Monday, June 20, 2011

Ick run

I wanted to embark on a good long run today to kick off a big training week ahead of the TRT100. I was ambitiously thinking about something in the range of 20 miles at a solid running pace. I spent the morning inside my apartment completely absorbed in a project, and found it especially difficult to emerge from my tunnel when my planned 2:30 p.m. departure time arrived. I packed and prepped to leave, and vaguely decided to check the weather before setting out. It was 95 degrees in Los Altos. Wait ... what? I had yet to run in any real heat this summer. It's been in the 60s and 70s, at most the high 70s, during most of my outings since I moved here this spring. Well, I reasoned, it's as good of a time as any to get in some heat training. I decided it might be prudent to fill my 70-ounce water bladder to the top this time.

I decided to hit the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail because it's generally well shaded, and the overall mellow grade would allow me to run most of the 20 miles. I started off on the wrong foot by gulping down about 12 ounces of water before I even started running (my car has no air conditioning and I was already overheated after the 20-minute drive to the trailhead.) I then proceeded to launch into the gentle downhill grade entirely too fast. Less than a half mile in, a horrible cramp gripped my left side. "Gotta learn to run through this," I told myself, and pressed on.

Three miles down the apparently little-used Saratoga Gap Toll Road connector singletrack, I ran through an overgrown drainage only to realize too late that the trail was lined with stinging nettle. I am really sensitive to stinging nettle; it causes my skin to break out in huge white welts that burn with the rage of a thousand suns. Halfway across the grassy gap, waves of fire began to crash against my legs. I screamed and ran faster but it was too late. My legs and left arm were covered in searing welts. I swore but what could I do? "Gotta learn to run through this," I told myself, and pressed on.

At mile seven I was nearly out of water. I hadn't crossed a single running creek yet. Luckily there was a backpacker camp nearby. I stopped at the faucet and drenched my burning, itchy legs in water. It was surprisingly tepid and did little to put out the fire. I filled up my bladder and pressed on.

At mile eight, I started to feel nauseous. I tried to sip more water and felt the warm liquid gurgling back up in my throat. I stopped running to avoid puking and forced down a couple of salt tablets, then tried to continue back up the trail. I suddenly felt quite weak and dizzy. My pace slowed considerably. At mile eight and a half, I decided any benefit I could glean from this training run had passed, and turned around.

And of course, the trail back to Skyline Ridge is predominantly uphill. The heat needled into my core as I sipped water, fought the urge to puke, caved in to the urge to scratch the surface layer of skin off my legs, and generally tried to shut out the world with daydreams about frozen tundra and snow. The disassociation exercises helped a little, but that didn't change the fact that I had slowed to a 14-minute-mile pace even while running what felt like a full effort on a gradual ascent. I started alternating walking — and then predominantly walking — to cope with the nausea, but I felt fully cooked.

I staggered back to my car certain that this had been my worst run, ever. In 17 miles I never felt good, not even once, and despite my resolve to press on through the worst of it in hopes it would get better, it only continually got worse. In that way, it was a valuable experience. I definitely learn more from the runs that go badly than the ones that go well. During today's run, I learned that when it's summer outside, I'm better off just staying indoors, the way other people do when the world is covered in ice and snow. But more realistically, what I need to do is work on my heat acclimation and fluid and salt intake, and probably build up to three-and-a-half-hour runs in 90-degree weather more slowly in the future.


  1. Stinging nettles SUCK. What about sun set runs? It may be a cooler time to run although late. Or ... the evil ... morning run. If you can get used to getting up. I agree though and come to realize that anything over 70 starts to get a little uncomfortable. I love the sun and heat but when I race in it I have real bad results. Like fainting in grocery stores and stuff ... yuk.

  2. Probably not the best day to plan a long run. However it sounds like perfect 100 miler training. Now all you need to do is push through that sort of experience in the middle of the racw and then make it another 50 miles or so!

  3. Steve, that's what I kept thinking about — what would I do if this were mile 40 of a 100-miler. I like to think that if I could find a place to sit down in the shade for a few minutes and douse a lot of cold water over my head before forcing down some sugar candy, that I might recover from it. And I considered your state when you reached Pioneer Mail at the SD100. But if I'm honest with myself, any 100-miler that involves prolonged exposure to 90-degree temps would likely eat me alive.

    Bill ... I probably will run more in the evening and scorching days like these. That's what I used to do during the hottest part of summer in Missoula — leave an hour before sunset and even take lights just in case. But yesterday really was a intentional experiment once I realized how hot it was. The ways in which it was tougher than expected were definitely educational.

  4. The first really hot days of the year always feel that way! Don't worry, "You will be acclimated. Resistance is futile."

  5. laughing with you...not at you..

  6. laughing with you...not at you..

  7. Hi Jill,

    i'm not a doctor but i'm a bit worried about your idea of popping salt tablets. i think they've lost favour with the nutrition types and have been replaced by eating bananas (for the potassium)



  8. Hey Jill,
    When I ran cross country competitively for the University of Nevada (Reno), we'd regularly train distance and intervals on the Tahoe Rim Trail - in the dead heat of summer. I'd often head out with my water partially frozen, to help cool my core temperature. I'd also travel with a damp wash cloth, hanging from my waist band or tucked into the shoulder strap of my sports bra. I'd douse it every once in a while and use it to wipe down my legs and upper body to facilitate natural cooling. I'd also run in as little clothing as possible. Yep, if you can stand it, I'd recommend a sports bra and your running skirt. Any breeze you can get on your skin helps in hot weather.
    And yes, you will get used to the heat soon. Just keep after it!


  9. Found your publishing company on the side bar and ordered your book. Yah!

  10. Second on forgoing the salt tablets. No bueno! Too much salt can cause problems with temperature regulation and contribute to fatigue, stomach issues, sore muscles, potassium uptake, and mental confusion. On the wildland fireline (hardest working athletes out there, no contest), firefighters are taught to NEVER take salt tablets - to drink sports drinks, lemonade, or tomato juice, or to eat bananas instead.

    People take salt tablets to ward off cramps, but cramps are caused by dehydration, not sodium levels. It's not surprising you got sick after taking them! Maybe try a different tactic; stay more hydrated and pay attention to potassium rather than sodium. Good luck!

  11. Interesting concept on the salt tablets. During the 50Ks I've run, other runners eat them like candy. I learned to do the same since I can't stomach electrolyte drinks to save my life. I got sick before I took the salt tabs, not after. The nausea did continue but didn't get any worse afterward.

    I drank 70 ounces of water in 8 miles, about an hour and 20 minutes of running. I doubt I'd have the ability to take in any more than that. I actually don't have a problem taking in water as long as I have access to it; it's calories and minerals that I have a tough time forcing down, thus my inclination to use electrolyte tablets (Endurolytes) rather than sports drink.

    I would think this supply of sodium/electrolytes is better than none at all. As I've mentioned before, I've tried to use a myriad of different sports drinks/liquid nutrition sources many times. They just don't work for me. Period.

    I still think it was the heat. Heat hits me hard regardless of what I'm doing (even sitting around on a deck chair in 90-degree temps makes me feel bad.) Just not a summer person, I guess.


Feedback is always appreciated!