The other day, all but 11 states registered in with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees.
Illinois being one of them.
For the record, and we’ve broken a lot of records recently, it has been over 90 degrees for the past 24 days. That’s over 3 weeks.
During one of those days, I left my iPhone in the car. About an hour later, upon realizing my lifeline was trapped, alone, in a hot car, windows up, I went to rescue it. That’s when I saw this:
EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING
And something to the effect that it must be cooled down before you can use it again.
If only I had such a warning.
Heat or not, training moves forward. Three weeks of trying to get up early or go out late or training indoors. I was out running, as the temperature climbed through the 90s, when I thought to myself how frustrating it was to have all of this fitness but not be able to really use it. When it’s so hot that you have to stop under a tree to gather your thoughts, you’re not really performing up to your fitness potential out there – you’re surviving. But then I thought about my next race, historically around 95 degrees or higher, and how if we’re going to race in it, we have to train in it. Fitness doesn’t matter so much as getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and staying mentally tough out there.
Last week, I did my first track workout in over 3 years. Track starts somewhere around 6 pm, when it happened to be 92 degrees outside. It was one of those rare workouts in the heat where I had no idea how I pulled out the times I did. Somewhere after 2 x 800s and a 400, the man who had been chasing me said you love the heat, don’t you. I do not. In fact, anything above 90 degrees is my zone of intolerance. But since we race in the summer, you have to learn to tolerate the heat. Do everything possible to stay cool before, during and after the workout. Say a prayer. And then just go for it. Miraculously, I pulled out one of the fastest 800s I’d seen in a long time.
Two days later, weather still hot, I took my ride to the trainer in the chilling 67 degrees of my basement. Sometimes it pays to value quality over suffering. Sometimes you need the suffering to acclimate yourself to the discomfort of race day. Go too much in one direction and you become soft. Too much in the other and you become spent and tired. In extremes like this you’ve got to do a little of both and focus even harder on recovery.
The weekend brought my long run. Weekends are hard. Only one person can get up early to workout while the other stays with Max. I pulled the unlucky card – my long run started at 1 pm. Another day of 90 degrees. A freak storm left the first part of my run overcast and cool. And – no kidding – the moment I turned around, the sun came out blazing just in time for my intervals. I ignored the Garmin and went off feel. Yes it was hot. Yes it was uncomfortable. But the hardest part was just managing my head and all of the excuses that could have kept me from trying. I took it one interval at a time and nailed each one. Then I stood under a tree for 30 seconds to collect myself.
Tuesday was near 100 degrees. Around 12 noon I went out for an easy 30 minute run. Easy became hard as the last 15 minutes felt like I crawled under a thick blanket of heat that I couldn’t find my way out of. Kind of like if you’ve thrown a blanket over your dog’s head and watched them run in a circle until finally they find their way out (this gets exponentially funnier with every glass of wine). That was me, under the blanket, running. When I got back home, I found Amanda, comfortably laying on the couch, when I told her to get outside and run for mental toughness training. At that moment, the “train with me for a few days” camp was starting to feel more like fat camp. But she grabbed her Fuel Belt and did it.
Wednesday I had a track workout on schedule. I knew the track group wasn’t meeting due to the holiday so I suggested doing a 5K. Kurt agreed and I found myself up at 5:30 am eating my pre-race oatmeal. At 5:30 am, it was 77 degrees with a dewpoint of 73. Damp. The irony of the warm up is that I was completely warmed up by the time I walked to pick up my race bag. Nevermind the 20 minutes with strides! For the race, my plan was to go as hard as I could go for as long as I could go. It wasn’t a brilliant plan but neither was running a 5K in this weather. But that’s what makes for great training experiences – you test your limits, try some new things, take a risk without caring about the consequence.
I didn’t wear a Garmin, nor a watch. Freedom. Some call it running naked. I’ve never run naked but I’ve seen it done enough times on Ragbrai that I know for a fact it’s a good thing we all wear clothes when running.
I lined up in the front row with what had to be over a dozen kids, my favorite being the one right behind me.
We’re in for the hottest Fourth of July in a century.
As I stand there dripping sweat.
Yup, and one day I’m going to be able to tell my kids that I ran on the hottest day in a century.
Standing there – dripping.
In 100 years, it hasn’t been this hot.
I have never wanted to turn around and put a race flat into someone’s mouth so badly.
The gun went off and true to my plan I went as hard as I could. I hit mile 1 at 5:57, mile 2 at 6:08 and mile 3 was either long or I, as I said to Amanda, heard that people can blow up but didn’t think it could happen to me. Mile 3 might have been around 7:00 – which doesn’t seem right or, as Chris said, it sounds like your wheels didn’t just come off but you tripped right over them. This very well might have happened but without the Garmin, I will never know and it sounds much more self-saving to say “the course was long” so I’m going with it. I ended up 2nd overall, finished up with a cool down – at that point, insult to my body, because the cool down was only making me hotter.
