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.