to get injured. So instead, I spend a lot of time checking my watch or phone.
However, despite all these (irrational) fears, I got out there last week and nailed every workout, except the runs where I ran too fast. Here’s what I was scheduled for versus what I actually did:
Schedule: 1-3 miles at race pace (9:05-9:10 pace). What I did: 2.4 miles at 8:48 pace. FAIL.
Schedule: 3 miles easy (9:26 – 10:27 pace). What I did: 3 miles at 9:56 pace.
Schedule: 3-5 miles with 6-8 x 30 seconds and 1-2 minutes recovery. What I did: 3.25 miles with 8 x 30 secs and 1 min recovery.
Schedule: 3-5 miles easy. What I did: 4.3 miles at 9:37 pace.
Schedule: 7-10 miles long run (9:29 – 10:50 pace). What I did: 7.4 miles at 10:10 pace.
So if you’re looking at my above schedule (which you may very well not care about – and I TOTALLY understand if that is the case), you’ll notice two big things – one, I suck at race pace, and two, I ran a lot – for me. I have generally only been running 3 days a week and very rarely 4. During week 1 of training, I ran 4 times. Last week, I did all the workouts on the schedule, knowing in the back of my mind that I would be happy to take an extra rest day if I felt like my back needed it. My plan right now is to try and get the speed work and long runs in for sure, and remove optional easy miles as needed.
I also plan on alternating heavier weeks with lighter weeks, so during week 3, I’ll be running 4 times. This may change as the mileage and speed work starts to build up, but the nice thing about a half marathon training plan is that the mileage is never REALLY that high. My mileage will likely never go above 30 miles per week, even at the peak of this training plan, which is still considerably lower than the peak of marathon training. I’m not married to any part of this process and I’m mostly interested in seeing if I can gain some speed while keeping my back healthy and feeling good. That is by FAR the most important thing to me!
My barre schedule has slowed down a bit, which is good news for my sanity and my free time. I’m teaching usually 5-6 classes a week now, which is not only completely manageable, it’s also great for cross training.
And lest you think I’m slacking on my other favorite form of crosstraining – hiking – think again! AJ and I made our way up to North Carolina last weekend for some quality time with T-Rex Mom (my dad was visiting my grandfather in Wisconsin) and we got to go hiking with her.
I loved this hike because it was a lot different from what AJ and I normally do. This one involved lots of rock climbing and even using some ropes to climb up and view a waterfall! In addition to obviously being a great lower body workout, it was nice to work the upper body a bit, too.
Of course, the best part was the view! It’s wonderful to live in an area with so many amazing hikes that are just a short drive away.
Oh! I also should mention that, in keeping with my Six Steps Forward post, I have been killing it at running or walking before work and…drumroll please…I have gotten in over 10,000 steps a day for the past 8 days in a row and 14 out of the last 16 days! Yes, I am now that crazy person who will walk around in my house to get the last 200 steps in before I go to bed if necessary.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you have any fears when it comes to training? How do you overcome them?
It’s no secret that I love the Hatfield McCoy Marathon and Half Marathon. Back in the day, when I almost never repeated marathons (it’s not cost-effective when you’re trying to run a race in all 50 states), I ran Hatfield McCoy in 2012 and 2013. This obscure little race in “hill country” on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky wormed its way into my stone-cold heart, and it quickly became one of my absolute favorite events for the following reasons:
It has an excellent theme. The race is based around the Hatfield-McCoy family feud, which occurred around the end of the 19th century, and runs past many of the sights of the actual feud – kidnappings, illegitimate children, murder, and all.
It offers unique opportunities to the runners, including a pre-race skit that tells the story of the feud, tours of the feud sites, and moonshine.
It’s one of the friendliest races out there. Every volunteer and spectator in this tiny town wants to know where you’re from and thank you for running!
It’s a peek into a totally different way of life – more on that in a minute.
Although back in 2013 I swore I’d run this race every year, life had different plans. I missed 2014 because I had recently had back surgery, and in 2015, I had run the Casper Marathon in Wyoming the weekend before and knew my back wasn’t strong enough to do two big weekends in a row. So here it is, 2016, and I was thrilled to finally be back!
I did make sort of a last minute decision to do this race, but I’ve been feeling really good lately and half marathons have been comfortable. I reached out to my friend Carrie, a reader of this blog who I met and ran with at the Mayor’s Marathon in Alaska a few years ago, because I knew she was running the race, and she kindly offered to let me stay with her and her mom in the cabin they had rented in Williamson! I arrived at packet pick-up the night before the race and was surprised to see how much has changed. Years ago, there was no expo to speak of – just race bibs and t-shirts and the free pasta party and skits. Now, the expo has moved out to the high school gym (from the hallway in years past!) and has a t-shirt company there making custom shirts, a running store selling all of the essentials, and some homemade local baked goods. I grabbed my stuff and headed to the cabin to meet up with Carrie and her mom – we had a lot of catching up to do in a short amount of time, because the race started at 7 am and we needed to get to bed!
