What Kind of Racer Are You? The Pros and Cons of Small Races vs. Mega-Races (Part 2)

Last time I wrote about the pros and cons of mega-races, and this time I want to focus on the pros and cons of the smaller races to finish out the debate.

This list of pros and cons is for mid-size to smaller races that are less than 10,000 people for the half and full (but most of the ones I have run were even SMALLER, with a field of maybe 1000-2000 total, with less than 500 being full marathoners):

Pros

Scenery/Terrain:  Hands down, I have always found the smaller races to have much better scenery. Sure, you sometimes run quite a few convoluted out-and-backs through residential areas, but more often than not the scenery is far more rural and scenic, and this is a huge plus for me. The terrain can also vary, and oftentimes at least a few miles will be on unpaved dirt trails in wooded parks, which are a nice respite from bone-rattling concrete. Some people really dislike that aspect, and I was surprised to ever hear complaints about it, but as runners we’re all different. Some people simply don’t like mud, roots and hills. Also, it’s nice to be able to see actual wildlife, and sometimes even a stray dog or two, you never know what sort of furry friends  you’ll see on the racecourse (and hopefully not as roadkill, as I saw in Ann Arbor)

Water Stops/Course Support: You’re pretty much guaranteed an enthusiastic and friendly volunteer that is thrilled that you ran their race. Water stops don’t seem to be lacking at most races and there are oftentimes more than enough stops even with smaller races. Hatfield McCoy’s marathon had one for every mile, which was important for a race in June. I also find the water stops tend to be less chaotic since there are less runners on the course. They also have ZERO qualms about you using their supplies to fill you own hand-held bottle, if you bring one – if anything, I think they appreciate it.

Finish line food: Again, as a celiac I am time and time again walking away disappointed and hungry at pretty much every race, but for those of you who have absolutely no food issues or allergies, smaller races always win, hands down. There’s usually a lot more hot food: fresh pizza, pulled pork sandwiches, hot soup and stew, macaroni and cheese, huge soft cookies and baked goods, ice cream, and the list goes on. Not a lot of cold bagels granola bars and green bananas at these races, but nine times out of ten I see boxes of fresh pizza heaped on tables for the taking. *sigh*

Cost: Registration is almost always much less expensive, usually starting around $50 (sometimes even less); if you wait until last minute though, sometimes it can skyrocket, but even my most expensive small race registration (for Rehoboth Seashore Marathon in DE) was $110, which is still less than I’ve paid for larger races.  It’s best to research ahead of time, look for online coupons and try to snag the early bird fare if you can. Being a Marathon Maniac has its advantages, as you oftentimes can get race discounts.

Heart: Smaller races tend to support the community, and in return, the community supports the runners. In instances like Hatfield McCoy, this is a big deal for the area and they absolutely love having the race there every year. The same could be said for the Outer Banks, since it was off-season and after a major hurricane. They appreciated the revenue, and signs were spotted throughout the area welcoming the runners. A lot of the volunteers are locals armed with a water cup and a smile, and more often than not they thank YOU for running their town’s race.

Unique medals: Some of the smaller races boast handmade medals, like the one I earned from the Freedom’s Run Half marathon in West Virginia, which was a hand-cut copper steeple. Hatfield McCoy’s was two crossed shotguns with the phrase “No Feudin’ Just Runnin” proudly emblazoned beneath it, and I don’t think you can get any better than that. The one from Colorado Springs was simply a porcelain rendering of Pike’s Peak mounted on a medal , which was beautiful and memorable.

You just MIGHT place: Smaller field means a better chance of placing! I am not a fast runner by any means but I won a third place finisher plaque at Hatfield McCoy simply because there were only 11 in my age group. It’s kind of a cool moment of triumph to walk away with an award.

50-staters, Maniacs and friends abound: I find the smaller races tend to have more 50-staters and Marathon Maniacs, and if you are an amiable runner that isn’t off to set any records and just earn another state, it’s pretty easy to make friends along the way that help the miles pass by with ease. It’s great to get input from others as to what races they recommend, and even recommend some to them if they have yet to venture into your neck of the woods. Time and time again I have found my races to be more enjoyable by making friends along the racecourse, and sometimes they’ll even approach you at the finish line with a smile and a hearty congrats.

