They say fall PRs are made in the summer, but is that true? Well, in the words of Harvey Spector from Suits, “you're Goddamn right they are.”
So, here's the scenario at the moment. It's mid-July in New York City, and I currently slogging it through Week Five of my 16-week training program for the Chicago Marathon.
The key words in that sentence are “mid-July” and “New York City.”
Harmless when isolated, but when combined together, it should raise eyebrows. New York City in July is a wretched time for marathon training, and not just because of the sun. No, don't get me wrong. We love the sun. It's the sun's annoying cousin, humidity, that is the problem. Sunshine is a welcome friend, a chance to strip back the layers and run in agreeable weather – but when the sun brings along humidity, that's when things go pear-shaped. There's a reason humidity has no friends. Mainly because it makes life difficult for everyone.
Anyways, five weeks into my training schedule and my long runs are kicking my arse – depending on the humidity that day. The long run in Week Three went swimmingly as I logged 13 miles in 1:51:56 (8:37 per mile). That day, it was overcast as the sun, and its unpopular friend, hid behind the clothes for large parts of the day, making it a runner's delight.
Stupidly, I forgot all about that and got cocky as I approached the long run in Week Four. For those who don't know, July in New York can be strenuous to walk around in, never mind run in. In New York, when humidity shows its ugly head, you'll refuse to walk places more than 20 blocks, because there's no point. You'll be a sweaty mess by the time you arrive. Five-minute waits for the subways feel like five hours because there's no air conditioning underground and you feel your nose, eyebrows, ankles, and fingers sweating. The lightest of clothes you own are still not light enough.
Basically, when humidity hits, it's a goddamn struggle – although it does make outdoor drinking and outdoor pools feel gloriously better. Oh and a strong, cool breeze on a hot, sticky day – fecking heavenly.
Humidity can also kill a runner's progress. For instance, after that Week Three long run, I felt great. My plan was on track and I was going to roll into Chicago in October and collect that medal no problem. Well, last Saturday, July 16, reminded me of why Fall PRs are made in the summer. Leaving the apartment at 7am, I felt it instantly as a bead of sweat rolled down my back – even as I wore a singlet (I now wear singlets by the way. They're glorious) and other light clothes. A look at the weather later showed that it was 76 degrees, with 67% humidity. Two hours and three minutes later, after several water stops, two times over the Queensboro Bridge, and once around Central Park, I fell back in the door – looking like someone who had visited a water park.
It was a struggle, an almighty one that pushed my mental game to the absolute limits. Numerous times I thought about stopping for good – once or twice I did stop for 30 seconds or so to drink copious amounts of water – but I kept going, kept pushing the pace, and kept telling myself: “If you stop now, you'll regret this tomorrow when your Virtual Training plan says you ran less miles than you were supposed do.”
With that, I pushed on – and on. Thankfully, in Central Park, my long run coincided with the 2016 Boomer's Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe race, so that gave me 5,000 people to run alongside, which certainly helped. But as I left the park and stuttered up the Queensboro Bridge again for mile 10, I didn't think I could do the full 14. Looking at a half mile incline on mile 12 in Sunnyside, Queens, I really questioned the will go carry on. “12 miles in this heat is great” and “you'll be back on track next week” is what was going through my head.
But, I kept thinking about the mental aspect of running and how I've been working on it after it played havoc with my Queens Marathon time and I fought back. For anyone who passed me at Skillman Avenue that day, I hope you weren't too startled as I screamed aloud: “You're going up this fecking hill, otherwise you'll fecking regret it in the morning.”
Up I went – and by mile 13 I somehow felt a little fresh, fresh enough to finish strong.
At the end, I was exhausted and rehydrated with whatever I could get my hands on. On this day, humidity won the battle, but the war – we'll call it a tie for now as this one is going to go on all summer long. Writing this, tomorrow's temperature is supposed to be in the high 90s. Might make last week's run seem like a walk in the park.
So to recap – Fall marathon PRs are made in the summer, for this very reason – especially for those in hot, sticky climates such as NYC. June, July, August, you go through the ringer, as your body sweats like a turkey in an oven out on long runs.
By October, the season starts shifting to cooler weather and you feel like an elite runner, as you glide through long runs without much discomfort. The final marathon day is ahead. You have this no problem. There's no humidity around now to deter or put a spanner in the works. You're rested, you've ate more pizza and carbs in the last month than you have all summer. What can go wrong now? It's marathon day – and it's fecking freezing – or raining, or both, that's what.
But that's a different blog altogether, one I'm sure that I'll have to wrap my head around come September when the reality of race day kicks in.