Ah, “getting to bed.” If only it was that easy. See, I was set to “take over” Women’s Running magazine’s (which I write a monthly print column and bi-weekly online blogs for) Instagram account during the race and post pictures and updates live from the event. It was the first time I was going to be doing so, and I was really excited! I had received the login information and planned to just sign in bright and early in the morning, but around 10pm, I thought “Maybe I should try it, just in case.” WELL. Because the account has so many different users (different editors, professional athletes, and bloggers “take over” at different times) and the account is based in San Diego, Instagram thought I was trying to hack into the account and wanted me to enter a confirmation code sent to the email associated with the account. Well, it’s 7 pm California time (10 pm my time) on a Friday night, and I’m now royally screwed. I was sending my editors frantic emails, and by the time one responded to me about an hour later, the code had timed out. I was freaking out thinking how badly I had messed up and was so stressed that we weren’t going to be able to get it to work, but finally, about 12:15 am my time, we did. By that point, I was basically a big sweaty ball of panic and convinced my editors hated me (they don’t) and suffice to say, I barely slept at all that night. Thank goodness I wasn’t running the marathon!
Speaking of being glad I wasn’t running the marathon, did I mention that it was slated to be 98 degrees for the high that day? Um, yeah. Fortunately, the weather was nice and cool in the morning as Carrie and I rolled up to the start about 15 minutes before the race was set to begin. I had just enough time to meet lots of readers (thank you ALL for saying hi!!) and grab a photo with Hatfield and McCoy themselves (or their bearded descendants) before the race got underway.
Carrie and I were excited to run the race together after not having seen each other in a while! One of the great things about the race, in my opinion, is that the half marathon and the marathon run together the entire first half of the marathon. There’s no turn off – marathon participants run right past the half marathon finish line, which is different from the marathon finish line. It should be noted that there are lots of different options for this race – the 5k, the Blackberry Half Marathon (first half of the marathon course – runs from Kentucky to West Virginia and can count as either state), the River Road Half Marathon (second half of the marathon course, starts and ends in West Virginia), the double half marathon (exactly what it sounds like, with specific start times for each race so that you can get both states), or the marathon.
Carrie knew that I needed to take a lot of pictures for Instagram (my account is here, by the way!), but she had no time goals because it was going to be so hot. I knew she would love the race, but I was still a little nervous since she had come all the way there on my recommendation. As it turns out, a lot of you have! Many people I talked to told me that they had read my previous race reports about the race and come because of it. I hope you loved it as much as I do! It’s kind of hard not to love a course this beautiful, though.
Because this race gets hot every year, they are pros at handling the weather. There are water and gatorade stops every single mile along the course beginning at mile 2, and some stations also have ice, fruit, fuel, and medical supplies. The volunteers couldn’t be friendlier, either! The area is economically depressed since many of the coal mines have shut down or slowed production, so the race provides a wonderful economic boost. Pretty much everyone is excited that the runners are in town, and it’s rare to get a welcome like this! The race really goes out of its way to make sure runners have a special and unique experience in a lot of ways, but my favorite is probably the signs they make for returning runners. There are hundreds of these signs all along the course! I was as excited as I always am to find mine.
“Run and be happy” was the theme of this race, as seems to be the case a lot lately. Yes, it’s pretty much always hot and somewhat (or a lot) humid at this race – it’s southern West Virginia in mid June, after all. And yes, if you are from somewhere flat, it is noticeably hilly in places. But that really pales in comparison to the rest of the experience, at least for me. It’s just so much fun. The race really takes the “hillbilly” stereotype and runs with it, with themed water stops and fun signs along the way.
Carrie and I were chatting the whole way (swapping life stories, like always) and she kept saying how much she loved the race, which was a huge relief. She understood why I come back every year! As we started to approach the famed Blackberry Mountain (a one-mile long hill that begins around mile 6.5), we both shut up for a second and took in the beauty and the challenge in front of us. Although I’ve run up that hill without stopping several times before, this race was not one of those days. Sorry, not sorry. The downhill is just as dramatic, if not more so – it kind of hurts heading back down! That’s mountain running for you, I suppose.
We were running at a conversational pace and walking through all the water stops (and of course taking a ton of pictures), so it definitely wasn’t a fast race – hey, I’ll get to that later in the summer. It also seemed like everywhere I turned, I met another reader or saw an old friend! My friend Meghan about fell off her bike when she realized she was riding next to me (doing some on-course support) and of course, there are tons of sites to see along the way. Remember all that feudin’ I mentioned? Well, the second half of the half marathon course is full of historic sites. It’s one of the most special and unique parts about the race – as if there aren’t already 1000.
