“Misty morning … don’t see no sun –
I know you’re out there somewhere, having fun.”
- Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Misty Morning” (video after post)
There’s a guy in Carmel Valley who has run the Western States 100 several times; he’s a mutual acquaintance of just about every local ultrarunner, and something of a sensei when it comes to dispensing advice about the event.
I bring this up because last week, my pacer sent me an e-mail that essentially said, [Sensei] is concerned that you’re not getting enough heat training. Apparently they had been discussing my preparation in the midst of a trail run. It was a somewhat off-the-cuff remark that probably wouldn’t have fazed me – except that it happens to be completely true.
In fact, this isn’t the first time the subject has come up. Over the past several weeks, a handful of runners have asked me how much heat training I’ve done; the only variability in my response is how many seconds I pause before saying “none”.
I’ll never complain about the surroundings I live in, or the wonderful trails and open spaces for training that I have at my disposal. However, the primary drawback – at least as far as training for Western States is concerned - of living on the central California coast is the preponderance of fog and overcast skies that amass offshore before drifting down our local valleys almost every morning.
Here’s a typical scene from my Carmel Valley trails just after sunrise last week:
And here’s a shot from the Fort Ord trails that I wrote about in my previous post:
Keep in mind, these are color pictures – it’s the landscapes that come across in palettes of gray. Under any other circumstances, these areas are a trail runner’s Nirvana:
Rolling hills, miles of trails, the scent of strawberry fields in the air, and the beautiful Salinas Valley in the background. There’s only one thing missing: where’s the sunshine?
In June, the Salinas Valley sun is like a petulant teenager: very slow to rise, sometimes appearing for only a few hours before retiring again for the night, other times not bothering to make an appearance at all. Since I do most of my training in the early mornings, I’ve long since finished my run for the day by the time the fog burns off in the afternoon Consequently, I very seldom experience the hot conditions that will almost certainly come into play on the journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
It’s often said that the heat, even more than the mountains and the canyons, is the distinguishing characteristic of the Western States course. As far as my own training is concerned, it will be the biggest X-factor at this year’s race. Aside from the 12 hours I spent on Mt Diablo this April, I haven’t really faced the conditions that I’ll spend the better part of a day dealing with at the end of the month.
(I’ve also been a bit unlucky in this regard: the Quicksilver 50M didn’t heat up until late in the day; Western States camp saw cooler conditions than usual; my Tassajara run featured overcast skies instead of customary heat. And we haven’t had a real heat wave yet this year, which is unusual. I can plan the runs, but I can’t plan the forecast.)
I know that if I were truly dedicated, I could figure out some way to enhance my heat preparation. Some folks have told me to run with extra clothes on everyday, or drive around town with my car heater on full blast. Our sensei’s advice was to sit in a sauna for a couple of hours per day. Unfortunately, I haven’t brought myself to employ any of these strategies.
As a general rule, I like to push the boundaries of physical training as much as I possibly can, but avoid some of the detours that veer into the realm of the ridiculous. Running is a simple pleasure for me; I’m able to log a ton of training miles mainly because I enjoy the experience. The fewer extraneous details I have to tend to, the more content I feel.
So I’m not doing anything unconventional to better prepare myself – and I fully realize that such an approach could prove to be a liability at Western States. However, I’m considering this one of those situations where I’ll seek the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I suppose the heat could be my undoing in two weeks – but if spending hours in a sauna or driving around with my heater on is the margin that determines success or failure, perhaps I’m not suited for this event after all.
It’s too late for me to change anything now – and even if I could, I don’t know if I would. I’d rather just appreciate my cool misty mornings, then roll the dice when I get to Western States.
And to reinforce just how irie I'm feeling about this whole issue, here's some classic Bob Marley to click and enjoy:
June 15, 2009
“Misty morning … don’t see no sun –