Last summer was a training bust for me. The reason: It was too freaking hot. We set records for heat in Oklahoma, where my city, Tulsa, had 40-something straight days over 100 degrees, topping out at 113 a couple of times.
It killed my training. Gains I’d made in terms of endurance evaporated like a puddle on a sun-baked sidewalk.
Just when you think something like that was an aberration, we’re in the throes of a similar heat wave right now. A coworker of mine said we should rename the state “Crematoria.” A look at the forecast shows highs between 109 and 111 for the next week, with a slight break on Sunday when it’s expected to only hit 104. It’s been like this all month, with maybe one or two days where it was only in the 90s.
All this weather discussion to say that I have no plans of avoiding the irrepressible. Train I must, be it in heat or something less uncomfortable.
There are, however, advantages to being outside when the temps soar. Not many, but they are there.
But first, let me tell you what it’s not. It’s not getting those, “Dude, you’re so hardcore!” comments from friends, or astonished looks from people on the street who see you outside running when they’re running for the AC. Most people will just say, “be careful” or “you’re dumb.” The few people who see you outside either work in it all day and are not impressed or are too busy fleeing indoors to care about what you’re doing.
In short, you’re not a badass for running in the heat unless you’re competing in the Badwater 135 or a similar race.
The advantage, as I see it, was gaining a measure of solitude. In the heat of the day, the parks are mostly empty. The same is true of trail systems.
My favorite haunt, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, is a trail running and single track paradise for Tulsans and has become increasingly popular as word has gotten out about its wild and technical trails. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there when there weren’t dozens of cars in the trailhead parking lot.
When I pulled up Saturday, there were two. One person was leaving.
That meant I pretty much had the whole mountain to myself.
I enjoy running with others, and I think it’s cool – even empowering – to see others on the trails. But it’s also pretty special to be there in the woods and the only other human is miles away. The place looks and sounds different when the only footfalls you hear are yours. There are no voices. Stop, take a break and catch your breath, and then the only things you hear are breezes in the trees, bird calls, cicadas and the occasional squirrel or lizard scurrying away through the leaves.
That’s an awesome way to clear your mind, and if you’re like me, your mind needs a lot of clearing from time to time!
Obviously, there are downsides and precautions. I drank a lot before I left and had plenty of water with me. I tried to stay in the trees as much as possible, sticking to where the shade was. I took my time, focusing more on the duration of my workout instead of distance, and I paid close attention to my heart rate. At temperatures this high, I’ve had people tell me they get half the distances they’d normally run. I believe it. I’m trusting my body is still working hard when a 5- to 6-mile trail run gets shortened to 3.5 because the thermometer is hitting 109.
As miserable as it all sounds, there is a silver lining – something you desperately need to focus on when there seem to be so many negatives. My goal is to power through this furnace of a summer, to keep training, and to not let the heat drive me inside and into a resigned defeat. With that in mind, being able to find solitude on the trails where I can think and run with no distractions is a welcome gift that, quite frankly, wouldn’t be there if not for these Arizona-like temps that are keeping people indoors.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088