July 25, 2016
Surprisingly cool air prevails before the sun rises in the Nevada region of the Mojave Desert with an average temperature between 100-110F. Multiple events took place this weekend, June 24-26, ranging in distance from 5k to 100 miles organized by Calico Racing. I registered for a half marathon, 13.2 miles, several months previously as a subsitution for the Big Five South African Safari Marathon. This was necessary due to a handful of setbacks this last year. The Calico extreme racing series is a small venue. There were only 31 half marathon finishers for Saturday’s race.
This was my first long run in many months. I required an unexpected surgery in May to control bleeding that was rapidly becoming the leading contributing factor to an imminent anemia diagnosis. This wasn’t the only race “casualty” I had experienced this summer. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon became a 10K, 5 days post surgery. The Towpath 10 miler in Ohio was omitted due to schedule conflicts at work. The Running with the Devil race series had looked challenging but manageable for a half marathon through the desert but still fell under the category of “extreme races”.
Training for Running with the Devil had been incredibly challenging due to the anemia issues I faced over the last several months which resulted in experimental nutritional fueling from vegan gels to whole foods. The lack of red blood cells prevented adequate delivery of oxygen to my organs and muscles. Each run was a struggle to breathe and my legs felt like concrete blocks attached to my body. My pace and cadence had diminished drastically prior to the surgery but is steadily improving. The doctors told me it could take several months to a year to regain the strength and stamina that was lost.
There were very few heat acclimation training runs and zero high altitude runs performed prior to the Running with the Devil. This affected my body’s ability to adapt to an environment that is less oxygen saturated. In addition, we were told the morning of the race that the wildfires upwind were causing a severe decrease in air quality and to be prepared for this additional challenge.
Two main challenges of this race was the low humidity and heat. They both present issues for the body to compensate for. When heat becomes more extreme your sweat rate may not be sufficient to keep you cool. The dry air evaporates sweat from your body almost as quickly as it is being produced allowing dehydration to occur at a rapid pace. An article in the Harvard Medical Journal explains it simply, “Like water flowing downhill, heat naturally moves from warm areas to cooler ones. As long as the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate heat to the air. But this transfer stops when the air temperature approaches body temperature.” Under these conditions it becomes worthwhile to wear thicker clothing that will hold more water. When the heat is above core body temperature, air movement over dry skin will heat rather than cool your body, so it’s only when you’re wet that wind will help. I used the tip from previous runners and drenched myself with water and put ice cubes into my hat when I stopped at aid stations.
These factors also cause the heart to work harder as the body becomes more and more dehydrated throughout the run. An efficient heart must work harder to pump blood because it’s becoming thicker due to the dehydration. This is called cardiac drift: the heart rate increases over the course of a run even when the intensity stays the same. It is normal to have a significantly slower pace in heat and higher altitudes.
Altitude was the third challenge of this race. Normally an altitude of 4,000 – 5,500 feet would not be extremely challenging but due to my body’s reduced ability to adequately transport oxygen the altitude had an impact. It is documented the body’s oxygen saturation is approximately 94% and decreased to 90% at 10,000 at this race elevation.
Considering increased elevation, low humidity, and heat the Galloway Method of marathon completion made the most sense for me. This method incorporates running with walking intervals. Moments before the race began, a decision was made to perform by heart rate in combination with this method. As soon as my heart rate reached 160-165 BPM, I walked until the HR decreased. My main focus was to finish the race strong and not exceed the heart rate. Taking time to enjoy every moment, appreciation of my body, basking in the accomplishment of making it to the starting line, and being surrounded by a supportive running community are the most important aspects of a race in my opinion.
The front of the pack left me in the dust by mile two. I’ve always been a mid packer or trailing in the back. I throughly enjoyed the solitude and beautiful views offered by the rolling hills and desert vegetation in Lovell Canyon. The course was well marked with aid stations offering ice, water, electrolytes, potatoes chips, towels, and sunscreen were spaced approximately every 3 miles. The course was very hilly with one horrific “hill” around mile 7. Running by heart rate worked well for this race with a hydration plan of approximately 110 ounces of water with Nuun electrolytes tablets which prevented dehydration, cramps, and exhaustion. I finished the race feeling strong with a time of 3:13:45, second in my age group. The post race buffet food was awesome. There was someting for everyone including vegans and vegetarians. I refueled with dill pickles, penne pasta/black bean salad and tangerines.
Despite all efforts to reduce hydration, a severe headache struck 3-4 hours post race. I continued to drink water to reduce the duration but my urine output was zero for almost 24 hours. The headache lingered late into the evening and by the next day I was feeling almost 100% with minimal muscle soreness.
Overall this race went better but slower than expected. Marathon training for the Towpath held in Cleveland, Ohio in October 2016 is underway.
CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES
Outdoor Research Sun Runner Hat – This hat was very helpful because it blocked out the sun with the removable attachment.
RailRiders Eco-Mesh Long Sleeve Shirt – I initially though this was going to be hot because it is long sleeves but the mesh on the sides provides more than adequate air movement – do not wear anything underneath except a sports bra for the ladies – I did this for about 2 miles and stopped to remove my tank top.
Blublockers – Viper Style – This sunglasses are AWESOME! The sun glare in the desert is intense and these really block out the blinding rays in addition to being lightweight and they don’t slide around on your face.
Injini Socks – Light Weight No Show – I have been wearing these socks religiously for four years and have never gotten a blister or sweaty feet.
ALTRA Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes – A zero drop trail shoe. These are by far my favorite go to kicks. Alta’s work well on pavement, rock, wet, gravel, and soft surfaces. The new 3.0 version comes out this week.
Moving Comfort Sports Bra – Ladies – If you are “well endowed” this is the bra for you! Comfortable and supportive.
Garmin 220 Forerunner – The best feature on this is the vibration feature and being able to set up individualized workouts. The battery life
Camelbak Backpack Camelbak with bladder removed. I did not feel it was necessary to carry the added weight of sloshing water due to frequent aid stations. I used this to carry a bottle of sunscreen, CLIF Organic Energy Food Packs, extra tank top, cell phone, and as a place to stash away my 20 ounce handheld water bottle.
Handkerchief – This was a tremendous aid to keep cool. I drenched it in water at each aid station and tied it around my neck.