Philip here. As delayed as it might be by rain and cold snaps, Texas summer has been slowly sneaking up on us. Last weekend it finally arrived. For those of y’all who do quite a bit of summer training in preparation for a race (or just because y’all hate yourselves) know about the dangers of running in the heat. But when I get out on the trails between late May and early October, my addled brain will often tell myself stupid stuff and show quite a few lapses in judgment. It’s important that y’all learn from my mistakes (or at least laugh at them), so I’m going to list a few of the dumb things I’ve told myself summer running. Maybe some of these will sound familiar to you!
1. “Let’s try to push the pace today.”
Imagine a run at Bull Creek. It’s at least in the high 90s. The sun is beating down on the hills and there’s not even a breeze to relieve any of the heat. Now would you, a mature and thoughtful human being, tell yourself, “Let’s see how fast we can go today?” No, because you’re normal. I, on the other hand, have no such wisdom. On this particular scorching afternoon I decided it would be ideal to see how quickly I could run up and down the hills out there. So for about an hour, that’s what I did. I pushed myself on the uphills and racedd the downhills with no thought of self-preservation. As you might expect, as the day got hotter and as I became more dehydrated, I became more reckless. My mental acuity was definitely suffering. By the end of the run, I was doing repeats on a hill (the one where Dirt Runners had a running clinic) and of course, near the bottom, I lost control and wiped out, scraping up my left thigh and butt cheek. I still have scars from that! So of course, my advice would be to take it easier on those hotter days. Wait for when it gets cooler to really race the clock.
(It gets hot at Bull Creek!)
2. “Don’t worry – you can make it on one bottle of water.”
I told myself this once on a hot summer day some years ago out at 1/4 Notch trail near Brushy Creek. I’d lost the soft flasks to my vest somewhere and I was using cheap-o plastic water bottles that you purchase by the pallet, since they were semi-flexible and hold the same capacity as a standard water bottle. In the middle of my run, I noticed that the right bottle in my vest was leaking and dripping water and tailwind all over. The day had reached about 1pm at that point and the temperatures were approaching 100 degrees, but I shrugged it off because I still had another bottle full of water and I was confident that I was speedy enough to make it to the water fountains near the sports park before it became too uncomfortable. Those of y’all who have seen me run probably know how that I vastly overestimated my running skill. About an hour and a half later, I was just finishing up 1/4 notch, wobbling from dehydration and completely out of fluids. My throat was dry, my vision looked like a pre-digital broadcast TV with a fuzzy picture, and my head was pounding from dehydration harder than if I’d hit it with a low branch. I stumbled out from the exit and made my way to the banks of Brushy Creek. Once there, in sight of a bunch of pedestrians and bicyclists, I waded to the middle of the creek, and plopped myself into a sitting position so that the water was up to my neck. No one paid any attention to me aside from the multitudes of minnows that swam in to investigate, and I must’ve sat in the middle of the creek for 20 minutes, only an eighth of a mile or so from the nearest water fountain but too tired to move. Eventually I staggered out of the water, marched the short distance to the water fountain, drank my fill, and promptly threw it all back up. Needless to say, I should’ve carried more water. Now I take more durable bottles and a bladder for long summer runs.
(It’s important to carry water in environments like this. You’d think after 20 years in Texas I’d have learned that).
3. “That’s enough sunscreen.”
This also occurred some years ago, back when I still worked at REI. It was a morning out at St. Edward’s Park, and at the trailhead I slathered my body with sunscreen. I’m usually pretty good about using sunscreen, or at least wearing clothing for sun coverage. I spent a day running and swimming in the creek and generally had a good time. The next day I traveled to work for a shift, with no ill-health aside from a slight itching sensation on my head. It wasn’t until my 7’2″ coworker and friend walked over, and after talking to me his gaze turned to one of worry and concern. “What the *&$@ is wrong with your head???” he exclaimed, and I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about. It wasn’t until I took a bathroom trip on my next break and looked in the mirror that I realized what had happened. Since I’d spent much of my time swimming at St. Ed’s and not just running, I’d neglected to wear a hat – and I hadn’t thought to put sunscreen on top of my blond, fair-skinned head. My scalp was FIRE red, and if I were bald, I’d have probably resembled the character Toad from the Nintendo games. The minor itching that I experienced from that day soon became quite painful blistering sunburns all over my pate, giving me a rather painful reminder of the importance of sun protection on EVERY inch of my body. My advice for y’all (especially for short-haired or thinner-haired folks like myself) is not only to generously apply sunscreen until what’s left of your hair is greasy and gross, but to also have a very tall friend who’s honest with you about your appearance. Those tall friends come in handy.
(The only time of day that I’m safe from the sun – night.)
So my question for y’all is: What adaptations do y’all make while running when the mercury rises? I look forward to your comments and responses.