Jons: The wait for a Jon at the start line is usually 10% of them time you’d spend waiting in a massive line at a mega-race. They are usually very clean and it’s great to be able to hop in and out when you have little time to spare.  During the race, when you CAN find a Jon they are almost always clean, and fully armed with ample amounts of paper and hand sanitizer. But with this can also come a loss of costly minutes to your finish time, which I will explain in the cons section.

PRs ARE possible: The thinner the field, the better your chances are of running at full tilt. You have less crowds to muscle through in the early miles, but sometimes no matter what it can be a slow start if the road is narrow. Even with just a few hundred runners it can bottleneck in the beginning.  Sometimes even the smaller races have corrals, and most of them have pace teams, which can help you stay on track for a smooth finish.

Cons:

Spectators: Spectators are usually found at the start and finish of the race, and scattered in small clumps along the course, but more or less the only spectators and support you might see are usually the volunteers. Trust me, they’re wonderful  no matter what!  And the non-volunteer spectators you do have are usually locals, as well as family and friends of the runners, which obviously will be small if the field itself is minimal. To me, there’s still plenty of heart and enthusiasm no matter what, and I love and appreciate any support I can get!  I always appreciate them standing in any kind of weather to cheer us on, it makes a world of difference to us runners.

You Have to Share the Road: Full road closures for small races usually just don’t happen. The roads you run on can be pretty rural, and you’ll oftentimes have to share the road with cars and trucks or run on the cambered shoulder of a busy road (like during Outer Banks’ marathon). While you have police to help guide you across the street, sometimes it can be a little nerve-wracking to contend with impatient motorists. It’s very, very important to be aware of the vehicles on these shared roads, never assume they will obey the law or even regard your presence. At the Ann Arbor Marathon someone ignored the policemen and the obvious closures and simply drove through the barrier and up the street, completely disregarding the officer’s angry shouts as he ran after her; thankfully we weren’t knocked over like bowling pins. Also, make sure, no matter what, to always thank the volunteers that help to keep you safe! Also, you might end up sharing the course with cyclists, roller-bladers, walkers and runners that may be totally unaware that a race was even going on during their usual morning exercise. I’ve more often than not passed people that seemed perplexed when they saw that I was wearing a race number.

There IS a chance you just might get lost: This hasn’t happened to me yet, thank goodness, but I have been close a couple of times. There’s usually volunteers that help direct you when the course takes an interesting twist, but it’s important to always keep an eye open for runners ahead as well as signs. I read a story about a prankster that decided it would be funny to steal and rearrange the directional signs at the Two Bear Marathon (the one I am running this fall) in Montana and a hundred runners were off-course because it was a trail race. NOT fun when you’re in the middle of the woods and there actually IS a chance you might see bears!

Jons: Once you cross the starting line they can be  sparse and usually there will be a line since there will be only one or two rather than a massive row. Best place to look for them is by the water stops, there’s usually at least one or two. I will say though, that they have always been much cleaner and less used than at the mega races, so it’s sort of a Catch-22. More times than not I see runners sprinting toward the woods rather than find that single jon that might be within a 4-5 mile stretch.  Some courses just may have one or two jons between the start and finish line, so I always recommend to COME PREPARED with your own TP and to leave your pride behind if nature calls and you have to duck into the woods. Trust me, there’s no shame in this, we’re all human after all.

Bling: Sometimes the medals are pretty sub-par, flimsy and uninteresting on a plain lanyard, but honestly I don’t work too hard for the medals, and very few times have I been disappointed in the reward. But the same can be said for the mega-races with boring and clichéd medals, and yes, I’m looking at you Rock ‘N Roll DC 2011.

Water Stops/Course support: I have to throw this in the Con category also because sometimes you’re going to have to carry your own water and fuel whether you want to or not. The support just isn’t there. Some courses have no fuel whatsoever and only fluids, which can be a drag if you forget to bring your gels. It’s important to do your research ahead of time and see what you have to bring just in case.

