I run hot. I generate a lot of body heat when I run. I sweat the soonest and I sweat the most. I much prefer running in cool or even downright cold temperatures to hot temperatures. Unfortunately, most ultra marathons are held during the summer months and heat is almost always a factor.
My A race for the summer was the Howl at the Moon 8 Hour timed race outside my hometown of Danville, IL. I previously ran this race in 2012 and 2013. In both cases I ran my fastest times for the 50 mile distance (7:50 and 7:24, respectively). I have improved in many ways since I last ran this race, so I had high hopes for the event this year. I focused all of my effort on it, without any plan B. I hoped to hit 50 miles under 7 hours, which would put me on pace for 56+ miles in 8 hours, which would give me a shot at the win.
The heat I could mostly train for by running midday under the blazing high desert sun. I couldn’t really train for the humidity, and the humidity in central Illinois in August can be brutal. But the elevation is much lower, so that could potentially cancel out any ill effects of the humidity.
We arrived in Illinois a couple days early. Melissa and I did a short test run and it was ridiculously humid. We hoped for the best on race day, while preparing for the worst. We woke up on race day and the humidity was unreal. I sat in a chair at 7 AM and sweat was dripping off my forehead. The one redeeming factor was that the sky was completely overcast and gray, with the sun nowhere in sight. So it definitely could have been worse.
I started out with the lead pack. In years past these guys have taken off at 7 minute pace and pulled away early. This year the pace was a much more pedestrian 8:15/mile. This was exactly how fast I was hoping to run for the entire race, so starting off at a nice steady pace was great for me.
Photo by some member of The Buffalo?
An hour and a half into the race the clouds broke and the sun came out. It was going to be a long hot next six and a half hours. By two hours in I had sweat so much that my shoes made sloshing sounds with every step I took. Six more hours of this bullshit.
I continued to run at a fairly steady pace, while a couple guys from the lead pack sped up and a couple slowed down. I quickly lost track of how many people were ahead of me, and by later in the race people were moving at such wildly different paces there was really no way to tell how many 3.29 mile laps they had run.
By 30 miles the heat was taking a huge toll on me and my pace tanked. The only thing that kept be going was the fistfuls of ice I shoved into my hat and the bandana around my neck each lap. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever sweat this much in my life. I had to drink so much water to stay hydrated that my stomach was just sloshing and sloshing the last few hours.
This was not my day. I was way slower than my A goal of 50 miles in 7 hours. I was way slower than my B goal of beating my previous best performance at this race of 53.64 miles in 8 hours. It was a real struggle just to match my 2012 performance of 50.35 miles. I had just enough time to squeak past that and I finished with 50.85 miles. So it wasn’t my worst ever, but it was a far cry from what I hoped to do… from what I believed I was capable of doing.
My shoes were so wet the insoles kept sliding around
We all have bad days and disappointing races. My racing record is quite spotty (particularly since moving to Colorado). But I usually bounce back pretty quickly and move on to the next thing. This race, though, put me in a pretty bad place. It left me with all kinds of doubt about what I was actually capable of. It left me wondering whether I even wanted to race again given that I might not ever improve. Maybe I should just focus on adventures in the mountains and leave the racing to the youngsters.
I continued running, a bit aimlessly, for a few weeks before I snapped out of it. August gave way to September. I focused my effort on my favorite local race, the Black Squirrel Half Marathon. Little did I know what autumn had in store for me. That I would go from borderline despair to racing beyond my wildest expectation. But I’ll leave that for another post.