Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calm Before the Storm

Badwater is just days away and the feeling of calmness is beginning to settle in. It's a feeling that comes along with the realization that there is simply nothing more that you can do to prepare yourself for what is about to happen. The months of training are done, the crew is ready, the race plan is complete and all arrangements have been made. So what else is there other than to accept what I've created for myself physically and focus on making sure I'm 100% ready mentally. That quiet focus that sets in the days before is a difficult feeling to explain but it's something that I think is important for me leading up to a race like Badwater. It's almost as if my body knows what torture awaits it and begins blocking out other distractions and storing up energy. My resting heart rate slows. I feel like I have very little energy and have almost a nonchalant attitude about the big race. You would think that as the race got closer I'd begin to get more excited and nervous but it is almost the opposite that happens. Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to experience Badwater and feel the satisfaction of the greatest physical challenge of my life but in the days leading up to it you wouldn't know it by my actions. The lack of energy and enthusiasm heading into a big race used to concern me a little but I've come to accept it as something that is just a part of my normal race routine and it's maybe one of the single most important phases of my preparation. Over the next few days I'll pack my bags and make my way down to Death Valley a couple days before the race. Then settle in and await the storm that is Badwater.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bring on the heat

We are down to the last 4 weeks until race day and I've entered the final phase of my training for Badwater, heat training! Can you ever really get used to running in that kind of heat? Probably not. But, with proper heat training you can actually make changes to how your body deals with extreme temperatures. The most significant change that happens within your body is the increase in blood plasma. This can happen in just a few weeks of intense heat training. Since your body cools itself by pumping blood to the skin where it is cooled by sweat and air, adding blood plasma is a lot like adding more coolant to the radiator of a car. It just works more efficiently. The body will also begin to increase the amount of sweat and initiate sweating sooner to help cool things down. Another significant difference in the heat acclimated person is the sodium levels in your sweat. Sweat actually begins to taste less salty as the body begins to conserve those all important electrolytes.

So how am I making these changes happen within myself? I'm taking both an active and passive approach to heat acclimation and by race day I'll be shivering when it's 90 degrees!

A couple months ago I began doing hot yoga mostly to improve flexibility and secondly to acclimate to the heat. Little did I know.....it is really HOT. My first experience was humbling and just surviving the 90 minutes was an accomplishment. Over time it has become more comfortable and I've even done a few back to back sessions which winds up being 3 1/2 hours in the hot humid yoga room. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about doing yoga at first but hot yoga is the real deal and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Beginning last week I started the real intense portion of the heat acclimation and have been making a daily trip to the dry sauna at the local gym. I'm currently barely able to handle 45 minutes in the 180 degree sauna but will hopefully be comfortable in this heat for up to an hour just a few weeks from now. It is amazing how the heat elevates your heart rate and drains your energy while sweat drips from your body in a constant stream. The minutes begin to feel like hours and when I finally leave the sauna I feel like I've run a marathon.

Then there is the passive heat training which entails adding heat to my normal daily activities. For previous races much of my heat training would consist of driving around in my truck in the Summer time with my heater on. It can be a bit awkward at times when you roll up to a stoplight and the person in the car next to you looks over to see you sitting there with sweat pouring off your face. Nevertheless it is an effective way to spend an extended period of time in a hot environment. I just schedule my out of office appointments (when I don't have to meet with anyone) for the end of the day, crank up the heater and train. So one day I was curious how hot it was in my car and I brought my digital thermometer. Unfortunately, at 125 degrees the LED display started to not work so I went looking for a another thermometer that could handle the heat. The only other one we had was a meat thermometer. I never did find out exactly how hot it got in my truck but I do know it was hotter than a cooked ham in there.

Then there are the afternoon runs in the heat of the day just to get used to running in the heat. To increase the body temperature a little I'll wear several layers of clothing with a black outer layer to amplify the heat of the sun.

To be honest, none of this sounds like a whole lot of fun to me but I know that without it I wouldn't stand a chance of finishing a race like Badwater. And maybe there is that small part of me that likes the idea of trying something new and seeing how much I can take and how well I can adjust to extreme heat.

I've always run well in hot weather. My race results in hot temperatures are likely what got me into Badwater. But I've never really felt what it's like to run 135 miles in temperatures over 120 degrees with surface temperatures over 180 degrees. So this weekend I'm taking a trip to Death Valley to see what it's going to be like. My Dad (Crew Chief) and I are driving down Friday night and will do what I would call experimental running on the Badwater course with the intention of seeing what we are up against and dialing in the hydration needs and planning our race strategy. I know that after this weekend, after running and seeing much of the course we will come home with a very real picture of what we are up against and what it's like to run in real hot weather...... Badwater hot.