Thursday morning, I woke up with the feeling of a 400 lb man laying on top of me. Motionless, I laid there for a moment, looking for a large man but finding none and instead searching my mind for what might have made me feel this way.
And then I remembered a sweaty, heavy memory from the day before – a long run.
It was some time after work on Wednesday that Chris and I were getting ready for a long run. Probably one of our last long runs before some upcoming races which made me think it would be a good idea to overdress.
This is why I try not to think too much after work.
Overdress? Chris questioned me rightfully so because overdressing on a day like this – 86 degrees outside, high humidity, no wind – was probably not one of my finer ideas.
Yes, overdress, as in long-sleeved shirt that after 2 miles you will be ready to tear off in the late day sun.
Talking him into closing the cabinet doors – impossible. Wiping toothpaste out of the sink – improbable. Not wearing shoes in the house – infrequently. But overdressing? No problem. There he stood, two minutes later, in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts. He was ready to go.
Before the run, there we were, two athletes, or idiots – it’s your call – standing on the path, 86 degrees, high humidity, no wind, a world of buzzy annoying bugs, 10 lbs of water, gels in our fuel belts, and….long-sleeves.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Chris asked, his last hope at trying to force some sense into me before we set out for 15 miles.
In one of my preachy, teachy moments (one of many), I reminded him that the more adversity you face in training, the easier it will be on race day.
“Yeah, but isn’t this just stupid?” he asked.
He was right. Adversity was one thing. Stupidity was another. I had no come back. It was stupid, it would be uncomfortable, it was going to turn a long run into a neverending march of misery. And that’s what made me want to do it even more.
Once the run started, my back started dripping with sweat, long-sleeves like plastic wrap around my body. As the miles went on I knew this was perfect preparation for next weekend’s race in Memphis. I have never raced in Memphis when the temperature has been below inferno-oven hot. It’s a heat like none other. And I’ve raced in a 107 degree Arkansas heat index before. But Memphis, Memphis is completely different. So as we ran along, hot growing hotter, I mentioned that when we dismount the bikes in Memphis, and feel that curtain of heat, it would feel like nothing if we could get through this.
Curtain of heat? Yes, the curtain of heat…..
Imagine, if you will, a stage curtain; one of those long, tall, burgundy drawstring curtains hanging from an auditorium stage. Imagine yourself standing back stage. Now, imagine trying to get on stage through the stage curtain but instead of finding the way out you find yourself get more and more entangled in the curtain. You get more and more wrapped into the curtain as you struggle to get out. Now imagine the curtain is heat. A thick, velvety curtain of heat that you find yourself snarled in with no way out. For 6.2 miles. That’s the feeling of running in the heat of Memphis.
And out there in Memphis, that curtain is hanging, waiting and whispering to the weary hot runners as they try to run by…..it’s curtains for you my friend, curtains for you. As in – exit, stage left, show’s over, no encore, that’s all she wrote, send in the shepherd’s hook you’re getting booted off the stage.
Oh really? Curtains for me? Heat, you have no idea who you are dealing with. I don’t melt easily. No, I was the idiot wearing leg warmers and long sleeves on 75 degrees days for IM training rides, I was the idiot wearing a black-long sleeved shirt for my 22 mile runs in the high heat of the day. In my long sleeves today, it’s no doubt that as far as idiots go….I still am.
The first hour of the run is a warm-up at a comfortable pace. How ironic – a warm-up. Even more ironic – a comfortable pace. There is no such thing as comfortable when you are overdressed in this heat. The humidity is stifling, and the air doesn’t move.
Of course, being this uncomfortable lends itself to also being uncomfortable to be around – being around me, that is. I get short, I get easily annoyed, irritated. All of a sudden the sound of my feet and Chris’ feet on the gravelly path is grating on my nerves and I want out. I accuse him of being a trail hog, stop, and let him go ahead. It was better this way. For him, that is.
I was enjoying the run – alone at this point for Chris’ own good – when I reached 1 hour and 10 minutes into the run where my warm up was about to turn into a 30 minute pick up with coach’s orders to push the envelope. I don’t get that command often, and so when I do I take it quite seriously and I set out to push the envelope.
It didn’t take much. In this heat, with these long sleeves, pushing the envelope became pushing what felt like V02 Max. I pushed, and pushed, and after what felt like forever, I realized that only 7 minutes had gone by.
The long-sleeves were now starting to feel terribly uncomfortable. I pushed up the sleeves for some minor relief but it didn’t help much since the bulk of the discomfort was the fact that my stomach felt like it was wrapped in a mylar blanket and my head was on fire.
10 minutes to go – I cannot possibly hold this pace much longer – 5 minutes to go – I am still holding it, heat you will not beat me not now not ever - 3 minutes to go – but not without the cost of sickness in my stomach - the final minute – this is where it counts so push to the end. I am so tired, sick, and hot that I want to melt on the path. My stomach spins, and my core is starting to cramp. I hear the word Memphis in my head and imagine the last stretch, the last mile, the last whatever I have left to give and push hard through to the end of 30 minutes, pushing the heart rate higher, and finally, finally, finding my way out of the stage curtain of heat.
I stop on the path. I put my hands on my knees. And I want to heave. The work is done, and finally – the long sleeves come off. I was free.
We finish up the run, and finally when I stop, my whole body aches. Throbs. Buzzes with heat. It is good to know what my body is still alive because I feel like somewhere on that path I melted into hell.
But I was still there, and so was Chris. Also shirtless at this point. And we both agreed - reluctantly - that yes, the overdressing though uncomfortable probably did us some good. Because if we can tolerate (barely) 15 miles like that, then 6.2 should be no problem at all.
And so next weekend as I’m running towards a finish line in Memphis two things will be certain –it will be hot, and I will not forget the memory of this run in those long sleeves as I near that finish line, and the curtain of heat falls around me it will be good to know that it will be curtains for you, heat, this time it will be curtains for you.