Swag: If you like lots of coupons, free samples and high-quality shirts, it may not always be the case with the smaller races. But I found that some of my favorite race shirts are from smaller races; they simply fit better, but oftentimes are LOADED with sponsor logos. The price you pay for comfort I guess! They also might be a loud color, like neon orange or yellow, and I’m sure it’s all due to the cost of production. A lot of times, too, these expos have VERY few vendors, and sometimes are just a packet and shirt pickup with nothing more. No free beer or food samples, no raffles, no speakers. It’s bare-bones, and for me, that’s just fine! Some races will surprise you though: Akron marathon gives out a high-quality Brooks running jacket (as well as a very good quality baseball cap, still my favorite to this day) instead of a tech-shirt, and my upcoming trail race in Maryland will give out a good quality fleece jacket. So it will definitely vary!

Races CAN sell out: With a smaller field, these races can cap out at sometimes only a couple hundred participants, and it’s important to do your homework. I always recommend registering the minute it opens up, not only to guarantee a spot but to also get an Early Bird rate.

Chip timing: Sometimes the timing for smaller races isn’t super accurate, and they base your finish time on the race clock at the finish and not when you crossed the start line. In cases like these, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the course isn’t certified and you may run a 26.4 or 25.9 mile marathon. It’s a race to run for the love of running, just go along with the ride and enjoy it! Leave the Garmin at home or you just might be a little disappointed.

Few frills:  If a race starts in a remote area, oftentimes it’s just the runners that are bussed to the start with no spectators or crowds, and it can be very, very quiet. Sometimes the start of these races is just some taped lines on the ground and a “GO!” or an air horn from the race director. No fireworks, no DJs, no fanfare.  Then again, at the Akron Marathon (a decent mid-sized marathon) they pulled off ALL the stops: DJs, fireworks, and even the Goodyear Blimp. It felt like Disney. You never know what you’re going to get! But no matter what, the National Anthem is always sung, and to this day it’s still a wonderful feeling to quietly stand and salute your country with your fellow running friends.

It CAN get lonely: Smaller races mean you can sometimes run a LOT of miles alone with very few runners ahead or behind you. If the race allows headphones, I definitely use them, because otherwise it can be just like a regular long run for me: solitary and quiet.  You also are very likely to pass the same people over and over back and forth, like a game of tag; make sure you throw a word of encouragement their way if you see them more than once!
As you can see, both the larger and smaller races have plenty of good and bad points. Because I don’t like crowds in races I always look for the races with the smaller fields, and usually make sure to check marathonguide.com for some reassurance that I picked a good event. That is usually the clincher for me. The reviews make all the difference, and I always add my two cents to help other runners choose their races once that medal is earned.

We are all different and all have a variety of things that we look for in a race, so I encourage you to do a little of your own soul-seeking before registering for an event. Don’t let people talk you into running a race if it doesn’t seem like you’d enjoy it. Take all the factors into consideration, read race reviews and blog entries, do your research, and I guarantee you won’t regret your ultimate decision.

I hope these tips served as a useful guide for your race research!

Did I miss any pros or cons with smaller races? Feel free to add your comments!

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What Kind of Race Is For You? The Pros and Cons of Small Races vs. Mega-Races (Part 1)

As someone who has run 15 marathons and countless half marathons, I have come to learn what sorts of races I prefer, and don’t hesitate to share my feelings on them. When a mega-race registration opens up, my Twitter feed explodes with lots of runners anxious if they got into NYC, Marine Corps or another race with a huge participant field. I honestly feel like this sets me apart from a lot of runners…just add one more thing to the list that makes me just a little different and not always fit in with society in general.

When it comes to these big races, I am totally indifferent. I simply don’t care. Huge races are not at all my thing anymore. In the past I ran my share of Rock ‘N Roll half marathons (and even a full marathon with D.C.) as well as the marathons in Disney World and Philadelphia (probably my largest city race to date), and in the end I just found that the smaller the race, the more it appeals to me. But there are definitely disadvantages to this as well and I wanted to break it down in sort of a Johnny Suede-style Pros and Cons list.

