Friday, June 4, 2010

heat and humidity from a southern perspective

It’s the first week of June here in Ala-dam-bama and y’all know what that means. Heat, humidity and a chance of thunderstorms is the norm much of the time. Thus far, temps have been pretty seasonal (highs only reaching the mid 80s). I can almost hear laughter from my northern friends at “only 85.” The heat hasn’t been all that bad but the humidity has been a killer. It seems that every year, we get this weather pattern for a least a couple of weeks in which it’s about the same every day. High temp: 85 (heat index 90), low 73- 50% chance of rain and no less than 70% relative humidity at any time during the day. If this were July instead of June, we’d be looking at upper 80s- low 90s with heat indices pushing 100. It’s pretty much a steam bath. That’s the worst weather in which to run long distance. I’d much rather run when it’s 95 and dry than 85 and humid. Yes, we get plenty of those 95 and dry days here as well.
How do I cope? First off, I am used to it and the body does acclimate after a period of time. August may be even hotter than June but if you’ve trained in the heat for 2 months, it will not effect you as much. I always have tolerated heat pretty well. I can stay outside for an extended period of time when it’s in the low 90s as long as I am not working too hard but I do have my limits. When it’s in the upper 90s, I’m staying inside as much as possible even if the humidity isn’t so bad.
How does it impact my running? This is why I focus so heavily on speed this time of year. Even when everything goes according to plan, my mileage won’t be much over 40 and there will be no 20 milers on Saturday. I can stand to run in 90 degree weather as long as it’s at the right time of the day. A run at 6 PM is a lot more bearable than a noontime run even if the temps are equal. Basically, you’ve got to finish a morning run before 8:30 AM or start an evening run after 5:30 or even 6:00. Otherwise, you’re dead. If the heat index is over 100, I will either wait until after 7:00 or bite the bullet and hit the ‘mill. In any event, the distance of my run is cut. An easy 8 during the winter becomes a 5-6 and the Saturday 16 becomes a 10-13. Sometimes, it’s so uncomfortable that it will be tough no matter when you run. On Tuesday, it was no hotter than 85 but there was a constant threat of rain. That means you have to check the hourly forecast to make sure you won’t be caught in a storm. It did rain for about an hour and sometimes when that happens, it remains overcast and the evening is pleasant. Not so on this day. The sun came out while it was still raining and you could actually see steam rising from the ground. Not a pleasant run. My friend Preston is training for the Chicago marathon in early October so the hardest phase of the training will be in July and August. That course is flat and fast but I just don’t know if I could handle marathon specific training that time of year. Then, there’s the Tupelo marathon on Labor Day weekend in “Miss’ Sippy”. If I am ever to do that one, it will be purely a fun run, not a serious effort even though it does start at 5:30 AM.
When you run in these conditions, of course it hurts you. First, the heart rate increases as does the perceived effort. You will be soaked in sweat and have to stop for water quite often and unless you want to carry a bottle, there are never enough water fountains. I actually had squishy shoes almost like after running the steeplechase and it didn't rain a drop during the run.
I know some people who prefer temps around freezing for long distance races. That's a little chilly for me. My ideal is around 50-60 degrees and I typically run my best races in the Fall. Sprinters on the other hand prefer the conditions to be warm and dry. Again, warm and humid is not ideal. Even in a 400, I'm sure that high humidity will have an impact. There is a run works calculator which calculates equivalent times based on temperatures. According to that table, my 19:27 5K in 80 degree weather was good for a sub-19 in optimal conditions. I won't get a shot at that until October.
There was a recent poll question on RWOL: Which is worse? Southern summers or northern winters? Having experienced both, my vote is northern winters. I cannot imagine running through an entire month in which every day is sub-freezing and snow is piled up on the sidewalks.

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