Another thing that is really fun about this race is the attitude most of the participants have going into it. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of people going out there who are looking to run fast, win, or PR. But for the most part, this is a race that people come to because they want to experience how wonderfully weird it is, in all its glory, and that laid-back attitude means everyone is happy to talk, stop and take a picture, and laugh about how wonderful the day is. It’s just an all around good time, and I think that really contributes to the positive experience.
As we ran up to one of the water stops around mile 9, the volunteers asked where we were from. I answered that I am from South Carolina, and Carrie said she’s from Ohio. “WONDERFUL!” the woman shrieked. “Y’all make sure you come back next year!” “This is my third year!” I said. “I’ll definitely be back again.” “Well of course you will,” she replied. “We’re habit-forming!” She’s right. This race is habit-forming. So is meth. So I’ll take my chances with the Hatfield McCoy Marathon and Half Marathon.
Now, I had been telling Carrie all about one of my favorite sights along the course – Sparky, the “World’s Smallest Horse,” who I seemed to remember being at mile 4. Well, not only has Sparky apparently died (RIP) but he apparently was never at mile 4. That’s marathon brain, for you! The good news is that some of Sparky’s comrades made their appearance around Mile 10, so Carrie and I immediately ran over to take a picture because LOOK AT THEIR TINY SADDLES.
As we ran towards Matewan, West Virginia – the tiny town where the half marathon finishes, I actually felt really sad. So did Carrie! We both wished I was running the whole thing, and although I knew I could probably handle 18 miles fine, a marathon is just not in the cards anymore. There’s a few races where I want to keep running, and this will always be one of them. Carrie’s mom caught us at the half marathon finish!
I crossed the finish line feeling great and smiling. I was sad to leave Carrie, but she had another 13.1 miles to run! I grabbed my mason jar (just some of the fantastic race swag) and my medal and stood around talking to longtime reader, Art! Art has left tons of comments on the blog and was one of the very first people ever to read here. It was wonderful to finally meet him in person after 4.5 years! It was starting to get hot, so I think we were both sort of glad to be done.
Although my race was over, Carrie’s wasn’t! Her mom and I headed out from the half marathon finish line and went to mile 19, near one of the BEST aid stations on the course (I vividly remember it from years gone by) and we waited for Carrie for a while. Although everyone else looked absolutely miserable in the heat by that point in the race, Carrie was all smiles when we saw her. “I LOVE THIS RACE!” she exclaimed as she got close. We grabbed some freeze pops and started walking along with her for a little while. She was doing amazingly well and was well on the way to the finish. Carrie’s mom kindly drove me back to the cabin so I could take a shower before I headed back home – I had about a 5 hour drive ahead of me. Before I headed out, I headed to downtown Williamson to check out the finish line that I love so much.
I definitely had a bit of nostalgia when I headed downtown and saw the finish of the full marathon, which I love. But I can’t knock my experience – I had an absolutely perfect time doing the half marathon. I felt great, my back never hurt, and I was able to drive home right after the race with no problems. This is a truly special event, and with all the friendly faces that head back year after year, I know this won’t be my last time in hill country. After all, it’s habit forming!
LEAVE A COMMENT: What super unique races are on your bucket list?
Thinking about visiting beautiful Antigua for the Run in Paradise Half Marathon and 5k, held annually on Memorial Day Weekend (Pssst…registration is open HERE!!!)? You should be! Whether the race itself or a relaxing beach vacation is the reason for your visit, you won’t regret your visit to this incredible island. Despite its popularity withRead more
Just as quickly as I made the decision to start really training again for the half marathon, Week 1 of my training plan is over! Although I can’t promise that I will do training recaps every week (y’all know that’s not really my style), I did come up with an issue on my runs thisRead more
Have you entered my giveaway from Schneblies ® yet? Go do it! The giveaway closes June 10 at 11:59 PM EDT. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, stretching every last second I possibly could out of a short night’s rest. With the van leaving for the race start at 4 am, I pulled onRead more
Real quick – have you entered my giveaway from Schneblies ® yet? I haven’t worn a Garmin while running in a very, very long time. It’s been so long that I’m not even sure I could tell you, exactly – probably sometime in Spring 2015? For a long time after my back surgery (then recovery, then reinjury,Read more
Real quick – have you entered my giveaway from Schneblies ® yet? Ok, so last we checked in, I was hitting the hay super early for race day. But this post is about what I did after the race, which was easily one of my favorites parts of the trip. After the race, I was feeling sortRead more
Many people dream of finding their passion and using it to do good in the world, but that can be harder than it looks. Finding your passion is hard enough on its own sometimes, but using it to make a difference is something else entirely! For Schneblies ® founder Susie Sheftel (and me, too!), passionRead more