Part one will list the pros and cons of the mega-races, ones with fields well over 10,000 for the half and full marathon combined. I will start off by saying that if it’s your very first (or even second or third) marathon, I highly recommend going to for the larger races, it’ll definitely be good fuel for the inner fire to train for future races where you can eventually decide what sort of race atmosphere is best for your needs.

Please note that these are generalizations, and not 100% universal, when it comes to these observations!

Pros 

The swag: The bigger races definitely have great swag, and I find that the race shirts are almost always better quality. I really love long-sleeved tech tees, and all of the bigger races (save Rock ‘N Roll) usually hand them out. Plus you oftentimes get fun little extras, for example at Shamrock we got not only  a great long-sleeved tech shirt, but a finisher’s hat and a great fleece blanket that I use all the time.

Larger Expos: The larger races have huge expos, with rows upon rows of booths with enthusiastic vendors, and also lots of speakers (legendary greats like Bart Yasso, Jeff Galloway or John Bingham, to name a few) throughout the weekend. Free samples, raffles and discounts galore (whether it’s for race registrations, local eateries or gear), you can’t go wrong if that’s your thing. I have been to so many expos over the years that the excitement has worn thin and I tend to get “peopled out” very quickly; I just want to get in, grab my race bib and shirt, and make a quick getaway. I found, on a whole, that getting your bib is a pretty streamlined process and the larger expos tend to have longer hours for late night packet pick-up, which is convenient when you’re coming in from out of town. It’s also a plus when, if you’re anything like me, you forget to pack something important for your race like Body Glide, running socks or sports gels, the expos will always have everything you need. For smaller races, this is not always an option. Like race-related souvenirs, such as hoodies, bottle openers, shot glasses, magnets,  or even stuffed animals? These expos will undoubtedly have plenty of wares to peddle.

Medals: The medals are usually very good quality, Disney being the prime example of exceptional bling.  They’re usually quite heavy, detailed, and the lanyard is usually much more ornate, which is nice when you want to sport your bling with pride after the race (and then throw it in a shoebox or on a shelf to collect dust for the rest of its existence).

Spectators: You’ll never be bored during a mega-race, as there is almost always an ample amount of crowd support. While Disney sometimes lacked in spectators during the sparser parts of the course that were miles outside of the parks, they still had plenty of entertainment on the sideline, whether it was cheerleading competitions, live bands or DJs, and costumed characters waiting to pose for pics. From what I hear, NYC’s marathon has a massive amount of support from start to finish. If crowds are what you need to get the adrenaline pumping, then larger races are definitely for you.

Start and Finish Line Fanfare: The larger races ALWAYS have fantastic start and finish lines. Lots of DJs, news cameras, and sometimes even fireworks. It gets you completely and totally psyched to be a part of the event and the atmosphere is absolutely electric with excitement. The finish line is usually lined with spectators for almost the last quarter mile, and it is amazing how that crowd swell can give you a last-minute boost of adrenaline for a triumphant finish!

Water Stops/Jons: Mega-races definitely have ample amounts of support when it comes of organized, well-manned water stops, free sports gels and food, as well as medical support and porta-jons. You’ll never be lacking in this department, but I personally feel this also can also slip over into the Cons category, of which I will be happy to elaborate! But larger races don’t have you looking for fuel/hydration stations, medical support or jons for too long, they are often right where you need them to be.

You’re Among Thousands of Your Closest Friends: No matter what, this is a plus for any size race. Runners tend to be a friendly group of people during a race, so it isn’t too hard to run alongside someone else and chat for a minute if that’s your thing. It’s quite easy to make a new friend during any race if you wish.

Transportation Logistics: This is always a huge source of stress for me, as parking can be a nightmare and I would actually have anxiety-filled dreams about missing my race start due to variables.  Many mega-races offer transportation to the start which can make for a smooth transition 99 times out of 100.  Larger races do tend to very clearly outline road closures and parking areas, which can make a real difference with planning ahead. But be warned that, no matter what, these races will want you to arrive to the start area EARLY to avoid traffic, as it will undoubtedly be congested. This is why I also feel that transportation can be a con as well.

