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June 15, 2009

Misty Mornings

“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:


Dave 6/16/09, 5:26 AM  

COME TO NORTH TEXAS...heat index on Saturday was 109 F...thats right...heck, that is nearly Badwater Hot...or pray that it is unseasonable cool for the WS this year.

Anonymous,  6/16/09, 6:21 AM  

Reality for Sensei not reality for grasshopper. Better to run cool, gulit free, than to run hot and leave family in dust. Snatch pebble from trail...or something like that.

Hot or cold, you are going to kick some Western States tail in a couple weeks. I'd bet money on it.

RBR 6/16/09, 7:01 AM  

You are so ready! No worries! My coach doesn't put a whole lot of stock in heat training. She says "suffer" training is "suffer" training. She is from Santa Cruz and has done Western States. You got this!

I LOVE your analogy of the Salinas Valley sun to a petulant teenager. Hilarious poetry, my friend!

I will be back from CdA just before you head out to WS100. If I miss you, have a great race. Remember to enjoy the journey (as much as you can :o) ) and be safe.

I(along with a couple 100 others!)will anxiously await your report!

RBR 6/16/09, 7:07 AM  

Come to think of it she has done it several times and will be there crewing for someone next weekend. Her name is Terri Schneider. If you meet up with her she has great advice on foot care and the course and hilarious stories. Tell her Stacey sent you!

Anonymous,  6/16/09, 10:03 AM  

Marley's wearing purple running tights, so I don't want no more ribbin from you and BRow 'bout mine.

Oh, good article about uncovering the reasons you run. But wear a sauna suit top next time you go for an hour or so mid-day. Just to get your body used to pouring sweat. Can't hurt . . . too much; and you'll still enjoy the run . . . mostly.
CV purple haze

Rainmaker 6/16/09, 3:54 PM  

The way weather has been lately on both coasts, you might just luck out with cooler temps. :)

Your post reminds me of a post I saw from Simon Whitfield (Canadian Olympian triathlete) a year or so back when they were doing heat training...in thier bathroom, with the shower running hot water and no fan.

Love2Run 6/17/09, 8:46 AM  

I'm not an ultra runner but thought the purpose of heat training was to teach your body to process more fluid and also to get your system to conserve water. The eating and drinking game? Good luck!

Scott Dunlap 6/17/09, 4:08 PM  

I'm two weeks in on heat training for States, and it's an awful lot of laundry. It did only take about 5-6 sessions to see my body start taking in water differently. Who knows? In the end I suspect it won't make as much difference as a smile on your face.

Looking forward to seeing you there...


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