Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Excessive Heat Warning

Things are heating up around here.

Yesterday, temperatures topped out at 97 degrees with a 105 degree heat index prompting an excessive heat warning to be issued for the day.

It’s been like this for nearly 4 days – hot, humid, windy, and angry. The traffic is sluggish, the streets are sweaty, and all of us local athletes are sitting on the edge of a sweltering, boiling salty rage brewing inside of our mortal bodies because no mortal can handle heat like this.

With all of this heavy heat, it feels like something big is coming - something so unstable, so shattering, so monumental that even the earth’s atmosphere has responded with turbulent change. Some maelstrom of madness, heat, and rage is mixing over the fields of the Midwest, sending an apocalyptic and maddening melange of combatively high heat and humidity into this area, melting everything in its path into a weary, swollen bundle with dehydrated bags under our eyes and heat congestion in our heads.

And there can only be one explanation for this. Only one way I can see it – Mother Nature knows that I’m training for Ironman Hawaii and she’s pissed.

She sees me as some cold weather Chicago area girl whose laboriously long indoor trainer rides and bitter runs in with biting wind chills are no match for what she will throw across the lava fields come late October. In an effort to convince me of the irrationality and recklessness of my Kona dreams, she’s lighting a fire under my feet to see how hot it can get before I am forced to dance my way out of the frying pan. She’s trying hard to make me doubt myself, make me doubt the decision to take the Kona slot. She sees my icy cold confidence as insipid and unpure, and she is waiting for me to melt in the midst of her heated rage.

But she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’m determined to have her beat. I’m determined to come out of this blazing hot fight stronger and smarter than I started. And I don’t care what she throws my way. If she wants a fight, she’s found her match in the form of a 5’ 2” spitfire that has no plans to surrender.

So the other day, when it started to heat up, I stood in my corner, threw on my boxing gloves, heard the bell ring, and got ready for a fight.

Round 1

It started on Friday in the form of a track workout. I headed out around 5 pm just as the day stood at its hottest and its irascible heat had been building throughout the day. Chris doubted my sanity when I told him where I was going - “This is not the track workout you are looking for,” he said with eyes to heed his warning of the heat that had waged war on our suburban world. Determined to follow the advice of my coach that this was the most perfect Kona-flavored day we had yet this year, I was stubbornly bound to run on the track. And I did. And I lasted about 21 minutes and 12 seconds. That’s about 15 minutes of warm up, actually achieved in the first 15 seconds of stepping on to the track, and 6 minutes 12 seconds of increasingly explosive heat building in my body after 1600 meters. After another 800 meters, I felt as though I had crawled into an oven, someone secretly shut the door on me, and cranked the temperature up to broil. Another 1600 meters followed in what was my slowest track mile time - ever - and I was left charred, overcooked, and more than well-done. Afterwards, I stood shaking in the mere shade of the metal bleachers, sobbing at my slowness and near failure at the one workout I loved the most – the track. I shook a threatening finger at Mother Nature, scolding her and cursing her to dare meddle with me at the track, this sacred place of pain. I swore my revenge and then set out to finish. She would not get the best of me because giving up is never an option. I proceeded to finish the run, only to return home with a head on fire and a stomach cramped in knots. But these are the runs I’ll remember, I thought. This is what will count for Kona, this heat, this sobbing, this pain, and suffering around in circle after circle, mile after mile. But until then, the score stood at Mother Nature – 1, Liz – 0.


Round 2

The next day, Mother Nature was back for another round, sending the heat climbing to 95 degrees. After a 2 mile swim race, it was time for a 50 minute run. I headed to a forest preserve hoping to sneak some shade on the path. But a sneaky little thought in my head ignited me to venture out in the heat, run the sun-soaked path, and suffer like a good Kona-bound girl should. I lasted 20 minutes before retreating back into the shade. Score another one for MN.

