Hills, Heat and Anything Difficult

On a weekly basis, my spin class will groan as they hear me enthusiatically proclaim, “guess what? It’s HILL TIME!” – sometimes more than once in a class – followed by, “let’s make this one a REAL challenge!”

While most people hate training in adverse conditions, hills, heat and anything else difficult only increase my enthusiasm, often leaving my workout buddies rather confused; I’ve heard a running buddy mutter under his breath “I knew triathletes were crazy!” when I suggested running our intervals on a hill rather than a flat loop. I never skip a run because of heat – if anything, I’m more likely to head out for a lunchtime run if the temperature is above 35 degrees than if temperatures are cool.

You might be thinking that I’m totally crazy (and you’d probably be right, my dad’s been telling me so for years), but I have a good reason to legitimately enjoy making my workouts a suffer-fest: I’m competitive. Races don’t usually consist of perfectly calm water, a tailwind for the entire bike course and a flat run at 16 degrees with a bit of cloud, so the more I suffer now, the faster I go on race day.

Running in the heat or tackling crazy hill repeats on my bike make me a stronger, faster athlete, and if that’s not enough to make me work for it, I just think of all my competitors who decided to skip their tempo run today because it’s too hot, or those who decided that 3 hill repeats are enough. Those are the ones who will slow down in the last 3km of the run when it’s 35 degrees out and we haven’t seen shade in 20 minutes, or who will see me pass them on the big hill in the middle of the bike portion (you know, the one with the turnaround at the bottom so you can’t keep any of your momentum for the climb back up).

I also get a mental kick on race day when I encounter adverse conditions. The cumulative experience of having finished runs in extreme heat and completed long rides in the middle of a downpour mean that instead of freaking out, I just remember that I’ve done this before and I can do it again. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it something I can do. If races are 50% mental then that’s a huge advantage right there.

The key to training in adverse conditions is to adjust your expectations and take precautions if necessary.

  • If you’re running in the heat: make sure you hydrate well, wear a hat and sunscreen, and realize that you won’t be able to run as fast as usual; nobody is doing tempo runs at their usual pace when it feels like a sauna. Try to start heat training in the spring so your body can gradually acclimate as temperatures rise.
  • If you’re doing hill repeats: take it easy on the first few because the effort builds up quickly, and judge your effort by heart rate or perceived effort rather than pace or speed.
  • If you’re riding in the rain: leave more space when following (in addition to the safety considerations, you also likely want to avoid getting a faceful of spray off their back tire) and slow down on turns as slick tires combined with oil from the road can get very slippery.

Now, I realize I’m not going to convert everyone to crazy athletes who enjoy hills and run when it’s ridiculously hot outside, but there is a perverted pleasure in doing something difficult and succeeding. Why do you think people do Death Valley ultramarathons or climb mountains? Instead of focusing on how much faster you could be going if only it were cool and flat, take satisfaction from knowing that you are a tough, badass athlete who can handle anything!

 

 

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