Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Running in Austin: Part 1

It's that time of year again in Austin, TX.  Day time highs above 100F (yes, that is hotter than body temperature...), overnight lows between 73 and 78F and temperatures hovering in the 90s long after 10pm.  While morning temps in the mid 70s may not seem terrible, the humidity averages 90% at that time of day.  In summary, Austin summer weather is nothing short of unbearable for outdoor running.

Despite that, I try to make the best of it, getting up bright and early to run in the "cooler" morning temps.  My paces are slower and I feel like I'm running through a wall of humidity.  The sweating starts almost immediately and somewhere between 10 and 12 minutes in, my body is literally coated in sweat.  In my desperate attempts to keep myself cool, I am wearing very little clothing and have nothing with which to wipe sweat from my eyes, ears, forehead, shoulders etc etc.  I let it pool all over me and just go with it.  Lawn sprinklers are a welcome sight and offer a brief moment of reprieve.  When I finish, all the sweating leaves my core body temperature dangerously high, which can be alleviated pretty efficiently with a 10 minutes cold shower.  I follow this up with massive quantities of cold water, and it usually takes me the entire day to properly rehydrate.

Thirst on the run has been a major issue lately.  I have been trying to do longer runs in the range of 10 miles.  In cooler weather, I can easily run 16 miles without any water, but the summer heat has made that impossible.  I finish 7 mile runs totally parched and can recognize that the lack of water on the run is impacting my performance.  I finally caved in and got a hydration pack (actually boyfriend bought it for me as a birthday present!).  I got the Nathan 2-speed waist pack.  As a minimalist runner who hates taking "stuff" with them, the idea of a handheld was not appealing and the Nathan waist packs are not supposed to bounce.  I am hoping these extra 20oz can help me build up to the 14 mile range through the summer months.

On Sunday, I made the fatal mistake of sleeping in.  Sadly, I was very tired and had also gotten up early on Saturday morning to run.  I silenced my alarm and didn't get up until after 9:30pm, far too late to brave the morning heat.  This left me no choice but to run in the evening.  As previously described, evening temps stay in the 90F range up until about 10pm, so I decided that I would make the best of it and run at 8pm, a half hour before the sun went down.  I am babysitting my friend's dog Ike, who loves to run, so I took him along.  Ike is an incredible runner and has a lot of endurance, so I was surprised when both of us were lagging about 45 minutes into the hour run.  At our last intersection, Ike even lay down on the ground, something I never see him do, indicating he was hot, exhausted and running on empty.  We slogged through the last 5 minutes and celebrated with  frosty glasses of water.  The worst part was that, even though I had my new hydration pack, I elected NOT TO BRING IT WITH ME!  A 7 mile run is a standard distance for me, and I convinced myself I wouldn't need it and should wait to use the pack for longer runs.  A mere 3.5 miles into the run, I desperately regretted my decision.

So what have I learned with all these hot weather running?
1) The weather isn't going to get better for awhile.  Don't wait for ideal conditions, just motivate yourself and go out and do it
2) Running in the morning is almost always better than the evening.  Unless there is a massive rain storm and you happen to synchronize your run with the rain
3) Hydration makes a big difference.  Drink drink drink leading up to the run
4) Even dogs hate hot weather running.

When I finally use my new hydration pack, I will write a review with my thoughts about it.  In the meantime, stay cool and run long!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Swimming

One of the (few) perks of being a graduate student is free access to the amazing athletic facilities of the University of Texas, including their natatorium which has both an indoor pool and outdoor pool.  The outdoor pool is open year round, and heated in the winter.  I have found that I really enjoy lap swimming outside.  There is a lot less noise, and chemical odors compared to an indoor facility, and I can enjoy the sunshine.  While it is definitely hot this time of year, water circulators keep the pool temperature low enough that it feels refreshing.  The pool is quite large, with at least 10 lanes of 25m in length.  It is also pretty popular.  On Monday evening, every lane was full with at least two people and there were a few people waiting for a place.  I have noticed that on the weekend afternoons, there is a lot less demand and I can usually get a lane to myself.

I read enough books, magazines, and blogs and heard enough running related interviews and podcasts to know that runners benefit from cross-training.  In fact, I think we all know that.  But in practice, with limited time and energy, it can be hard mentally and physically to work cross training into an exercise schedule.  But after nearly 13 years of regular running, I've decided to commit to a regular, albeit low level of swimming to diversify my workouts.

DSC_0009.JPGAn Austin summer is an optimal time to increase cross training and decrease running.  The heat and humidity (100F and 90% are normal and regular from May-Sept) make running both a hydration challenge and less enjoyable.  I either run first thing in the morning (finishing before 8am) or need to wait until after 8:30pm.  While I am training for a half-marathon in October, I have cut back my running to five days a week with one long run on the weekends.  I think five days a will still provide enough consistency to build a solid running base and then provide race-specific training.

DSC_0107.JPGOn the two non-running days, I am trying to phase in lap swimming workouts.  For the past three weeks, I have swam once a week and this will be my first week with two pool workouts.  I started off with 2000m in one workout and have worked up to 2500m.  2500m takes me about 50 min, so ideally I would like to add another 500m for an hour total swim.  I like to vary the workouts as much as possible, and incorporate warm-up laps, backstroke, breaststroke, kicking, pulling and sprints.  I usually swim 500m sets, and then take a 2 minute break to drink water before starting again.

Hopefully I can expand the swim workouts to twice a week and maintain this pattern.  If so, I think I will start to notice the benefits with my running.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A (nearly) naked cyclist

I few days ago, I was enjoying what for all intensive purposes was an average run.  It was hot and humid (just like it always is these days in Austin), I was sweating a lot, listening to a running podcast on my iPod and was cruising along near the Shoal Creek trail.  My boyfriend and I had just parted ways; I wanted to extend my run so he took our favorite running partner Ike back with him.  There weren't a lot of people out and it was that time of day just between daylight and dusk.  Just then, practically out of nowhere, a mythical Austin figure appeared on the road heading right towards me bearing it all...the (nearly) naked Cyclist!

Austin, TX has a saying; Keep Austin Weird.  It's plastered on bumper stickers, t-shirts and hats and a significant portion of the populous embraces this saying wholeheartedly.  I guess that when you are a liberal, artsy, music city smack dab in the middle of a fairly conservative state, it's hard not to earn a reputation of being weird.  This alternative attitude makes Austin a pretty progressive, interesting place to live.  Bumping into the (nearly) naked Cyclist always reminds me just how unique this city is.
The (nearly) naked cyclist in his typical attire in
downtown Austin, TX

This is the third time I've seen this guy.  He rides his bike all around Austin, though I have only encountered him in the Hyde Park area.  He wears nothing except an olive green thong and sometimes a hat.  No shirt, no pants, no shoes.  He unabashedly rides his bike through the streets, and when I pass him, I cannot help but stare.  It is very weird, even by Austin standards, and I just cannot look away.

I guess these are the things that keep our runs interesting and make for good stories.  I cannot take credit for this excellent picture capturing the (nearly) naked Cyclist.  Check out more excellent Austin photos here.