Preparing for miles of hills, heat and humidity

There are two big challenges that come with the Kauai Marathon, which is just two a half weeks away now: the hills, and the weather.

And by weather, I mean heat and humidity. Now, with a 6 a.m. start, the heat won’t be an issue for many of those running the 13.1-mile half marathon. But for those going the full 26.2 miles, heat and humidity are more than a problem when you’re out there for more than three hours. Running up long, steep hills on a hot, humid morning can cause your body to overheat and you can only keep moving for so long under such conditions, much like an overheating car, before breaking down.

Basically, the faster you run, the more body heat you will generate.

So to prepare for my fifth full Kauai Marathon, I’ve been running a little later than usual, getting out there on Ke Ala Hele Makalae in the 8:30 a.m. range. I figure I’ll be around the 18-mile marker about 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 2 — if I’m having a good race.

That leaves eight miles to go when temperatures are really starting to heat up and by then, I’ll probably be fading. I’ll still have a few hills to content with, but most, assuming my legs are still working, will be behind me.

Let me explain the difference between cool conditions and warm conditions for runners.

Last week, we had a cool morning, slight wind. I felt fantastic. I cruised along nice and easy for four miles, barely breathing, enjoying the ocean view and even stopped for a minute to chat with councilman and mayoral candidate, Derek Kawamaki, who is training for the half marathon and looking fit, happy and ready to roll. It was one of glorious runs when all seems right in the world. Even the half-mile repeats on the return, when I cranked up the pace, felt solid.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. It was around 80 degrees and the dew point was 74, which is higher than normal. That combination of heat and humidity makes your body work harder to cool off. You fight for each breathe. You work harder for the same mile splits. This is one time running is not fun.

For me on this day, four miles in with two to go, I felt I was going to have to stop and rest. I was struggling, feeling like I was going to collapse, but trying to push through. I told myself to run another 100 yards, then I could stop. I did that, over and over, running on, talking about stopping so I feel better, until the desire to stop goes away. It never really does go away, that desire to stop, but the longer I can hold out, keep running, that feeling grows weaker.

Does that make any sense? Probably not.

Is it foolish, considering if I push too hard I could suffer heat stroke? Yes. But no one ever accused me of being the smartest person anywhere.

In chatting with the National Weather Service, I was told the humidity level is highest at night and early in the morning, when there is more moisture in the air. Generally speaking, as the heat rises, the humidity level drops. But Tuesday morning, the heat and humidity combined to make my run very, very uncomfortable. Weak tradewinds made it worse.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. The tougher the conditions now, the hope is, the better I’ll do on race day. The human body can be trained to handle extreme conditions. At least I hope so. And when I run on the mainland, it should seem much easier.

Anyway, I’m seeing more people on the path wearing Kauai Marathon shirts and likely they’re training for this race, as well.

We’ll be facing the same battle together — hills, heat and humidity.

If that sounds like like fun, please join us. The saying is true. Misery loves company.

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Bill Buley is editor in chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at bbuley@thegardenisland.com

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