The Run JunkEes athletes were discussing who was girly enough to write a post about pony tails. To end the discussion before it got ugly I volunteered.
And right now you're asking yourself, "Is this joker qualified to write a post about the pony tail?" Oh yes I am... I have a colorful history of hair. The first haircut of my own choosing was a mullet. And what a bitchen mullet it was... That was followed by the buzz cut. Then there were those four years in college where I didn't have enough money for a haircut. I kept the long hair for a few years after graduation, then went all clean cut for a while. The lady I would marry asked me to grow out the hair again, so I did. I kept that a couple years. Now I wrangle the hair of my two daughters when they need help getting ready in the morning. There. There's my pony tail credentials. And through it all I have been an athlete of some kind.
So what's the deal with the pony tail and running? Why write about it? What to write about it? It's just hair.
And I think that's kind of the point. It's just hair. When you are exercising, it gets in the way. Put it in a pony tail and get on with it. If you don't find some way to tie it back, it's just going to be a terrible mess later and you'll regret it. So how to go about this? Amazing enough, there are lots of options. First, let me go ahead and plug the Run JunkEes Bondi Band. Slap that on your noggin and you should be good to go. After that there are the more traditional hair ties. And if you've never been in the hair tie section at the store, count yourself lucky. There are tons of choices. My favorite (both for myself, and my kids) is the thin, plain looking elastic band. No, not the one with the piece of metal holding it together. Those will break your hair and your sweat will corrode the metal. (Unless you're three, in which case you will take it out and put it on your doll before we get all the way out of the house in the morning. But I digress.) Get the ones that don't have the metal. And if you have a whole lot of hair, get the thick ones. And if you have even more hair than that, get the thick ones and double up with one of those scrunchie things. Go ahead and spring for the pretty one. Unless you're 8 years old and you just want to wear it as a bracelet and lose it in the lunch room at school and then cry because your favorite is gone. Then just save your parents the headache just leave it at home.
Wait... Where was I? Oh right. Hair. Lots of hair.
Back in college I had the opportunity have my flowing locks put up in lots of little braids for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. This was pretty awesome right up until I almost took my own eye out. I was the coolest white bread hippy college kid with corn rows you've ever seen. With a bleeding eye. Honestly, someone should have stopped me. It was dumb. (In hind sight, I probably should have just bought clippers and shaved my head through college.) To save the day I had to pull my braids back into a pony tail. And I was no longer the super cool hippy college kid playing frisbee. And it hurt to brush all that out later. So, don't do that.
Pony tails. Better than having your vision, breathing, and mouth choked with your own hair.
In some parts of the country the temperatures have started climbing. I'm lucky in that my altitude affords me cool mornings and afternoon showers. And hail. And lightning. And at the higher elevations, even snow. But that shall soon pass and it won't be much longer until I'm complaining about being too hot.
Let me just throw this out there up front and get it over with. Exerting yourself in the heat (you know, like running...) is dangerous. It can kill you. The best advice for running in the heat is quite simply: Don't!
But you're still going to run, aren't you? Don't feel bad. I will too.
So how can we take this dangerous situation and make it more safe. (Not safe, more safe.) I don't claim to be an expert on the subject. I have read many of the mainstream magazine articles. I have also experienced many years of putting down lots of miles in the heat. This will be a culmination of what I've learned works for me.
And that's where we need another disclaimer. First, what works for me might not work for you. But almost everything in running is that way - extremely personal. Second, I live in the foothills of Colorado. Geography and the specific weather for your area matter. When I'm on vacation in Maine, much of my experience dealing with heat doesn't work as I think it should. Where I can, I will call out the things that I know are personal as well as the things that I know to be rather specific to my particular climate.
Now that mess is out of the way, there are lots of things that will apply to everyone. Most importantly, we live in an age of instant information. Use that to your advantage. Find which weather website or weather app is best respected in your area and check it often. Knowing just what kind of heat you are dealing with will help you plan and set expectations for yourself and your workout. And maybe even knowing the weather will make you call off the run for the day.
Now that you are watching the weather closely you'll notice that there are hotter hours and cooler hours. In my area, the hottest times to be out are usually between 2:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. Between 11:00 and 2:00 is hot, but usually manageable. And the most comfortable times to be out and about tend to be between sunrise and 10:00 and just before and just after sunset. I'm willing to bet your area is pretty similar. For those of you reading between the lines, you'll see the best opportunity for comfortable running is first thing in the morning or right around sundown. Or even at night. I prefer to drag myself out of bed and get going early. I have a friend who prefers to throw on a headlamp and log miles at night. Find what works for your and go with it.
Location, Location, Location
For the sake of all that is holy, avoid running on the asphalt. The blacktop gets hot fast and retains heat for hours after the sun goes down. This is pretty awesome in the middle of winter, but when it's eleventy billion degrees out there, you don't want to train in the sauna. Concrete is only slightly better. But dirt trails are probably your best bet.