Mile Markers and Timing:  Many of the large races will have huge, visible mile markers and some even have a clock every mile.  Your finish time will be very accurate, you can often get your results within minutes of finishing, and oftentimes there is runner tracking available for spectators when you cross certain mile markers, which is a very useful commodity!

Course will be certified (Boston qualifier):  The mega races will, without a doubt, always be certified, and you can use your BQ finish time to register for Boston.

Cons

PRs are harder to come by: When a race is packed wall-to-wall with runners, it’s definitely much harder to PR. The first five miles of my Philly marathon were slower than my average pace simply because it was so crowded in my corral. If you are in a slower corral, sometimes you don’t even cross the starting line until almost a half hour after the race start. That sort of thing isn’t super important to me (my attitude is, “when I get to the start I get there”), but I can see it causing problems with other runners becoming very frustrated VERY quickly.

Finish line spread: As a celiac, I usually forgo the finish line food, but I always found at the larger races the fare is not nearly as good: plain cold bagels, fruit (more likely than not, green bananas and orange slices), granola bars, water and Gatorade are the usual staple. It’s pretty standard fare and there’s not much more that can be said about it. If the race has a good sponsor you can sometimes get lucky, like the finish line of some of the Rock ‘N Roll races had food provided by PF Chang’s, which was a very nice treat.

Water Stops/Jons: I always find the water stops are just a traffic jam of chaos, massive piles of cups, Gu wrappers and banana peels everywhere, runners skidding into one another, and sticky Gatorade sometimes getting flung into your path by a careless runner trying to throw their cup to the side. Sometimes they are so crowded you simply have to bypass them because it’s impossible to get to a volunteer, but fortunately another water stop isn’t too far off. As for the jons, they are almost ALWAYS a nightmare…filthy, no paper or hand sanitizer, just totally decimated by the time you need one (usually after having to wait in line). And let’s face it, we ALL need to hit the jon as a last minute precaution before a race…the lines are usually 20+ people deep no matter what. It helps to have your hotel room within walking distance of the start line in these cases.

Finish Line Family Reunion Area: Any race I have ever run with a huge field makes it almost impossible to find loved ones at the finish line without it being a massive crush of sweaty humanity that are ALL on the same mission. I never run with my cell phone (simply because it’s cumbersome), so I simply have to rely on my senses. Chris and I often say we will meet in the family reunion area for last initial X, since the chances of people with a last name starting with X will be slim to zero. It’s worked many times if the family reunion areas are set up as such. But it can still be chaos (at the Baltimore half marathon it took us an hour and a half to find one another), and it’s tough when all you want to do is relax for a minute and give a loved one a (sweaty and disgusting) tear-filled hug of relief and joy. More often than not, my loved ones find me first; I have a feeling it’s because I’m just too wiped out to be at 100% cognitive capacity.

Transportation Logistics: This can also be a major issue if you’re coming into a major city, roads are closed, parking lots are full, and you are stressed, needing to get to the starting line, and have no idea where to go. Again, planning is absolutely crucial. Get a hotel within walking distance to the start, take public transportation, do whatever you can to make the process easier. But the bottom line is: mega-races will have thousands and thousands of runners, along with tens of thousands of volunteers, family members, support, spectators, etc. That is a LOT of traffic all trying to get to the same place at once.

Scenery/Terrain:  Sorry but the mega-races can really lack in this for me. You may run past some pretty awesome historical sights, but I know nine times out of ten I’ll miss them unless it’s pointed out to me or I study the map ahead of time. I will be honest though, I haven’t run the top city races like NYC, Chicago, Berlin or London (so some of you might just tell me to shut up – hopefully good-naturedly – since I don’t know what I’m talking about), but I absolutely LOVE a good natural setting for a race. I don’t need a cityscape, I want nature: running rivers and creeks, green, rolling hills, forested trails and mountains as my backdrop. I find the terrain in larger races to be pure concrete which can be murder on the joints, whereas the smaller races sometimes will surprise you with lots of narrow miles of packed dirt, pine needle or gravel trails, which are truly a nice treat for me and much more of a fun challenge than “flat and fast”, my least favorite kind of race. Rolling hills aren’t something that most city races like to boast!

