Sunday, June 20, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

...just shut up and RUN!!!

That was my mantra during the second half of Highlands Sky 40 on Saturday. After a lovely, cool, breezy morning of running high above tree line on the Roaring Plains in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia, the real challenge of the day revealed itself in the 7+ mile exposed road section of the race during miles 20-27. It was on this section that I needed to dig up the positive mental talk and just run from "shade to shade." Once we hit the Dolly Sods we got a nice cool breeze from time to time, but the damage was done, as they say...I was toast.

What makes some runners better in the heat than others? I have a friend whom I'll call Alisa Springman. She LOVES running in the heat, so much so that she LOVES running Badwater. This year will be her third in a row in Death Valley. She is a swimmer in her former life, so perhaps she has a natural "thing" with being in the sun. Not me.

Give me 15 degrees in mid-December and I will flow like water. For some, running in this kind of cold is not appealing---they would rather be warm and toasty by the fire than running up Headforemost Mountain in a 9 degree wind chill. My body runs really well in cool and colder weather, and most of my ultra course PRs have been set in cool and/or rainy temps: Bull Run in the 2006 cold rain, 9:00; Mountain Masochist 50 in 40 degrees in 2007, 9:34; Hellgate 100K's 15 degrees in 2009, 14:58; and Highland Sky 40, where, in 2004 in the cool rainy 50s, I ran a 8:06 AND was the female winner. Co-inky-dink? I think not.

In 2006, I ran Western States 100 in the third hottest conditions in race history. It was 70 degrees at the start in Squaw Valley (at 4,000 feet) and 110 in the canyons during the race, and 95 degrees at 8:00am at the finish line. I was prepared for these conditions--I had sat in the sauna following the plans provided by the Badwater race site, adjusted my race time goals by at least two hours, started very slowly, and got wet at every AS and stream crossing. Mentally I knew the heat would be my challenge of the race, not the 100 miles run, and this preparation was a huge factor in why I was able to finish when so many didn't that year.

So that's why I spent the week before this year's Highlands Sky checking out the weather and adjusting (and readjusting) my fluid and calorie needs. The forecast (which was correct) called for clear skies with 50 degree temps at 6:00am with 90% humidity, eventually reaching 85-88 degrees with 50% humidity. I knew the humidity wasn't going to be a concern but the exposed sections and the lack of cloud cover were going to be the challenge. For this reason I tucked in an extra 20 ounce handheld for the second half to use just for dousing water over my head, in addition to the 70 ounces of water in my Nathan pack and the 20 ounce handheld that I used for Perpetuem and Nuun, alternatively. I also took an S cap every hour, sometimes every 30 minutes whenever I felt cramping coming on, and this strategy worked well. Finally, I consumed 2300 calories (mostly Hammergel, Clif Bloks and Perp) over the 9 hours I was out there, a perfect amount as it averaged about 250 and hour.

In addition, I wore what are probably the best trail shoe for the Highland Sky course: the inov-8 Flyrock 284s. These shoes were perfect for the variety of conditions we encountered (in order of appearance): pavement, muddy singletrack, rocky, technical trail, slick rooty steep downhill trail, rolling dirt road, old jeep road, narrow sandy singletrack, wide horse trail, boulder hopping, steep scree on the ski slope, and pavement. I loved how fast and quick I felt in these shoes, even if I wasn't really running fast and quick!

And despite the heat and my whining about it, I didn't bonk, cramp, or Death March it in---in fact, I ran the last road section with relative ease. The bottom line was that heat slowed me significantly on sections where in the past I tend to run fast (miles 20-40), thus registering my slowest and most painful Highland Sky finish to date. BUT being a "glass is half full" kind of gal, I had a blast hanging out with my VHTRC and WVMTR friends, and am pleased with how my nutrition and hydration went. With all the walking I was doing, I was also able to enjoy the gorgeous views of one of my favorite courses. The pics below are just a few of the many that I took during the race...hmmm, perhaps that accounts for some of the slow down? Never mind.

My favorite section of the Dolly on it for a larger view. Note all the runners far ahead down the trail. That's Billy-Bob Combs in the yellow shorts.

I would have loved to have sat down beneath the shade of this tree...

My good friend Gary I am leaving him at mile 7 on the Roaring Plains, only to have him pass me back at mile 38. An amazing performance by a legendary ultrarunner!


Rick Gray said...

Your execution of Highlands this year was right on the money. You ran smart the entire day, which allowed you to finish feeling well and strong. Conditions were certainly far different from what we had in 2009, but yet we have to take each year as it comes. Great race under tough conditions, but a run we look forward to each year!

Unknown said...

Sophie, this was my first HS40, and your past reports were very helpful - thanks a lot for those. I played leapfrog with you through the day (I knew it was you because everyone shouted your name at the aid stations!). I agree the conditions were tough, and I was glad to have had some heat training here in DC. Great job persevering on a challenging day. CP

ultrarunnergirl said...

Way to get it done Sophie.

run4daysbill said...

Nice work, Soph. I am wildly proud of your effort in those non-Soph conditions! Very well done.