Trails have a couple other advantages. First it's TRAILS! I love trails. Second, trails often have trees. Trees make shade. Shade is good. Third, trails often involve water. Trails follow streams and rivers, loop around lakes, and can even have water crossings. When it's hot enough, a good splash goes a long way. Something rather specific to my area is trails with altitude. In many areas, higher altitudes often have lower temperatures. Not to mention training at altitude will produce some other benefits like general baddassery, increased red blood cell count, and bragging rights.
Lastly, there are treadmills. When it's really hot I am not above hitting an air conditioned gym and putting down some miles on the treadmill. Lets face it, sometimes it just too hot. Every now and then I find myself in Atlanta on business. This town has earned the nickname "HotLanta." When I'm out there in the summer I almost always get my miles on the hotel treadmill. I'm not too proud to admit that.
What you wear matters. In a large portion of the country moisture wicking fabrics are the only way to go. Pretty much the desert southwest is the only possible exception. In that area the wicking fabric can actually remove too much sweat too fast and cause problems. (I read it in a mountain bike magazine, it must be true...) For the rest of us, stick with the wicking fabrics. If you don't have a good wicking shirt or hat, head on over to the Run JunkEes shop (http://runjunkeesshop.com/) and check out the JunkEe gear. Pretty much everything should wick - socks, shorts, shirts, unmentionables... If you aren't running in wicking gear you'd better have a darn good reason. The one possible exception is a cotton headband or bandanna. This can be soaked in water and worn around your neck or on your head. As the water evaporates it cools the body.
Food and Water
Some of the more personal issues dealing with heat are hydration and fuel. This is personal because not everything will work for everyone. There is no right answer, only what works best for you. You'll have to figure that out, and it might not be an easy road.
One thing I don't hear many runners talk about is pre-hydrating. This is quite simply the act of drinking a bunch of water or sports drink before you go running. If you don't have to pee right before you leave, you should probably drink more. This is something I learned from an old guy who wasn't teaching me about running, but about that dreaded four letter word that often interferes with running - Work. The theory is simple. Get yourself good and watered up and you'll be able to work for a fair bit before you get thirsty again. It seems to work. But remember, on the really hot days you'll want to drink a little something before you are thirsty to maintain your hydration status.
There are often questions posted in various forums about how often to hydrate and with what. What to drink is best answered as whatever you have and whatever you know works. I prefer water. But there are lots of options today. In most situations most people can run 30-45 minutes without carrying water. Pay attention to how you feel and the weather. If you start feeling the heat, slow down. Walk if you need. Find a drink. Don't be too proud to ask a stranger for help. Cyclists tend to be pretty friendly and willing to share. When it gets really hot, I will carry a handheld bottle for EVERY run. The bottle is about 16 ounces, and I try to finish that in about 45-60 minutes. Some days that's plenty. Some days, that's not enough. But it's usually enough to get me home. You may need more or less.
I'm also not above taking that bottle and spraying some water down my back or getting the top of my head wet. The evaporation helps cool things down. Washing your face feels really refreshing on a long, hot run as well.
Fuel (food to non-runners) is another thing that can make or break a run and is very, very personal. One hot weather thing that I have found that works great for me is watermelon. It has enough sugar to be effective, and has enough juice to help on the hydration front. There are two downsides to watermelon. The juice is sticky and tends to get everywhere. And it's hard to carry. I suggest stashing some on the trail before your run. Mind the critters and pack it accordingly. Your local running store will have a huge selection of gels and chews to help with the nutrition side of the run. You'll have to experiment to see what you like, what your stomach likes, and what you can carry.
Salt tabs are a thing. I sweat more than your average bear. No, I mean it. I REALLY sweat. At the end of a long run I can wring out my socks and make a puddle. It's not uncommon to have people ask if I've been swimming in the creek. And while sometimes I have been, usually I don't. When you sweat this much you will need some help replenishing. Sports drinks help, but they don't quite meet the need. Salt tabs are the secret. There are several different brands. I tend to use Salt Stick, but that says more about what is available nearby than any real brand preference. If you go with the salt tabs, please follow the directions. And remember, these are only for the long runs. If you're out under an hour you shouldn't need them.
Lastly, change how your run. When it's really hot out slow down. There is no pride in putting yourself in the hospital so you don't get to run. We don't like that. Don't be afraid to short yourself a little bit. I know 4.89 miles isn't five. I'm that guy that will circle a parking lot to get the full five. But when it's hot, give yourself a break and just get in the air conditioned car, office, or house.
But it's going to be hot on race day...
Seriously? You signed up for a 5k in Phoenix in August? Why would you do that? Well, unless you plan to use all of the emergency medical facilities offered at the event (Talk about getting your moneys worth...), you really need to find some way to acclimate yourself to the heat. Don't be dumb about it. Like all things, build slowly and listen to your body.
What I've written here are just a few things I've found that work for me. Some of the other Run JunkEe athletes will be posting their tips as well. Give them a shot. See what works. See what doesn't.
Run on friends!
