I just completed my 9th week of marathon training with a 19 mile run today. My run wasn't pretty, my pace was erratic, and I was struggling. Heat seems to affect all runners, some more so that other, but from what I've read about it online, even top athletes take a performance hit. Sure, there are some people that don't seem adversely affected by heat. Take my friend Alan T. for example, he reveals in the heat, but there's some strong evidence that his DNA has some lizard DNA in it (check out his Barefoot Journey blog - link in the Blog Roll).
With today's scheduled long-run and the forecasted humidity, I knew today's run was going to be a tough one. One way to get through these warm days is to start out early to get your run done before the day's heat start picking up, but I seem to be having some difficultly getting out of bed early on Sundays, plus yesterday was an exceptionally long day for me. So I didn't get to my route's starting point until 10:30AM today. The temperature was 72°F when I started and it was very humidity, I was soaked within the first two miles. Another way to get through the warm weather is to slow your pace - one online resource I read was to adjust your pace by 30 seconds for every 5 degrees above 60°F. I have a tendency to start out to fast, even this morning when I was trying to go slow, I found myself having to pull back several times, at least until around mile 7, where I was just slowing down. In addition to adjusting my pace dur to the heat, my long-run-day pace is also suppose to be slower than my intended marathon pace, but again, this will depend on the temperature on race day. So as I felt myself slipping in my pace mile by mile, I wasn't too upset about it. I kept reminding myself, or at least I kept trying to remind myself, that with the heat adjustment AND the training pace, I was alright, but a part of my was telling me that would be fine, if I was running this slow on purpose. In truth, it actually is alright, the heat does and did beat me down, and I know what my performance looks like when temps are below 70°F and lower. So what gives.
If you've ever run a long distance you already know this. It's mind games, it's your body trying to convince your brain to quit, it's your own personal expectations, it's your brain trying to think when your muscles are bogarting all the oxygen in your body. You need to mentally overcome these obstacles. It's as much of marathon training as logging lots of miles. I was struggling, which is not unusual for me on my long-run under less than ideal conditions (i.e. hot and humid 0_o).
But something else happened today. I wore my Bikila LS Vibram Fivefingers today. Somewhere around 12 miles, my feet were starting to feel "tired". As the miles went on, my feet just started to feel more and more tired, and my body brought this complaint up with my brain. Now at no point did I ever consciously think, 'my feet are tired, I should stop', but it was, I think, an added stress on my brain, which was just trying to keep everything together and keep me moving forward. At around 14 miles I stopped for the first time, I was HOT. I took off my running hat then stopped to pack it away in my running vest. I drank down some water, fueled, and took some electrolytes. I stopped three more times with the last one being around 17 miles - 2 miles left to go. I was spent and my feet just weren't happy, I was at that point where I knew I only had two miles left to go, and, at the rate I was going, I knew it was just going to take forever with a combination of slow runs and walking. Things were looking grim in Mudsville.
A little background:
This year I've really worked on improving my barefoot running, both form and distance. It's been a great year. So far my max barefoot distance runs have been 9 miles and I'll be hitting 10 miles for the first time this coming week. There is no better way to improve your minimalist form than kicking off your shoes and running barefoot. (Caution: if you've always walked around in shoes, the epidermis on the bottom of your feet is probably really thin, start slow, walk around barefoot as much as possible.) I'm at the point in my form where I can comfortably run the above distances without damage to my feet, at least on hard surfaces. I think I could probably get away with doing a half marathon distance barefoot now, but that would be on pavement. My form is not at the point where I feel I could go further than that and I'm a long way off from where I can run on, say, a gravelly dirt road. Nonetheless, for the distances I'm running, my feet feel great.
Back to my run:
So there I am, facing two more miles with dread. Somewhere before 17 miles I started to think about taking off my shoes. (When I've run barefoot on one road surface with a consistent texture for a couple of miles, and then another road surface with a different texture, my feet seem to feel reinvigorated.) A voice in my brain was telling me that this was a stupid idea, my feet were soaked, I had sweat frothing out of the side of one of my Bikilas. At the same time, I kept thinking about how much better my feet would feel, to, well, feel that road. I took off my Bikila's strapped them to my vest, and started running.
I could feel the wariness of my feet begin to fade, I was flexing my toes between strides, I was, wait, I was, that can't be right, I was actually starting to pick up my pace a bit! My cadence had increased! Short rapid steps, my feet were talking directly to my brain. This was so bizarre, never had I thought of taking my V5Fs off toward the end of a long-run. I ran the rest of the route, a little less than two miles, without anymore stops. Somehow, it wasn't just my feet that were reinvigorated, it was my whole body. I'm not 100% what happened, but I think what it might be, or at least in part, is that as the heat and distance started to take their toll, my form just started to fall apart, (although I didn't think it was), and that in turn further taxed my body. As great as minimalist shoes are at sensory feedback, they, obviously, aren't barefoot. But that's why we stick a thin layer of something between us and the ground, so when we just don't see that rock, or that very rare piece of glass, there's something between you and it. And, having thought about today's lesson, that piece of "something", is also there because, as far as I've come with my minimalist form, I still have a very long way to go. On today's run, my body was taxed and I got sloppy, and didn't realize it, so today, my minimalist shoes, in a sense, failed me. At the same time, however, I've run long distances under far cooler conditions, which I would not have been able to run without them. There's probably a lot more too all this, things that I may or may not discover as I move along, but today I learned something new, and that is, perhaps, what all of this is really about anyways.