Dealing with the Heat

One of the questions I get asked is: How hot is it going to be?  Usually followed by: I’m sorry, you said how hot?  How are you going to cope with it?

By July, we should be seeing temperatures of 110 to 120 degrees (just checked the weather for Badwater, where we’re starting, and by Friday, May 4, it will hit 105 and pretty much stay there for as long as AccuWeather projects out).  Here in St. Louis, by contrast, it will be about 85 degrees, which is warm for running, but a bit shy of the temps I’ll be experiencing.  If you saw my Twitter pic, you’ll know that I’ve started heat training.  In fact, I just finished 5 days of it, spending 100 minutes a day getting ready.

Since we can’t do much about the air temperature, I need to get my core body temperature up.  I’ve done that by dragging a heater into my exercise room and getting the temp up as high as I can.  The combination of cooler mornings and a very small heater means that so far, I’ve only topped out at 82 degrees for a high, but it’s enough for now.  I then put on my “fun pants” which are neoprene wetsuit pants, and a winter compression shirt on top.  Over that, I’ve started to add another layer on top, and then the always fashionable and extremely comfortable silver PVC suit (top and bottoms, no tie) over that.  Then it’s just a matter of getting on the treadmill and not passing out for an hour and 40 minutes while drinking about 40 ounces of sports drink.

I’m only going about 3 miles an hour at this point on a 3 degree grade, so I cover about 5 miles and gain about 800 vertical feet. By contrast, from mile 42 at Stovepipe Wells to mile 59 at Townes Pass, I’ll climb 5000 feet in 17 miles (about a 5.5% incline) and in the last 12 miles to the summit (miles 134 to 146), I’ll climb 6,145 feet (about a 10.5% incline, but at least it will be cooler!).  Before we go out there, I’ll do two more of these heat training sessions, but for 10 days in a row rather than 5.

Why not use a sauna? I hear you ask.  Two reasons: 1- A steam sauna isn’t a realistic environment for the dry heat of the desert, and 2- A dry sauna, at 160 degrees, is actually too hot.  Good question, though.

What’s the biggest challenge?  Again, thanks for asking.  The biggest issue I have to deal with is boredom.  Being on a treadmill for that long, I try to read or watch TV, but SportsCenter repeats itself every 30 minutes and I still haven’t mastered walking and reading at the same time. So apart from catching up on a few e-mails, I don’t do much there (plus my iPad is not waterproof, and I tend to sweat a bit).  I’m usually doing this early in the morning, so the best part is when my son wakes up and has his pre-breakfast with me (usually laying on the floor or with Mom, not on the treadmill).  It does mean we end up watching Thomas or Chuggington, but it makes the last 30-40 minutes a lot more enjoyable, and reminds me why I’m putting myself through this!

The impact

Did you know that every dollar invested in early childhood education can return up to $16 over the lifetime of that child(1)?

Children like Kirby and Reed*- two of our students profiled on the SouthSide Early Childhood Center site.  Here’s a bit about them:

*Names and certain details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

February 10, 2012

These two brothers, ages 4 and 3, have attended SouthSide since fall 2010, and they have made amazing progress in so many ways! When Kirby hops around his classroom pointing out the letter “K” on all the signs and says, “That’s K! It’s in my name!” it’s not just cute – it’s amazing. Sixteen months ago he had no English vocabulary and very few words in Spanish. Today he is talkative and has an extensive vocabulary in both languages.

Watching Kirby build a train track and drive the five-car train cooperatively with his friends brings a big smile to his teachers, Miss Jackie and Miss Alisha. When Kirby started at SouthSide he could not play with peers for five minutes without dissolving into tears or lashing out. He just couldn’t figure out how to express himself any other way. Thanks to the hard work of his teachers, help from specialists and parent support, Kirby can tell his friends how he feels. Sometimes he reminds his classmates, “We use soft touches!” Miss Jackie says Kirby is a great problem-solver in the classroom.

Read More about Kirby and Reed by clicking here!

The education and experience our children have at SouthSide not only gets them ready to enter Kindergarten on an equal footing with other kids, but because of the comprehensive programs offered, both for the children and their parents, there will be:

  • Higher rates of attendance at 4-year colleges and employment in higher-skilled jobs
  • Significantly lower rates of felony arrests and symptoms of depression in young adulthood
  • Increased earnings and tax revenues because of higher-skilled jobs
  • Averted costs related to crime and savings for child welfare, special education and grade retention.
  • More stable families- With their children in school, single parents can find better jobs.  Also, once their children are ready to graduate, we help them choose a kindergarten based on theirs and their child’s needs.

The $16 for $1 ratio holds for the annual costs of nurturing and educating one child.  By helping us build a new building, which will hold 140 children EVERY YEAR for at least the next 50 YEARS (based on our track record of fiscal responsibility and building to last), think about the returns on your dollars invested in creating this great structure!

Study led by University of Minnesota professor of child development Arthur Reynolds in the College of Education and Human Development. 2/3/11

Now, like me, you may be more visual, so here’s what we’re trying to accomplish.

We want to continue our evolution from our humble beginnings in 1886:






And where we are today- a building we have occupied since 1953:






To the future:





What we can’t lose sight of though, is the impact it will have on them:

Wrap your head around this

4 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 30 minutes…How do you stay focused/motivated/sane on runs?  The short answer is: it’s different for everyone.  I have a very short attention span. I can get bored quickly, so I don’t know if that helps me or hurts me, but here’s what I do to get ready for and then actually make it through my longer runs.