A hat tip to Jay C Rod of the Run JunkEes Virtual Run Club for the blog idea.
Jay's post is:
I think any mile at any pace is good. Can anyone explain what this "junk mile" stuff is?
And Jay, I fully agree with you. Running any mile at any pace is good. And it's way better than sitting on the couch eating Oreos.
The term "junk miles" has been circulating the running community for the last couple years. I blame this on the self depreciating nature of runners. You know, the ones who are at one of those multi-length races and say, "Oh, I only did the 5k" instead of "I signed up for the 5k and laid it all out there on the course. It felt so good I want to do it again." I think this is the same attitude that propagates the term junk miles.
My understanding of the phrase: Junk miles are miles run with no real purpose or training goal in mind. Many people find themselves putting in junk miles over the winter, or in the weeks between their last race and the start of training for their next race.
Well, I'm staring at a summer of junk miles. I trained last summer for a fall marathon. This summer, my wife wants to train for something. She's riding her bike from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC. And that means I get kid duty while she puts the time in on the bike. To be perfectly clear, I volunteered to do this. She was talking over the idea and I told her she should really do it. First, I see this as an easy way of thanking her for being supportive of my training last summer. Second, I think it's great when people (especially those I love) pick a goal just a little crazy and go for it. That last one, that's something I learned running marathons. If the goal isn't just a little crazy, it should probably just belong on a checklist somewhere.
That is not to say I won't find time to squeeze in the odd race here and there. Between friends, family, and babysitters I'm sure things will work out just fine. I won't be in shape to grind out 26.2, or probably even a comfortable 13.1, but some of the shorter stuff is every bit as fun and often much less painful.
And most importantly, having a summer with no real training schedule means I get to relax and enjoy running again. Nearly everyone I have spoken with who has trained for a big race has gotten sick of training. And I think the two who claim they didn't might have been lying. It's refreshing to lace up and just go. I can stop to take pictures of the deer and elk. I can stop to chat with a neighbor, or slow way down and put in a half mile with the older runner I sometimes meet while out putting in some miles. And it's all pretty much awesome.
And when I want to, I get to push it.
Today I had a few hours to kill and I have been pondering something "big" for a few days. My original idea was to run up and over one small mountain, and then up and over a ridge, and then reverse it to log about 13 miles. (I really want to hit that Strava half marathon this month challenge.) But it's been raining in the afternoons. Good old fashioned gully washers. I'm certain the trails I would need to follow to put that together would just be full of mud. But you know what? I haven't run the paved road up the mountain to my house yet. Until today. So I laced up. I headed out the door to the paved road and I ran down the hill. 1600 vertical feet down in just over 5 miles. At the bottom I stopped for a gel, a sip of water, and tried not to think about what I had just gotten myself into. I needed to get home. I had a conference call in about 2.5 hours. It was run, or hitch a ride. So I switched gears from the cruising sub 8-minute mile downhill to the I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this long distance, steep road nearly shuffling "run" that I would use for most of the climb back home. And it was pretty cool. And I stopped to take pictures.
I saw people para-gliding
And I saw one of the new breed of crazies. It seems there is a growing number of people who think it's fun to ride skateboards down this mountain. I get it. Back in the day I probably would have been all over that. You can call me old, but right now, I see it and all I can think about is the pain of road rash and the embarrassment of telling my parents about the medical bills.
But it still looks really cool.
So yes, running a mile is running a mile. And that mile will be whatever you make of it. My "junk miles" today were a ton of fun. I saw some neat stuff. I made it back up the hill for my meeting.
So run your run. Get your miles in your way. And make of your miles what you will.
Run on friends.
This morning I ran my first 5k event as a sponsored athlete. To be 100% honest, I was looking forward to the mostly flat "fast" course through the office park and golf course. I had no illusions of personal records (5k is about 21:30 from high school...), but it probably could have been the best so far in 2014.
And then my plans changed.
A friend and coworker asked me to run the 5k with her. I had convinced her she could do the run, so it only seemed fair to me. Turns out this was her first 5k that she had intended to actually run. She is in shape and works out regularly. She often sends me messages about climbing the empire state building on the stair machine. I knew she had the core fitness to pull it off. And she crushed it. I'm very proud of her. The data from the Garmin (for those who care about such things) reads 3.28 miles in 38:00.
And you know what? I had an absolute blast.
I had prepared myself for a fair bit of suffering. Signing up for the event was rather last minute. I haven't really been "training." Most of my miles are probably best considered junk miles. But I am comfortable enough with the distance to know I can push it. Had I been running solo, I would have pushed hard enough to hurt. There would have been a fire in my lungs, and a fire in my legs, and probably blisters, a blackened toenail, and even some blood in my socks. And I would have said I enjoyed it.
But there's more to it than pushing the limit. There's helping someone try something new and spending some time with a person I don't usually get to see face to face. I didn't need to hurt myself. I didn't need to light my lungs and legs on fire. I was able to kick back and just enjoy being able to run with someone.
Thanks Nancy. That was a good time.