Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Running in the Heat

This last Sunday was the running of the Berlin Marathon, one of the 5 World Marathon Majors. The World Marathon Majors is a championship-style competition amongst the elite marathoners. It is comprised of the five most prestigious marathons in the world: Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. John & I ran Berlin last year. It was special in part because the world record holder in the marathon, Haile Gebrselassie (Geb), of Ethiopia, broke his own world record set the year before at the prior year's Berlin Marathon. Because he had set the world record the prior year, his image was on the finisher's medal for the race. So, when he reset the world record last year at 2:03:59, it was an amazing race to have participated in. Click here to read my Berlin Marathon race report. As my friend Linda Mueller said in a post to me this week, its amazing that the year since we ran Berlin has gone by so quick.

This year, Geb, at age 36, was up against the second fastest marathon runner ever, Duncan Kibet, a 30 year old Kenyan runner whose P.R. of 2.04.27, set last fall in Rotterdam, is just one second slower than the time that Geb himself ran in Berlin two years ago. Thus, expectations were high for a world record breaking race between the #1 and #2 marathon runners in the world. But like most great expectations of an epic marathon race, the competition between these 2 great runners didn't last past the half marathon mark. No new world record was set. What happened? It got hot in Berlin on Sunday. Kibet fell out of contention before the half marathon mark. While Geb maintained world record breaking pace through the 30K mark (18.6 miles), he slowed for the last 7.6 miles to come in at 2:06:08. I can relate.

Don't get me wrong. I couldn't run one mile at the pace that Geb averages for the entire 26.2 miles. But I can relate to the heat sucking the life out of me in the last 12K of a marathon. For a refresher of when the heat has ruined a good race for me, see my entry on the Seattle Marathon. The heat over the last 4 miles of unprotected, sun exposed highway made my race go from ecstasy to agony.

On Tuesday's Runner's World website, Amby Burfoot did an analysis of the impact of heat on marathon race times. Apparently, sports scientists have studied the impact of heat on marathon times and have concluded what most marathoners could probably tell you: the best temperature for a good marathon run is in the low 50s. Amby then extrapolates from these studies to come up with the following formula: your marathon time is likely to slow by three percent for every 10 degree rise in temperature from 50 F. In other words, you'll run 3 percent slower at 60 F, 6 percent slower at 70 F, 9 percent slower at 80 F, and so on.

What I can add to those cold, or should I say "hot" statistics, is that when it gets hot, bad things happen to me. Like cramping. My body loves to run in cool weather. It does not like the heat. Being of Northern European ancestry, my body does not adjust well to running in heat. Why do I live in South Florida? Because its lovely down here. I live near the ocean and enjoy nice sea breezes, enjoy the ocean, and love open water swimming in the warm Caribbean currents. But running here in the Summer and the early shall I put this?! We get up and out the door an hour or two before sunrise, and it can still be hot and muggy. A bike ride that lasts beyond 9:45 AM gets uncomfortable.

Why do I bring this up? In part because it gives me a little solace to know that the heat can slow down even an East African great like Geb. If any bodies have evolved to deal with heat running, its the Ethiopians and Kenyans. But even these great runners are slowed by the heat. Oh, yeah, there's another reason I bring it up. I hear that the run portion of the Clermont HIM that John & I are doing this Sunday is hot. Very hot. I can't wait. Let's not even think about the afternoon temperatures in Tempe in November. Here's hoping they have ice at the water stations.

Finally, in honor of my son John, a proud member of the University of Florida Marching Gator Band, I link in this ESPN commercial featuring that fine band.

1 comment:

mmjcpa said...

All the best to you and John at the Clermont HIM Sunday. So sorry about the bike accident (that is horrible) but glad you are OK and hope you at least like your new bike. Take it easy on Sunday. Melissa & Bob