Pre-run, I plan.  I’m an analyst by training, so I go through different scenarios, but I basically focus on three things: pace, nutrition and hydration.


Simple concept, difficult to execute.  Basically you have to run slow enough in the beginning so that you can still run later on (as opposed to crawling or stopping).  It is probably the most difficult thing for me to do because a number of people start off quickly and I have to discipline myself to not follow them.  Working with my coach, Scott Weber, I’ve tried to stick with a 55/45 split: completing 55% of the distance in the first half of the time and  allowing for a slowdown in the second half.  As I’ve learned in my brief experience, factors such as blisters, weather and terrain can ruin even the best laid plans. So as much as possible, I work to the average rather than being exactly on X pace every step of the way.  I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympics, so I’m allowed a bit of leeway.


Again, with the help of my coach, this has become much easier and more formulaic.  I now plan on taking in about 300 calories every hour for runs over 2 hours.  I try to eat easily digestible food (gels and fruit pouches), so that I can quickly absorb and use the calories, rather than them spending an hour or so in my stomach being broken down. No more inhaling a snickers bar at the end of a race!


Water and salt will stop you in your tracks before nutrition will.  I stick to 20-30(ish) ounces of water and 800mg-1 gram of sodium per hour – more on hot days, less on cooler runs.  Cramps or dehydration are not something I want to deal with and this formula keeps me out of trouble.

During the run, with the above worries out of my way, I can concentrate on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  I have a pretty short attention span, as I said, so in preparing for, say my 12 hour race, I didn’t focus on the 12 hours, but rather on:

  • My run/walk pattern (6 min/2 min for the first 6 hours, then 4/2 for the next 6 hours).  By doing a run/walk pattern, I can better control my pace, it breaks up the run, it reminds me when to eat or drink, and it rests my legs to allow me to go longer.  I also check my pace to make sure I’m not going too fast too early.
  • My music or podcasts.  Yes, I wear earphones, but either only in 1 ear or at a low enough level so that I can hear things around me.  I find music as a background can be motivating (try Glad to Be Alive by Cowboy Mouth), but on long runs, I put everything into the mix because 12 hours of upbeat music can really get on your nerves.  I also have started listening to podcasts, which have caused me to nearly fall over when I’ve listened to the comedy podcasts, so I may stick to interesting stories going forward…
  • Talking to other runners.  Hearing their stories and motivations is always interesting.
  • The problems of the world.  I have probably come up with and forgotten more solutions to my own and everyone else’s problems on my runs.  My only fear in recording them during the run is that they turn out to be not quite as brilliant as I half-remember them to be.
  • The kids.  All of my runs this year have been in preparation for Death Valley.  If I feel too tired or sore to go on, I remind myself of how minor an inconvenience it is compared to the barriers they have to overcome.  It got me going and helped me continue during the last two hours of the 12 hour race despite painful blisters on my toes caused by my lack of experience.

So that’s it.  Plan, then focus on other things on the run.  Enjoy the time to yourself, and if you do stumble on the solution to world peace, stop and write it down!  I’m sure the Olympic committee would understand.

Running the Distance- The shoes

The question I most often get asked is: ‘How can you go that far?’, sometimes phrased as “I don’t even like to drive that far!”.  The short answer is: I’m not quite sure.  I’m an average runner, never have been very fast, nor really enjoyed running until about two years ago.  Exercise-induced asthma as a kid and later knee and back pain from what I assumed was just being older (outgrown the asthma?  welcome to excruciating pain!) kept most of my runs down to 3-4 miles.

A couple of articles back, I talked about discovering Vibram FiveFingers and the Chi Running technique.  That did two things that I believe really accelerated my enjoyment of running and helped me see that I could do more.  First, they changed my stride, shortening it so that I wasn’t extending my legs too far (causing the knee pain) and eliminating the heel strike, which was jarring my back. I was running more efficiently, so I was recovering faster and able to do long back-to-back runs. (Full disclosure, I’m not a doctor, nor have I ever played one on TV, nor is anything I say meant to be taken as medical, or even simply “good” advice.)  Second, the feeling of running barefoot made me feel like a kid again.  I could feel the mud between my toes or the grass when I ran through it.  Running up hill was a lot of fun, especially on trails, because my toes dug in and it was more like playing around than just running.  So I was having fun running, and I was able to recover quickly, so I could go out and run some more.

So that got me started, but the challenge of distance still remained.  I ran my first marathon in the Vibrams, but my feet were very sore at the end.  I decided that I needed my rapidly aging feet to have a little more cushioning if I was going to go longer.

Enter the Hokas, or the Anti-Vibrams.  Their sole is 2.5 times thicker than an average running shoe, but they actually allow me to run “flat footed”, keeping my stride short.  The big benefit of all that cushion is that I can run longer with a lot less foot pain (and they weigh about the same as a traditional running shoe).  I recently ran 55 miles in them in a 12 hour race and the only blisters I got were because my skill at wrapping my toes is below zero.  And yes, I was a KISS fan when I was younger, and the resemblance to the “Stacks” that Gene Simmons wore were not lost on me, although these work better than the pieces of wood I nailed to my tennis shoes at age 11.  (For those of you who don’t remember that reference, think of Jimmy’s strength shoes from Seinfeld.  For those of you too young to remember that- what are you doing sitting around reading the computer?!  Go outside and run!)  So, the shoes are making a difference, even though I’ve gone from looking like an idiot in toe shoes to looking like an idiot in clown shoes!

Now to deal with the mental side, the repetition, the hours, the boredom.  How do I do it?  Well, you’ll have to wait until next week.  I still have to think about it…