What a beautiful Sunday evening (even though it is 98 degrees at 8 p.m.). I’m sitting outside under the porch fan, enjoying another Bulleit Whiskey and ginger ale, my new go-to summer drink (thank you, Illinois cousins). Nibbling on snap peas, cucumbers, apples, and cornichons, because who wants to eat a full meal when it’s hotter than Hades?
Life could be a hell of a lot worse.
A Long Run In Austin’s Summer Heat
Yesterday, I hit the Barton Creek greenbelt with friends for a day of remembrance; we made a pilgrimage to Rick Gastelum’s cross, which marks the place where his body was recovered some nine years ago. Rick, an experienced trail runner out on an evening weekend long run, was caught in a flash flood. Though I only knew him peripherally through Austin’s intimate small circle of trail devotees, I was out on the greenbelt that Sunday searching, hoping against hope we’d not find him.
Hoping that he was somewhere–anywhere else–safe.
Sadly, that was not the case.
I confess I’ve had a couple of drinks.
It’s going to get philosophical, folks.
Our little band ran together for the first half, the “out” on the greenbelt trail, taking what is commonly known among Austin’s trail runners as the “super highway,” that easy main pathway that attracts tourists and dog walkers. The group started from the Hill of Life, aka the Camp Craft trailhead, wending its way to the Spyglass trailhead, gathering midway at Rick’s memorial.
At that midway point, I stood there in the bright sunshine, looking at the simple cross, thinking of how it would feel to die unexpectedly while doing something I loved. Would that make my passing any easier for those who were dear to me?
Memories, crystalized in slow-motion detail, came flooding back: wading silently through the swollen creek, getting word that Rick’s body had been found, waiting with friends at the 360 trailhead for the emergency team to emerge from their sobering task with that sad weight, wanting to strangle the partying kids at the nearby picnic table for their complete obliviousness to the enormity of what had transpired on the trail.
I have thought of Rick often. I’ve felt his presence on night runs, in the early morning, an invisible shadow just a footfall behind as I pass through that secluded section of trail. There is no doubt in my mind that he enjoys falling in with runners in the darkness.
This Sunday, we went our separate ways for the return trip. I’m slow but I’m competent, so I hate to inflict my turtle pace on others who are working to get in miles. Rather than meander with the group on the hilly upper trails, I opted to head straight back to HOL. Frankly, the heat was killing me. The last five miles dissolved into a power walk.
It was all I had.
Is It the Heat, or Am I Out of Shape?
I confess that self flagellation occurred the minute I reached to my car.
OMG, how could I walk so much? I am so fat and out of shape. Jesus, I suck. If I weren’t carrying this extra weight, I’d be able to run all this. Everyone else is in better shape than I am.
The truth is, it was fucking hot.
I covered 14 trail miles; in the process, I listened to my body and walked the last five miles.
Those hours were time on my feet, paying homage to someone who lost his life out there. Acknowledging the sheer fact that I CAN.
I can cover 14 miles on the trail.
Get over your performance anxiety, Leah.
If You Want Tips for Running in the Summer Heat…
“What’s Your Running Type–Lizard or Icicle?”: there are two tribes of runners. Those who like to sweat it out and love the heat, and those who wear shorts on the coldest days.
10 Tips for Working Out in the Heat
- Wearing a full cap provides a covering to the scalp and, when wet, is a great resource for keeping my head cool. Though it’s a myth about the top of your head releasing more heat than other parts of the body, it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep it shaded. I’ve also found that cooling my feet in some water helps, too. I don’t even have to take my shoes off to get the benefit.
- I always assume I will have problems in the heat. If it’s a hot day, any thought of time goes out the window. Effort will naturally be less. I have to go easy in advance to stay ahead of a problem. One trick I like to employ: I tell myself that I can walk in the sun, but in the shade, I run (no matter how slow I may be). The reason I still push? The longer I’m out there, the more likely I am to encounter the complete meltdown.
- Half of the water I carry in the summer goes on me rather than into my body. I use water from my bottle or backpack to splash my face and neck. I wear my bandana and hat sopping wet.
- If it’s available, I pack ice: inside bra and cap, and rolled up in a bandana to wear around my neck. I’ll refresh this as often as possible. I also keep a cooler full of ice in the car on long runs so that I’m able to bring my body temperature down quickly after a long run.
- Once I get overheated, I’m toast. And that’s not just when I exercise but with everyday stuff, like working in the yard or hanging outside. My core temperature naturally runs hot and easily gets out of whack. So I do everything I can to stay consistently cool. For example: no matter what I did today, I remained hot. So I skipped boxing this morning and avoided the sun in the afternoon. Prior to my evening trail run, I took a cold dip in Austin’s Barton Springs.
- Because my mind is one of the first things to go with a heat issue, it’s easy to forget to consume food or electrolytes on schedule. Also, nausea goes hand-in-hand with heat illness. So when suffering in the heat, if I remotely think about food, I make myself eat something. If I’m not sure when I last took electrolyte tablets, I’ll err on too many rather than not enough.
- I make sure to go into runs hydrated and always take electrolytes when I go over an hour. Because I sweat so much and am focused on keeping hydrated, I also have to avoid electrolyte imbalances due to too many fluids.
- I am more likely to have heat issues when I’m overtrained. Not sure why that is (maybe it has something to do with being tired and in a constant workout recovery state), soI make rest an important part of a training schedule.
- My secret weapon: Coke. The mixture of liquid, caffeine, salt, and sugar is a pick-me-up treat on the trail. If I’m feeling run down, caffeine will give me some extra juice. BUT I am careful; caffeine will also elevate my heart rate, which can add to raising the core temperature.
- Believe it or not, sunscreen can add to feeling overheated. During Ironman training, I found a light-weight oil-based sunscreen, KINeSYS, that stays on without feeling like I’ve coated myself in a thick layer.