Cost: This has been the biggest complaint from other runners, in my opinion. I ran the Rock and Roll Las Vegas half a couple years ago and it was $140 before fees. Disney’s Goofy Challenge is $340 (again, without processing fees) and climbing. NYC’s is $255 (if you aren’t a NYRR member) before fees and also increasing every year. Large races require massive amounts of manpower and resources, and this is easily reflected in the price tag. Also, some of these races don’t always benefit charities or local communities like the smaller races often do, but are for a for-profit business, plain and simple.

Tend to Sell Out Quick: Large races tend to sell out in record time, or require a lottery system. You can’t always depend on being able to even get INTO a race, and a race like NYC requires a lot of work (or luck of the draw) to gain an entry. Obviously it’s essential to keep a field maintained; a good example of not capping a race and catastrophe can be learned by Rock ‘N Roll Las Vegas 2011. They didn’t cap the event and it turned into an absolute nightmare on so many levels for a majority of runners.  I should mention, though, that even smaller races, like the coveted Flying Monkey or Big Sur will sell out or have to rely on a lottery system as well. It can be a major source of anxiety for a runner with a bucket list.

You’re Among Thousands of Your Closest Friends: This can also be a huge con. The roads are packed wall to wall with runners and it can be a little close for comfort sometimes, especially during a warm race. Sorry, but I don’t need to be so close to someone that I can smell them, but that’s the reality of mega-races in the early miles. I find they tend to thin out by Mile 10.

Mega-races definitely have plenty of pros and cons, as do the smaller races as well. Next time I will get more into detail about smaller races, and who knows, maybe it will help you decide what sort of race is right for you!

Did I miss any pros or cons in this list? Feel free to comment!

The Heat is On: Tips for Training in Summer Heat

Folks, life is finally going back to a sense of normalcy: Chris’ treatment and cancer scan was a success and our lives are slowly coming back to a normal routine. It’s thrilling to be able to open a new chapter together now that he is once again cancer-free, and I am able to focus my efforts more on blogging and training again, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot more entries again.

Summer months in the Northeast  mean lots of heat and humidity. It can be brutal and I absolutely hate summer training because I am usually just spinning my wheels and maintaining a mileage base rather than training for a race that’s right around the corner. My race calendar usually has a race in June and not another one until September. For a runner who loves multiple marathons, that is a LONG summer of waiting, training, and dreaming of toeing the next starting line.

Here are some basic tips that I have learned with years of summer training, and I want to  pass them on to you!

The Sun is the Enemy

In the longer days, I avoid running anytime between 10 am and 4 PM. The sun is the strongest during these hours and the heat also can be smothering. The earlier hours I find tend to be far more humid (sometimes even 90-100% humidity, might as well be running through a rainforest) and as the sun rises the humidity burns off and the sun beats down. If that means losing a little sleep on a weekend day, so be it, your health depends on it. Running in the heat can bring a plethora of problems, from heat exhaustion to sunburn, so stick to early morning runs or late evening runs. The sun sets at 8:30 in the longest days, so a 7 PM run isn’t so bad.

Believe it or not, I almost ALWAYS wear long sleeves even during the hottest days. I have sleeve tattoos, and that is a lot of very expensive (and award-winning) real estate to ruin by letting them get a lot of sun exposure (not to mention skin cancer risks, tattoos or not). It’s best to stick to white and lighter colors as they reflect the sun’s rays and help to keep you cooler; dark colors will absorb heat much faster.  I have a lot of long sleeved, thin white tech shirts, and this summer I may try wearing thin arm protectors so I have a little extra air flow. Hats are a must to protect your head (thank goodness I have a ton of baseball caps from race swag!), and I slather my entire body in SPF 50-85. I do my best to stick to trails with a lot of shade, so the wooded trails are great and often several degrees cooler. If you can find shade, definitely take advantage. It’s amazing how the temps drop when you’re out of the sun.

