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?