….So take off all your clothes…
Well maybe not all of them, but I was very close to taking my club vest off halfway through the Osterley 10k this weekend.
Sometimes, running feels easy. You hit your stride, you feel strong and powerful, and nothing else matters but keeping on putting one foot in front of the other as you fly around whatever race, park, or well-loved training route is getting your A game today.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s just plain hard work. And for me, nothing makes running more of a seemingly never-ending, unpleasant slog than hot and humid weather. I really, really hate muggy weather. I shouldn’t be surprised that I find it so hard to run in the heat, since I get heat stroke very easily even if I’m not running, which can knock me out for a couple of days.
Over the last few weeks we have had more than our fair share of ridiculously humid weather. This has corresponded with a predictable slump in running form for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. During a hills session last week I could barely will myself up the Ealing undulations. A tempo run the same week was even worse, not helped by my Garmin going mad amongst the high buildings of the Square Mile and telling me I was doing a 3 minute mile one second, before plummeting to a 10 and a half minute mile the next. That run left me with no energy and a stonking migraine lasting for days. Parkrun last Saturday was horrific and was dangerously close to being a DNF.
So it was with a bit of apprehension that I was looking forward to the Osterley 10k on 11th June. This lovely local race is run by the Ealing Half team, and can therefore be relied on to be super well organised. The EHM team are both runners, so they understand what’s important to the people taking part; the route is flat and fast, but it has several changes of terrain and enough pretty scenery (and cows) to keep things interesting. They make sure there are loads of marshals, who are all kitted out and briefed properly so they are easy to see, and offer plenty of cheerful encouragement. The portaloo provision is more than adequate, the baggage system is easy and fast (when I did finish and went to get my bag they had already found it having seen me on the approach, so the wait to get my bag was in negative time!), and the medal is always different and always a really good bit of bling. As a race, I can’t fault it or recommend it highly enough.
However, one thing they did forget to do was to order better weather.
It was about 21 degrees, which felt ok when we were waiting around before the race. I wasn’t sure what I was aiming for – my PB is just over 58 minutes which would be a 9:20 pace, but I had been struggling to maintain that pace for shorter distances recently and wanted to try to enjoy the race at least a bit. Some Eagles who had decided to run the Osterley parkrun, either to do the double or to stay and cheer on the 10k runners, advised that it was warmer than it felt because of the humidity, and I quickly revised my goal to starting at 9:30’s and then seeing how it went.
Well, it pretty quickly started to go very not well at all. From about 2k, I found the whole thing ridiculously hard. I had started the race with a couple of other Eagals, including the lovely Liz who had got me round the Wokingham Half in February by refusing to leave me. She did the same thing again – she stayed with me and kept up a welcome level of gentle encouragement for the entire race. When the 5k water station appeared and the second half of the race for once seemed like it was going to feel longer than the first, I had sudden flashes of thinking that I really was just going to have to stop, or that I at the very least I would absolutely have to peel my claggy club vest off just to make it bearable. As we watched the 60 minute pace group head past us looking strong, one of the amazing Eagles pacers tried to spur me on by reminding me I had done a marathon now, so no excuses – yes I have done a marathon, but not in these conditions!
However his words shamed me just enough that I managed to dig in and keep going, eventually finishing in almost exactly the same time as I’d achieved in the winter version of this race six months ago, just under 63 minutes and about 5 minutes outside my PB. It had felt about 10 times as hard to end up with a result that felt like I’d gone backwards.
At the end of the race most of the chat was about how hot it had been and how much harder that had made things for everyone. I was still feeling pretty demoralised at the thought of a whole summer of this, with goal times being missed and ambitions thwarted. I really don’t want to spend the summer moaning about the heat and using it as an excuse (real or imagined) when I could be pushing on and improving. Thank goodness then for the common sense spoken by Wei Hei, who reminded me about something that had been posted to the club Facebook page after our own hot and sweaty 10k in May.
I looked it up when I got home; this table shows what impact hot weather can have on running pace:
So if I was aiming for a 9:20 min mile or 58 minutes for a 10k, then a 6-7% increase would be 4.06 minutes, taking me up to just over 62 minutes.
Looking at it like that, then actually what I did at Osterley was perform to my best ability in the conditions we had on the day. It may have felt bloody awful, but it was actually an acceptable performance and still one to be proud of, even if it wasn’t a PB.
Yes, running in the heat is hard. Running in the humidity is even harder. So maybe the summer isn’t the time to aim for new PB’s, but when it does cool down again all those miles logged when you feel like you’re running in a steam room should result in improved fitness, better endurance, and the ability to carry on in difficult conditions.
Running isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s part of the reason we do it. And even when you struggle there are positive lessons to be learned; this time last year I stopped to walk during a 5k in the heat. At Osterley, I was struggling but I kept going. That is an improvement, even if the Garmin doesn’t say so.