I headed home and the only thing that sounded good to me was coffee. I have trouble eating when it’s this hot out. The heat makes me wish there was human kibble – someone suggested there is, it’s called cereal. So I’ve been eating a lot of Cheerio’s. At the coffee shop, I did a very un-Liz like thing. I ordered coffee, iced. Yes, that’s what happens when you race a 5K on the hottest Fourth of July of the century.
Around 11 am, Amanda and I headed out for a ride. This may have been the dumbest thing I’ve ever done on a bike. Next to Ragbrai. At this point, it was 99 degrees. Chris was up at 4:30 am doing this ride, I did the race then we had no other choice but to go then. Not exactly ideal riding weather but how hard could it be to ride through it for 90 minutes? I ask you – how hard?
(foreshadowing, if my Garmin was my iPhone it would have flashed EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING before I even rolled my bike out of the garage)
The first 54 minutes were ok. We rode to see the Alpaca Farm. We decide that we are hot but at least we are not Alpacas. Maybe it was stopping in the sun for a few minutes but right then something very bad happened. I got excessively hot – as in, I might be sick kind of hot. Now I’ve been through a lot of hot things: Kona, 3 times, Ragbrai, 5 times, pregnancy inJuly, at 9 months, standing within 10 feet of George Hincapie while getting his autograph (Liz, your smockin!) but this was possibly the hottest I have ever been. All I could think about was getting off of my bike and finding water.
About 20 minutes later, we find a park. There has to be water there, yes, at a park in the middle of nowhere! Sadly there was no water. Just a picnic shelter under which I had to stop, and – in my words to Amanda –gather myself. So what that means is I poured (HER) water on my head and unzipped my jersey to leave it flapping for the rest of the ride, forgoing any aerodynamics properties of my bike – and being damn ok with that.
I check the temperature on my Garmin which reads 106.9 and then realize that this is not just excessive heat but it is also my melting point. The only thing that makes me want to continue riding is knowing a park, in about 20 minutes, indeed has a water spigot. Nevermind that one time a few years ago, in a similar situation, I rode to that spigot, found it was off and cried. Until we get there, I talk about the water spigot. I imagine the water spigot. As Amanda pulls away from me on the road near the park I scream from behind her: THIS IS THE ROAD WITH THE WATER SPIGOT fearful that she might ride right by it.
Finally, at the park, with the spigot, my mouth grows dry as I read a sign that says: Non-potable water.
I want to cry.
You could probably drink it and you wouldn’t die (that was Amanda talking)
Thank god for friends looking out for me. I didn’t drink it. Instead put my entire head under it. Filled my water bottle with it. Poured that entire water bottle all over me. And then found renewed spirit in my wet shorts.
About 10 minutes from the car, alongside the road there is a water park with giant slides and what looks like an oasis of icy cold water that I need to be in RIGHT NOW. It’s like a race where they make you run around a lake on a hot day and all you can think about is jumping into that lake. I needed to jump into that pool. When we get back to the car I told Amanda we were going to the water park. It was not a choice.
Full bike kit, we enter the park. First things first, we must have SpongeBob popsicles. In what felt like a another Ragbrai moment, we found the only shade up against the side of the building, sat with our water bottles, sunscreen and popsicles proclaiming it to be the best ice cream ever. The only way it could have gotten any better if it was flavored like beer. Then, we grabbed two tubes and headed to the lazy river. We learned that a lazy river on a 100+ degree day is like the Eisenhower during rush hour traffic. You don’t move very fast. You are exposed up close and personal to what can only be described as an overfed and over-tatooed slice of America. Even if we wanted to move faster we were so trapped by the slow, lazy speed of the river that we had no choice but to accept it and enjoy.
For two hours I forgot I was hot (actually, I got a chill and felt cold), forgot I had a job to do, forgot I was a mother, forgot I was anything but right there, right at that moment in the lazy river. It was one of the most freeing things I have felt in a long time. It was summer in all of its glory – better yet, Fourth of July glory – true freedom with no responsibilities, no worries, nothing but me floating in a tube. I need more moments like this and less moments folding towels or cleaning up the kitchen. It was perfect timing on summer’s part – to get me to slow down and simply enjoy myself.
Finally it was time to return to reality. We put our tubes down. And headed home. The only thing worse than leaving a soiled diaper in a car on a 100+ degree day would be leaving not one but two pairs of bike shoes. The car smelled special. We drove home, tired, ridiculously dehydrated, a little sunburned. Yet to me it was the perfect day.
For as much as I don’t enjoy temperatures over 90, there’s a lot to be learned in the extremes. You learn a little more about your strengths (running well with a bunch of men chasing you on a track on a hot night), your weaknesses (pacing in a 5K, obviously), your successes (nailing the long run) and your failures (the 90 minute ride that may have taken 2 hours because I needed to take a cold bath under a spigot).
And you learn that sometimes in the heat it’s best to slow down, grab a tube, float and enjoy yourself.
Stay cool, friends!