Stifling. It has been stifling. Very Hot Weather Warning has been on for a few days now. It has been tough (but also very much fun) training for the Chicago Marathon over the Hong Kong summer. The heat is relentless and I am sweating buckets.
Running in the heat can be challenging and at times even rewarding if you are prepared to get pass the stickiness and move through to a completely sweat-soaked stage. It is similar but in a way opposite to running in the cold, once you have warmed up (in the cold) or sweated through (in the heat), you are committed, so you may as well move on to finish your planned mileage.
If you cannot picture how soaked one can get from running in the Hong Kong summer, just imagine how it feels getting out of a swimming pool wearing your running gear and a hydration pack. Drip, drip, drip, and lots of dripping, all over the place. I have now learned to put a bath mat close to the front door before I go out for a run. So when I come back home I can step right onto the mat, and then shuffle like a penguin to the bathroom. This way I can avoid messing up the apartment. Sweat puddles may now happen in the bathroom. Sometimes I just step right into the shower fully clothed. Stretching and foam-rolling would have to wait until after the shower as I don’t think we have flood insurance at home. Apologies for the graphic description, I must have an unusually high sweat rate. On the bright side this may be a great way to detox by sweating out the toxins.
Today the heat really got me. I went out for a 7 mile run after a morning rain shower when the temperature was mild (27C/ 81F). I felt good at first and was going at a nice clip. Then the sun started to blast through the clouds. I could feel the temperature rising (bad) and humidity falling (good). After 4 miles, my feet started to feel sluggish and I thought about giving up several times. I could hear my trainers squeaking as they were getting soaked in my own sweat. For the last 2 miles, I had to stop and restart several times until I made it to 7 miles. By then the temperature reached 33C/ 91F and humidity dropped from 97% to around 70%. It was an ugly run but I got through it and didn't get a heat stroke.
Four months ago when I was still in New York I have set a goal of sub-4 hour for the Chicago Marathon in October 2018, which is roughly 9 minutes 9 seconds per mile. And over the past couple of months I have been running at around 11-12 minute pace as I was acclimatising to the tropical temperatures as well as the hilly terrain in Hong Kong. It has been an uphill but beautiful struggle. I wouldn’t give up running outside in the heat and humidity for a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym. It's because the scenery, the peace and the freedom that come with the trails give me so much motivation and joy. I just like running outside.
With less than 10 weeks to go, I honestly don’t know if I can even manage to keep up with the time at my first race at the New York City Marathon in November 2017 (4h16m). I am slightly disappointed at my training pace but I am working to push out these negative thoughts. I know I am getting stronger from running around hilly Hong Kong. I am happy that I can now hike up 500 feet in the summer heat without stopping or slowing down. I know my body is strong enough to deal with the heat and manage the increasing mileages in the next few weeks. I don’t know what my coach has planned for me but I am expecting at least three long runs at around 16, 18 and 20 miles by the first week of September. Now my focus will be on completing all the mileages, interval training and cross training without injury, and most importantly, to have fun with the process.
It is such a privilege to be able to run a marathon. I will not let a couple of bad runs let me down. Even some bad running experience can be worth something. Even if I don't get fitter on these runs, my mind must be gaining some perspective on how to cope with bad conditions.
When the going gets tough during a run and when my pace starts to fall off, I focus on my effort level and pay attention to my running form, my cadence and my breathing. I think about whether I have the right nutrition, enough water, enough electrolytes and whether I have slept well. That's why running long distances is so much fun. There are so many variables, like your mind, your body, what you eat, and what you wear, can affect your performance. Sometimes even a small thing like well-fitted earphones can make a huge difference.
One of the things I like about running is that it trains me to deal with conditions that I have no control over, for instance the weather, traffic, dogs, other runners and walkers. I am learning how to accept things that I cannot change, how to prepare and adapt accordingly. I know there is still a chance of achieving that sub-4 hour goal. If the training or the race day conditions don't go as well as hoped, I am prepared to shift my goals and keep a positive attitude. Given my current pace, I think I can aim to beat my old time of 4h16. If not, I can lower my goal to 4h30 which is still pretty decent. Even failing that, I will try to finish strong with a big smile on my face and enjoy the moment.
No matter what, I know I will have fun because I am already enjoying the process. I am racing to run and not running to race.