The Chicago Chronicles: Heat Training
After about two years I decided to go on an actual vacation. Yes, I travel A LOT for work, but I felt like it was time to have an extended period of time for myself that involved no work obligations whatsoever. These last two weeks I spent training in a place that was hot, and then a place that was even hotter. Enter: the Grand Cayman.
It was gorgeous and beautiful and relaxing and insanely hot. Although we were told (after having already booked the trip) that the Grand Cayman was the place to go for the summer and voted some of the most beautiful beaches — we were still in the Caribbean. In the middle of summer.
After we checked in and got in some of that award-winning beach time, I threw on my gear and went for a nice short sunset run with my friend Evan. It was only four miles of warm up before some intervals (on the hotel treadmill) but it was nice and slow and felt great. It wasn’t until I got home that I found out it was the hottest day of the week (just over 100 degrees) while we were there because with how quiet and relaxing it was, I didn’t even notice.
Besides the weird-looking lizards and locals driving on the other side of the road, the weirdest thing was the sidewalk etiquette. Running on the sidewalks of New York, I’m so used to having to bob and weave around pedestrians staring down at their phones, slowly walking three or four across, or just generally unconcerned for those around them. We’re used to it and have even figured out that window of time to shout, “Excuse me!” so that they have enough time to adjust so I know which way to run. Most of the time they still don’t move and just stand there looking offended, but at least I’m doing my part by warning them.
Meanwhile, in the Grand Cayman, before you are even close to that window of politely asking them to make a little bit of room, they turn around and immediately jump off the sidewalk and apologize. Some of them went so far as to grab their child or partner and pull them out of the way — smiling and waving to us as we ran by. Even though I continued to reassure the pedestrians that it wasn’t a problem at all, this sense of urgency to clear the sidewalk was definitely a trend. It was strange but such a relief to know you can run down the sidewalk and not worry about whether you’re going to run into anyone or get run into, but to just think about nothing but running.
The next morning the whole gang got up super early to do a group run around the island. I needed to get in a few more miles so I started a bit earlier, but by the time the sun came up it was BRUTAL. Not a cloud in the sky and so humid. It was really fun to get out there with my other teammates and do what we love in a beautiful place.
When most people take vacations, they take vacations from everything. Work, exercise, diet, Facebook. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed I still followed my training plan and diet pretty closely. Not because I didn’t allow myself to 100% relax, but because for me, being able to do nothing but focus on running and training is strangely relaxing. Of course it’s hard and can be stressful but I think the stress comes from trying to find time in your day to get your miles in or put together meals that will benefit your training. When you are on a beach in the Caribbean with nothing but time, it’s easy.
After a few more hotter-than-bearable runs, sunsets, snorkeling and what may or may not have been a decent amount of local rum (shhh… foreign alcohol doesn’t have calories, right?), we got on a plane back to NYC. As for me… my next stop was Florida. South Florida. Or what I called it for the week, “Running on the Sun.”
Growing up in South Florida I was relatively used to it and never ran more than 7 miles at a time outside, ever. But after moving to the northeast and becoming a marathon runner, it’s not easy to just come home and re-acclimate. I was really excited for my three-hour run because I knew it would give me the reassurance that I’m on track with my training, especially since I had a decently long marathon pace run scheduled in too.
Unexpectedly, Florida was even hotter than the Grand Cayman and it was much less than ideal. Whether I started the run at 5 a.m. or not, I only got about 5 comfortable miles into my run before it started to hurt. Recently I’ve decided to start wearing my heart rate monitor again because when it gets this hot outside, you need to stop worrying about pace (or as Coach Conlon likes to call it “being a slave to your watch”) and go by feel. There were times I would stop to walk and my heart rate was still just as high as if I had been doing intervals at hard effort. Not good.
I finished the three hours but instead of getting to my goal of 20 miles with 8 at marathon pace, I crawled my way to 17. Although I was pretty discouraged by not hitting the numbers I wanted, I’m not going to lie: I saw one of the most gorgeous sunrises of my life. I couldn’t help but think about how incredibly lucky I was to be able to watch the sunset in the Caribbean with some of my closest friends and then the next morning enjoy a perfect sunrise on the beach near where I grew up.
All of my runs that week were hard and far off of my goals. They hurt, and each “easy” run still felt like I was running at my hard-effort pace. I kept reminding myself that heat training is helpful and anything can happen on race day. It could be super hot in Chicago and this could be great prep. Or it will be nice and cool in Chicago and this heat training will make me faster.
Either way, I came home and have hit my splits almost perfectly since I’ve been back. I ran the Percy Sutton Harlem 5K on Saturday (only my second official 5K ever because 5K’s scare me) and crushed it. I killed my NYRR registered bib pace and placed third for the NBR women. It’s safe to say I got my confidence back. Three more days, and then it’s back to good old SoFla.
Erica Silbiger is a 10-time marathoner, having run her first marathon with Team in Training in San Diego on June 5, 2011. She will run the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 12, with her sights set on achieving a BQ. Erica is the Assistant Director of Admissions for the Columbia School of Social Work, and part of her job involves traveling around the country speaking to prospective applicants in the fall. She trains with North Brooklyn Runners.