Water is Your Best Friend

You don’t realize how much water you lose when you run in the heat, so I always recommend an experiment: weigh yourself before and after a summer run, and watch those pounds drop. It’s a frightening thought isn’t it? So it’s very important to hydrate.

I always carry a hand-held water bottle (Nathan is the brand I swear by) on any run longer than 5 miles. While it’s very important not to OVER-hydrate, it’s also dangerous to wait to drink when you’re thirsty. By then dehydration is setting in and it can be dangerous. It’s important to find a healthy hydration balance, so I usually just take a couple sips of water every mile or two. I also make sure I am within 5 miles of a water fountain or my car so I can refill the bottle when it gets low.

People swear by hydration brands beyond water, such as NUUN, Gatorade, Powerade, etc. Whatever works for you, with trial and error, use it. Some people may have GI issues with artificial sweeteners, some may have reactions to other additives. I don’t use these products most of the time, and prefer coconut water for hydration. If I am finding myself to be depleted of salt, I will take half of a salt packet and take it with water. It’s disgusting, but it works. If you are running long miles and notice your face and limbs are covered in salt, you are getting into the danger zone. I have run many marathons where I finish and notice that I am QUITE salty, and it’s very important to replenish the lost salt in any way possible.

Pace Doesn’t Matter

Never judge your performance during a long run during a hot day. Even anything over 70 degrees will drain your energy, especially on a sunny day. You WILL be slower. There are scientific calculations that give you a rough estimate as to how much you will slow down per mile based on temperature. You will never perform the same as you would on a 45-degree day, I think even the elites can agree on that!

I’ve done long runs in humid, 90+ degree weather, and have learned that no matter what, I have to set my pride aside and slow down substantially. Walk breaks may or may not happen. You just need to slow your pace, see how you feel, and cut it short if you have any dangerous signs of heat illness.

These things will apply to a race. If I know it’s going to be a warm race, I don’t push myself. I have had some pretty scary things happen to me during warm races, such as heart palpitations, and I listen to my body and do whatever I can to keep myself safe. If I need to walk for a while, I walk, and tack on some added minutes to my finish time. My life and health is never worth risking for a few precious minutes. I have seen way too many people carried off in ambulances and crowding med tents at the finish line due to heat exhaustion. During one race I ran over 300 people were taken to the local hospital for heat-related illness. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I really feel that we can help prevent it by slowing down and taking it easy. Pride is not worth your life.

Don’t be a Tough Guy

Sorry guys, I know some runners are purists that refuse to use treadmills, but if the day is going to get into the high 90’s or low 100’s before lunchtime, I have run some of my long runs on the treadmill. I have a treadmill for a reason, and use it when the conditions outside are less than favorable. I have had heat exhaustion in the past, and it’s absolutely horrible (try losing 5 or 6 pounds over the course of a run, it’s pretty scary stuff). Even if the treadmill may seem like torture, I assure you it’s better than heat-related illness. That’s when I bust out a marathon of one of my favorite shows like Rome, The Wire or Six Feet Under, or even a Harry Potter marathon. Those hours will pass with ease and you’ll be grateful for it!

The only other option I recommend would be checking the forecast and seeing if you can reschedule your long run for a different day. I’ve done that, even if it seems odd doing my long run on a Friday afternoon, it’s worth the switch if the temps are to go down 15 degrees. As for weekdays, it’s impossible for me to do a run before work since I have an early schedule, so in a case like this week where we have a heatwave and temps climbing into the 100’s, I don’t mind running on the treadmill and rewatching season 2 of Twin Peaks.

I wholeheartedly admit that summer is my least favorite season to train, and thrive much better in cold temperatures. But running in heat and humidity does prepare your body in case your race is going to be warmer, so it’s best to acclimate if you can if the conditions allow it. I also have found that running in humid conditions helps to prepare you for running at altitude. As one of my fellow Twitter runner friends @rob_raux mentioned: heat training is the poor man’s altitude training. And he’s right. Let’s hope that my summer training will help prepare me for my Montana marathon in September!

Hope these tips have helped and you have a safe and productive summer! Do you have any other suggestions for training in the heat?