Marathon season kicks off in April with Boston, which means many of you are in the thick of training or will be soon. And whether your 26.2 miles take you to the West Coast, the desert is your destination, or you find yourself training on the East Coast this Summer, the heat can play a major role in your success. It was something witnessed firsthand at last weekend’s LA Marathon, where temps reached a high of 88 degrees and, in the process slowed down many of the 25,000 participants.
As a guest of Asics, I was able to sit in on a premarathon coaching session led by running expert Andrew Kastor. Andrew coaches professional runners, including his wife — and Olympic medalist — Deena Kastor, and also serves as the head coach of the Mammoth Track Club and the LA Roadrunners. Also adding to the discussion were Olympians Ryan Hall and Andy Potts. Given the high temps of the day, it wasn't surprising that many of the tips centered around one thing: the heat.
First Things First: Let Go of Your Goal
When unusually hot temperatures happen — or the heat is simply unusual to you — Andrew suggests letting up on your goal and shaving off around 10 to 15 seconds per mile. "Back up from your pace, and let your body warm up," he says. "You want to be the last person to overheat by going conservative." Good advice, especially when it's likely that temperatures will rise as the race progresses. While shooting out at the start of any marathon is not recommended, doing so when it's hot can take so much out of you that it becomes that much harder to finish.
You've Heard of Carbo Loading? Try Electrolyte Loading
Before a big endurance event, it's not at all unusual for athletes to start carbo loading in the week or two leading up to the race. The idea being that the body will draw on that extra fuel to help energize and push itself when it's desperately needed. If you know you will be running in warmer conditions, Andrew suggests using this same principle to increase your levels of hydration and electrolytes before race day. Focus on eating hydrating foods, and find natural sources of electrolytes like bananas and nuts to include in your diet. "Eat more, gain more," he says.
The small cups of water they give out during the race aren't just for drinking, says Andrew. In addition to drinking water at every aid station during a hot run — "Sip early, before you need it" — Andrew suggests taking an additional cup to pour over yourself to cool off. Andy, a seasoned triathlete, adds that focusing on cooling down specific areas of the body can aid in lowering your body's temperature — specifically the back of the neck, the inside of the wrists, and the groin area. "On occasion, I've poured ice down there [pointing to crotch area]," says Andy. "Big relief!"
The Power of Positive Visualization
As anyone who has run a marathon can tell you, this race is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. If you've trained correctly, you have it within you to finish — you just need to believe.
One trick Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall does is to never acknowledge just how hot it is; as soon as you give into the negative, you're defeated, he says. Of course, this doesn't mean to ignore obvious signs of dehydration like dizziness or cramping; it simply means to focus on the positive: take this time to look around you, and soak in the experience of the iconic landmarks along the course and cheering crowds. And as much as you can, visualize the finish line. Andrew told the runners to picture the finish line of the LA Marathon, which is located along the beach in Santa Monica: "Prepare in your minds that the ocean is drawing you toward it. Close your eyes, and think about it. Lean forward like it's pulling you and drawing you forward. This visual will help you."