Hard-earned heat training tips
Guest Blogger: Julie Koepke
Almost four years ago, I loaded up my car in Minnesota and drove about as far south down I-35 as I possibly could, down to San Antonio. One big reason I moved from MN is that I can't stand cold weather; I'd much rather run in heat, and since moving, I've enjoyed running the Capt'n Karls 60k night series every summer, and even managed to get through the Habanero Hundred 100 mile race last summer (race report here).
Ever since my first run here, on a 100-degree day, I've picked up a lot of ideas about running in heat -- mostly from doing things very, very wrong and learning from my mistakes. As we head into the summer, a few folks have been asking me for tips on surviving Habanero Hundred or other hot races, so I figured I'd share what I've learned.
Caution: I'm not a doctor, or even that smart. Everything I write here is simply picked up from my experiences racing in Texas summer heat. Hopefully some of this will be helpful to others, but don't blame me if it doesn't work for you!
Here's what I've learned works for me to successfully run in heat:
- Ice, ice, and more ice!
- During summer races, I take a few moments at aid stations to request a scoop of ice down my shirt. Then, as I continue running, I steal some cubes from my bra to put in my hat and mouth, or rub on my face. On a 96-degree night during a 60k, this feels amazing!
- I'm also excited to try my new insulated water bottle from Nathan. It's supposed to keep ice and liquids cooler 20% longer than other insulated bottles. Ice-cold water tastes so good during a hot race!
- Apparel designed for heat:
- Ice bandana -- I use one from zombierunner, which is designed specifically to hold ice close to your neck. It's the best!
- Cooling towel -- you know, the ones where you get it wet and it's supposed to stay cold and wet for a long time? I don't use one of these anymore. I made a huge mistake at a Capt'n Karls race one year; I had this great idea of cutting a head-sized hole in one of these and wearing it for the race. I thought it would keep me cool while I ran. It ended up being the worst -- I felt like I was running with a hot, heavy poncho, and I was stuck with it until the end of the loop. I think I threw it away after that disaster.
- My friend Rich also has a hat with a zipper pocket on top to store ice in your hat, which he purchased from zombierunner.com. I haven't tried this, mostly because I think I look weird enough with my awkward running form, and wearing a zippered hat would only strengthen the impression. But this is trail running, not a photo shoot, right?
- Cooling arm sleeves -- I use Columbia brand sleeves. They seem to work well. In the film This is Your Day, Rob Krar is shown stuffing ice cubes in his cooling arm sleeves while slaying the Western States course. I haven't tried this technique yet, but I look forward to trying it out this summer.
- Of course, wearing a hat and sunscreen is helpful too. Reapply the sunscreen often! At Habanero, I was so dazed that I forgot to put my hat and sunscreen on for the first daylight loop of Day 2, and I fried a little bit. Thank goodness for Rob, the race director, who gave me his own hat! So it's probably a good idea to make a "cheat sheet" for yourself for a long race like that, with a reminder of what to take with you for certain loops.
- Since I am training for hot races, I try to make it a point to train in the heat. Instead of only running in the morning when it's cooler, I'll go for runs at lunch time, in the afternoon, or in the evening, when the temperature drops a bit, but the humidity kicks up.
- I also enjoy hot yoga, and I hope this helps with acclimating to the heat. I sure sweat a lot, anyway.
- Salt and electrolytes
- I know a lot of runners swear by s-caps and e-caps, but I never take these. If I'm feeling like I want salt, then I eat something salty at an aid station. It's advice I got from Liza Howard, and she's never steered me wrong yet.
- Ever since Habanero, when Rob and Rachel tried to bring me back to life with Pedialyte, I've kept a bottle in my Victory Sportdesign bag at all times. During hot races, I take a gulp whenever I reach my drop bag. There's nothing scientific about how I use it, it just makes me feel better. However, I've recently started using Tailwind again, which has electrolytes, so I feel less dependent on Pedialyte now.
- Chafing prevention
- When it's humid, chafing can be really bad. (Again, read my Habanero report!) I used to use Vasoline as a preventative method, but for my last half a dozen ultras, I've used Trail Toes tape instead. I apply it anywhere I usually have chafing, and it sticks really well for the entire race -- even up to 100 miles.
- I also keep a small jar of Trail Toes cream in the pocket of my hydration vest, just in case of emergency.
- My year-round anti-blister tip is to wear two pairs of thin socks. My friend Edward gave me that tip a few years ago, and I haven't had a blister since.
- One thing I think I did really well at Habanero was my fluid intake. I used the Liza Howard/Tim Noakes rule of simply "drinking to thirst." I kept looking at my fingers to see if they were swelling up, which might be a sign of hyponatremia. Every loop, when I weighed in with medical as required, my weight was right on the dot, the same. To me, and the medical staff, this indicated I wasn't getting dehydrated or retaining too much water. I always think of Liza's tip: if plain water sounds good to you, then you are thirsty, and you should drink more. If plain water doesn't sound good, you don't need it; don't force your body to drink it.
Well, I think those are the only hot tips I've learned in these four years. I'm sure I will continually be adding to this list, as we all learn something from every race and every long training run. Thanks for reading! May your post-run beverages be icy, and your body chafe-less! Hope to see you this August at the Habanero Hundred!
Read more of Julie's blog posts at http://runningasprayer.blogspot.com/