Round 3

Sunday it was time to settle the score. If nature was my mother, I was ready to get sassy and fresh with her like a teenage girl fighting for the phone. My revenge was set in the form of a 100 mile ride. Before her heat could get to me, I’d beat her to it. I’d start early enough, rendering myself untouchable, surpassing the brunt of her heat-ridden hellbent ways. With my salt tabs, bottles of beverage, a steady nutrition plan, and all the fury in the world behind me, I was ready for combat and ready to ride. It was 6:30 am and I was rolling along at a comfortable pace. As the miles passed quietly, I wondered if Mother Nature had slept in that Sunday morning, if I had snuck past her door on tip toes, without waking her in her wrath. But how long could this last? How long could I creep along these roads eluding her attention? Oh, about 50 miles. Halfway through the ride, noticing my disregard and defenses, she awoke, startled by the success of my secrecy up to this point and she responded. Tactical and strong, she took it up a notch. She drew forces with the sun and the winds, aligning in the most southwesternly of ways, sending a tailwind that sailed me 26 mph in an easternly direction. On any other day I would have welcomed this push from the wind, but 97 degrees is no time for a tailwind. Combined with heat like this, a tailwind will leave you baking in your own oven of effort. By the last 10 miles, I was shaky, salty, sun-beaten, and spent but still a century-filled success. Afterwards, I paused under the shade of a wind and giggled in a most sinister way. Despite her feverish assault against me, I had prevailed that day and scored one for Liz.

Round 4 - The Final Round

The final round – Monday’s lunchtime run at high noon under the warning of excessive heat. It was the showdown, the big dance, where Mother Nature and I would go mano a mano to tangle in the heat. I set out for a 45 minute run at cruising speed around the neighborhood. Armed with 14 ounces of liquid, enough sunscreen to clog my pores, and a visor, I was reporting for duty, ready for fiery combat. It started out easy enough, a steady pace along the streets. I could see the heat rising from the streets in a thick haze. For 20 minutes I actually felt strong and sure of myself – a bit warm – but overall secure. And then it hit. 25 minutes into it my head exploded in unbridled heat, the sun strangling me and leaving me gasping for relief under a tree. What just happened here, I thought. How could a run turn into something so ugly, so fast? Mother Nature – that nasty little bitch. She drew her weapon and pointed it right at my back. So, I drew the only weapon I had – liquid. I took a swig from my Fuel Belt and then set out to finish the run. It only got worse. What was already a slow pace, got even slower. The sun burned hotter. It felt like someone had lit a fire on my back leaving me with no choice but to consider a stop, drop, and roll to put it out. 38 minutes went by and I was slowly diffusing in the heat. My weapons were useless. I considered turning around, walking home, retreating to the cold, clean air of my air-conditioned home. At 40 minutes, I made the turn on to our street, the last 5 minutes left dangling before me. I was sore, tired, sweaty, and my body pleaded with me to be done with this militant march of heated pain. I had to do something – I couldn’t let her win. I thought about how Mother Nature would wage a much bigger war on me later in the year and that I had to have my defenses ready, build a large brick wall of fortitude against whatever she would throw my way. And, pardon the cliché, I was going to have to build it one brick at a time, one run, one swim, one mile, little by little, day by day. With that in mind, I finished those 5 minutes, making loops around the steamy black-tarred asphalt of our street forcing the furious heat into my face. I finished – because Hawaii won’t be about how far or how fast, it would be about the finish and the joy of just making it across the finish line. And as I approached my driveway after 45 minutes, I crossed that line, under an excessive heat warning, under a sun-scorched sky. The victory was mine – I had beat the heat and in doing so I sent Mother Nature scurrying from whence she came.

We will certainly meet again – in the lava fields of Kona, in the crosswinds, in the swells of the ocean. But by then I will be ready to take on anything, anywhere. These small battles will add up to a landslide victory, on my part, because I will keep counterattacking, responding to this rivalry with an unshakable ferocity that I won’t let go. Until then, I'll sweat it out and sit here in a heat edema-induced rage waiting 'til we meet again.

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