I’ve lived in the American South for my entire life. I’ve spent 44 summers here. I’ve melted away in each. Running, playing sports as a youth, or just being a kid on a hot Alabama day. To be honest with you, I’d rather live in a place where it is 58 degrees year round, with occasional spikes into the 70s. I prefer cool weather. As a runner, I LOVE cool weather. I thrive in it. Even frigid temps!
That said, I don’t live in such a runner’s paradise. So I deal with the heat. I acclimate myself to it each summer and then wait for the cooler temps of late fall to kick in. I KNOW that running in this heat and humidity makes me a stronger runner. I KNOW that dealing with it each run pays off over time. Of course, that does not stop me from whining about it!
But this year, as I do something I’ve never done before, namely train for a marathon in the high heat of summer, I embrace this stuff. I embrace it like a runner who trains at high altitude embraces the lack of oxygen. For she knows, when she comes off that mountain top and runs at sea level, she will have an advantage of training with less oxygen but racing with gobs of oxygen rushing into her lungs and blood stream.
Like that runner, I am training in the Alabama heat, where the low recently has been in the high 60s F. As I type this at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, it is 95 F outside my office. We are literally baking.
But what comforts me (as I prepare for a 20 mile run this coming Sunday) is that the heat in Alabama will make San Francisco feel like a winter wonderland. My body, which has coped with high humidity, high heat, and the physiological adaptation that it brings, will thrive in the cooler temps of the City by the Bay come July 31. Take a look at the chart below. This why I smile on my hot runs. (Ok. Well, maybe not smile, per se, but if Dorothy can chant “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Then I say to myself: “It won’t be this hot. It won’t be this hot!”)
As you can see, the heat this summer, like every summer, is my friend. A recent Running Times article (July/August 2011 issue) discussed the role of hot-weather training and its impact on racing in a cooler environment. It likened the advantage gained by hot-weather training to that with high-altitude training. Here is a quote from the article, which reported the results of a recent study of cyclists and heat training and performance.
“Across the board, heat trained riders showed gains in the measures all runners hope to improve: VO2 Max, lactate threshold, maximal cardiac output, maximal power output, and 1-hour time trial performance. Yet the only piece of the training that varied was the exposure to heat. The magnitude of the effect was similar to altitude training.” p. 55
So, the heat really is my friend. Yes, I call it names, and utter profane words at it. I stay angry at the heat for days and days. Sometimes I treat it badly, ignoring it for days. But it never leaves me. It stays around, ready to “help” me out on each run. What a true friend! But don’t tell heat that I am not taking it to San Francisco. It has to stay home. IT HAS TO!