You don’t need me to tell you how hot and humid it has been in New York City these past weeks. But just because the heat is unsafe and bound to slow down our per-mile pace is no reason not to get out there and run. No, real runners will look for ways to work around it, or simply decide to soldier through the conditions with stoicism and sweat (not with stupidity, mind you). The past three days in my running each provide a different example of how to beat the heat.
1. TAKE IT INSIDE
Friday, I was scheduled for a pace run, but based on last week’s experience trying to get it done in suffocating heat, there was no way I was going to do this speed workout on the roads. Instead, I took it inside and did it on the treadmill. I was a little concerned that I would get bored, and that the distance would seem unbearable. But as it turned out, I prefered doing the pace run on the treadmill in just about every way. First, I was in the air-conditioned gym so breathing was not a problem. Sure, I still sweat like boxer but the effort I had to put out to run at speed was much closer to normal than if I’d been outside. An added benefit I had not anticipated was that I had none of the mental anguish I go through during my pace runs. Normally, my thoughts go like this during a pace run: Oh god am I going fast enough? Ack too slow! Pick it up! Oh no now I’m going to fast, slow it down a notch. Oh crap that split was a waster. Just hold it here for two more miles… yes TK, you CAN maintain it… oh god I can’t breathe, why do I have a cramp? Shit and I’m slowing down… and so on and so forth, for 40 minutes or more. It’s so freaking noisy in my head, it’s one of the reasons I dread pace runs. But on the treadmill, I just popped in the earbuds, set the speed, and proceeded to scoff at the morning news. Every now and then I’d check the clock and the mileage on the treadmill, do a systems check and determine that yes, I could carry on, and so I would. The music and the TV didn’t completely distract me, but it was enough, and I could relax into the pace rather than stress over it. Even though by doing my pace runs on a treadmill I lose some of that internal training of the body (“This, dear legs, is how you run an 8:00-mile”) by letting the treadmill dictate, I think I am going to continue doing my pace runs on the treadmill until I start with the Nike Speed sessions again in August. My splits for the 5-mile pace run were, in order: 8:13-8:13-8:13-8:06:-8:00.
2. START EARLY, and go slow
Saturday was my last long run before the Queens Half Marathon, and since I am a firm believer in overmileage whenever possible (my two big half-marathon PRs came in the middle of marathon training seasons), I had 16 miles on the calendar. I knew that would take me a while, and unless I started at 3 AM I would be battling a hot sun. So, I did the next-best thing which was to start at the crack of dawn. I was out of bed at 5 AM and running by 5:35. I ran with a big bottle of water and two gels, and was very practical about the pace I was trying to set. I felt like an English nanny counseling her charges every time I gave myself a pep talk about how slow I was running. I knew I was doing the proper thing by aiming to average around 10’s, but it wasn’t much fun. The first eight miles, the air was so heavy and still that there was no way I could have pushed my way through the humidity any faster than I did. I averaged 10:35’s for the first half of my workout, my pace hovering between 11:16 (eep!) and 10:18. Finally, as a gift, something shifted in the air and a cool breeze began to stir, which made it possible for me to pick up the pace enough to get most of my next miles below 10 minutes per, and the average pace of 10:03 gave me a negative split. 16.46 miles run in 2:47:56. Average pace 10:12; fastest mile 9:25; slowest mile 11:16.
2a. RUN A ROUTE YOU LOVE
Something else that helped me get through this run was I picked a course that made me happy. I had 16 miles, and I was sure that nearly every one of those miles would offer me a street that I knew and appreciated. I cobbled together bits of three of my favorite routes to get this 16-miler together. I combined a loop around Roosevelt Island with the jaunt into the Hell Gate section of Astoria and a detour across 20th Avenue and Ditmars Blvd. I enjoyed this route very much. Right from the start, I knew it would treat me well. As I ran over the Harold Avenue Bridge into Astoria, I saw the last vestiges of a spectacular sunrise. To my right, the sun rose big and orange, a glowing ball splattering its hue onto the steely gray clouds that obstinately hung in the eastern sky. I say obstinately because clearly, like the victors in a game of Risk, the blue skies had already claimed their territory on the northwestern territory. Wow, it was gorgeous! Auto traffic was very low, so I could run in the street rather than on the sidewalk, which I always prefer since they are less pitted and cracked. Running around Roosevelt Island, I was able to ogle my 59th Street Bridge unimpeded from all angles. By the time I arrived at the track at Astoria Park, it was a mere 7 AM yet the whole neighborhood was out. People were playing Frisbee on the field, there were easily a dozen runners trotting around the track, plus a bunch more moving around the park’s paths and bordering streets. As I headed out of the park to run beneath the footings of the Queensboro Bridge and the Hell Gate Bridge, I passed old neighborhood guys, standing around cranking at each other in their white V-neck tees, shorts, and black socks pulled up to their calves. Imagine, all these people up and alert at 7 AM! I was tickled. Just as I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it through 8 more miles, a breeze picked up. This breeze had a hint of coolness to it, so it perked me up, enabling me to enjoy the easy familiarity of 20th Avenue, Hazen Street, and Ditmars Boulevard.
3. TAKE IT OFF, BABY
This morning, I did something while running I have never done before: I ran without a shirt. I am sure for some of you this is no big deal; I know guys especially like to run shirtless, and I have seen many a woman on a workout in her bra top and shorts. But I am a busty gal; running in just a sports bra seems unnecessarily provocative. Not to mention all my running bras look like bras, with underwires and supportive stitching, not like those cute strappy things that A-cup women wear to do yoga. However, this April while at the expo for the London Marathon, I bought a sports bra that wasn’t quite as architectural (shall we say), and I’ve had it in the back of my head to give it a spin one of these hot days. Today was a perfect opportunity, because I was heading to Long Beach, where I have seen lots of women running in a sports bra and shorts along the boardwalk over the years. (I’d never run shirtless thru Sunnyside, let’s just say the cultural climate here wouldn’t really put me at ease.) I was a little self-aware as I laced up my sneaks, but it was already hot at 10 AM and there were plenty of folks out on the boardwalk flip flopping around in their bathing suits. And so I took off, nearly immediately noticing how free I felt. It was much cooler running without a shirt, without having my tank top constantly brushing against my tummy, or (like my Saturday long run) weighing me down all sticky and sodden with sweat. I could feel the ocean breezes along my stomach, back and chest and this was a sensation I’d never felt while running before. I loved it! There was no escape from the sun on the boardwalk, and it beat down upon me so even with out a tech tee I was sweating a lot by Mile 2. But I felt strong; running without my shirt made me very body-conscious so I spent a lot of the workout thinking about my form. Shoulders back & down, neck relaxed, eyes up, abs working. Hey, if it takes vanity to run with decent form, I am not too virtuous to say forget it. After a while I realized I was passing everyone else on the boardwalk, so this was further incentive for me to pick it up and see what sort of pace I could sustain. The workout turned into a mini progression run, and by the time I was done I had forgotten I was shirtless. I was just, once again, me, lost in my thoughts and in my running. 4.21 miles completed in 37:39. Average pace 8:56; fastest mile (Mile 4) 8:23; slowest mile (Mile 1) 9:29.
After this run, I removed Little G, my heart rate monitor and my sneakers and dove right onto the ocean. It was so refreshing I laughed out loud with delight. It was one of the best post-workout moments in my personal history.