Monday, April 13, 2015

Plans and weather do not get along

In a recent Training Peaks webinar, "Developing Mental Toughness," the presenter Carrie Cheadle recommended planning for many different eventualities that might occur during a race. Planning in advance how you will react to events you have little if any control over accomplishes two things; it reduces stress as the race approaches, and it reduces the emotional impact of the event should it occur.

One simple example is a flat tire. While the odds of getting a flat on race day are low, they are never zero. If you never really consider getting a flat and have a friend who always helps you out on your training rides, a flat on race day will likely produce a maelstrom of panic and may well end your day. If you do consider it but have no idea how to fix a flat, your nights leading up to race day will be filled with dreams of exploding tubes and long walks to T2. The solution is simple. Ensure you carry the tools and supplies required, and practice using them. Practice enough times so that getting a flat is no big deal. Your goal should be a flat recovery in under three minutes.

Last Sunday's Hapalua Half Marathon provided us with a valuable lesson in how to plan for the weather. Reports all week called for rain. Lots of rain. Guy Hagi specifically called out the half marathon, warning runners to expect squishy shoes and blisters. I coached Pattie on wet weather run preparation, specifically to wear a hat with a brim to keep the rain out of her eyes and to apply lots of Body Glide to her feet. At last year's marathon I was cold until the turn-around in Hawaii-Kai, but even so would not recommend a jacket then (December) and certainly not now (April).

Sunday morning, no rain. As the race got underway it became obvious that the challenge had shifted to heat and hydration. Clear sky, light winds, temperature in the mid 70's. Not overly threatening but nothing like what I image most runners anticipated.

Fortunately Pattie had not altered her original food and hydration plan for running in the rain other than to expect consuming less water. She stuck to her plan and drank some extra water at every aid station. The plan worked, because she made it through four and half hours of hard work and arrived at the finish line is reasonably good shape. (I have done much worse.)

In case it isn't obvious there is a huge difference from an endurance point of view between what an elite runner feels running the course in under two hours and what the slower age groupers experience. Keeping a fit body moving for two hours is all about strength and efficiency, plus a little hydration. The nutritional focus is on preparation. Contrast this with a four hour effort which demands taking on fuel during the event. The course may be the same, but the impact on the athlete is altogether different.

The trick is to find a fuel source that your body can tolerate while running, and the rate at which it can be ingested. The only way to do this is trial and error. Even then, race day can throw you a curve ball. Weather -- heat in particular -- can contribute to the challenge. Once your stomach is unhappy with what you put in it, you cannot even keep down water and your day will soon be over. Taken to the extreme, heat stroke can be deadly.

Happily the weather on Sunday was not that hot, but for runners who prepared for rain and failed to consider a sunny day their race must have been an overwhelming and unnecessary challenge.

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