Oxygen please!!! A So Cal girl’s experience running in Georgia
We arrived in Atlanta early Thursday morning after taking a red-eye out of LAX the night before. Stepping out of the airport where my Uncle was waiting for us was like walking into sauna that someone had forgotten to turn off or open the door for 6 months. I had been given many warnings about the weather in the South but convinced myself that I had a good mindset going into it for our bi-annual family get-together. My first thoughts, even before arriving at our beautiful lake-side cabin at West Point Lake in Lagrange, GA went straight to running. Thankfully, last week kicked off my tapering period for the 2010 Disneyland Half Marathon so my weekly mileage is dropping radically. I only had 1 short and 1 moderate distance run left for the week. With a necessary 10 miler set for Saturday, my husband John (also in training for the same race) wanted to join me for my planned easy 3-miler on Friday morning. I thought a shorter run would be a good introduction into what we would be encountering the next day for our long run. My brother in law, Chris, would also be coming with us both days.
I somehow convinced my 15 year old nephew the night before to run with us Friday morning. Prior to this, his longest run was 1 mile and that was for school. If I remember correctly, his time was 6 min. I had confidence he could make it 3 miles since we would be running slower and dropping our run/walk intervals to 4 min running and 1 minute of walking. With a little encouragement and confidence from Auntie (me), he was up and ready to go very early Friday morning (well, early for a teenager at least). We were out by 7:05am. The instant we stepped out the door, the humidity hit us like a ton of bricks. I had been attempting to get somewhat acclimated to the heat at home by running my weekday runs on our treadmill (in the upstairs office) with no fans and no air conditioning late in the afternoon/early evening when the temps can reach upwards of 80 – 82 degrees. I had also been running hills outside in the middle of the day when temps were about 85 degrees in the blazing sun. Thinking back now, I’m not sure my theory that these methods of adaptation helped me physically. On the other hand, I suppose it is possible those hotter runs affected my mentality and internal belief that as challenging as I expected our GA runs to be, I was as prepared as I could be.
The 3 miler was very peaceful and casual, for the most part. We ran on a beautiful trail through the woods for about ½ a mile, with the remainder running through a surrounding neighborhood, back through the harbor area where we were staying (See Garmin link under pic - choose Satellite view). My nephew kept up with us impressively for the first 2.5 miles , seemingly enjoying family run time as much as I do. He slowly started to fall back, eventually slowing to a walk around mile 3. Not wanting to leave him behind, I turned back after realizing he was 400 yards back, but as soon as we were side-by-side with a little more attention and encouragement from Auntie, he and I ran the rest of the way back – he had just finished his first 5K + 0.4 miles in 75 degree weather and about 85% humidity. “I did?” he asked with a grin from ear to ear. I couldn’t feel more proud of his accomplishment - much like the feeling I had after running my first 5K race. Aside from a little nausea and expected tiredness and hip flexor soreness that day, he came through like the champ we all know and love. Us big kids did okay too. Both my husband and I later discussed the slight jolt of panic as we started out. Is there actual air to breath out here? Who sucked out the oxygen for crying out loud!! This is going to be interesting, I thought to myself, but I’ve run in unfavorable conditions before and I know I can do it again. We all made it back within about 40 minutes and I felt ready to tackle the ensuing 10-miler the following morning.
We spent all of Friday in Atlanta, experiencing the CNN tour, the Georgia Aquarium, Coca-Cola world and a delicious dinner at Pittypat's Porch, whose bar has a great Gone With the Wind Theme.
Tired and full, we were in bed by 9pm with a 6am alarm set, and an intention to be out on the road by 6:30am. We delayed our start until 6:50 when we felt there was enough sunlight to be safely seen by drivers. Our turnaround point for this out-and-back run was this dock in the picture below, just 200 yards from our cabinacross the lake. Five miles of running to get 200 yards away. Classic.
I had deemed myself the camel of the group, carrying 32 ounces of water on my energy belt, and 20 ounces in a hand held bottle. My husband carried 16 ounces of Gatorade with 3 salt packets added in (we learned the hard way he needs more sodium on longer runs after a few breakdowns late last year when we were training for our first full marathon). Chris was also carrying a good amount of water in his hand-held bottle also. Ready, set, go….
The first couple of miles had quite a few hills that we weren’t expecting to feel so difficult, but hung on to our slowed pace with determination. We are already sweating profusely and I consuming more water than usual to stay hydrated. To top it off, we're running at a slightly faster pace (11:30 min/mile) than I originally planned (12:15 min/mile). It’s only 10 miles, I thought to myself. I can keep this up. The one-minute walk breaks were feeling shorter and shorter. For the first time ever, I asked my husband for a salt packet to add one of my bottles just to be safe shortly after hitting 4 miles. We realize we had made the turn towards the dock too late when we reached mile 5. Time to start our trek back to the cabin.
At 6.75 miles, I started to feel myself breaking down. The sun had come out and we were running directly into it, uphill. I knew enough about the dangers of hyponatremia to monitor my fluid intake, but it was getting harder and harder not to take a swig every 5 minutes. Feelings of dizziness and disorientation were starting to set in, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to figure out what to do. I immediately told them both what was happening, and my husband had to force me to down half a Gu. I do remember at least some of what was going through my head at that point. “I haven't even covered 7 miles, how could I possibly need carbs when I barely have more than half a packet of sports jelly beans on runs longer than 12 miles?” Thankfully, I still had the wherewithal to recognize I was being stubborn (shocker to those who know me) and let that thought pass. The one-minute walk break is over. Let’s try this again. I took a swig of my salted water and pushed on. Within just a few minutes, I was feeling better. I could see the intersection where we would turn left back towards our cabin. We just needed to hang on for a few more miles. I was physically doing better, but I was continuing to struggle with my mental state. My husband is running ahead of me, sweat flying off his arms and elbows. I had to drop further back and off to one side a little because it’s flinging back on me! I don’t have a dry piece of anything on me. My white sweat cap is dripping, my tank top and running skirt were sticking to me with every step. My energy belt was like a sponge and I was wringing out my wrist sweat band every 10 minutes. A 1/2 mile climb awaits us as we push on towards that intersection.
Thankfully, the next mile is slightly downhill. As I’m following my hubby, I’m also looking back at Chris. He and I are usually the chatters on our group runs, but we hadn’t really spoken a peep to each other the entire time. He has dropped back some too, looking just as soaking wet as the hubby and I were. I'm noticing John is speeding up as we go downhill. We run the next interval at a 9:30 min/mile. I know instinctively this is too fast for this late in the run. You can do it, you can do it. You’re almost there. Well, not really. I know there is at least 1 steep hill coming because it was a downhill gift near the beginning. I want to tell John to slow down because now I’m getting myself worked up about what could potentially go very wrong here. I was too tired to yell out and frankly, if he was in the mindset I was in (and I assumed he was), he would tell me he was fine and to leave him alone. We push on. I don’t remember much between this point and the breakdown my husband had at 8.7 miles. He’s sucking wind like I’ve never seen him do, his face is more red than a ripe tomato. He says “that’s it, I’m done. Baby, I need some water. You guys keep going.”. Yeah, RIGHT. After what we went through late last year, there is now way in Hell I am leaving his side. He tries to argue with me a little (or maybe that was just my perception at that point). I turned back to Chris who is right there with us now, made a walking gesture with my fingers, and it seems it’s all he can do to muster up a head nod.
The remainder of the course is mostly shaded and downhill but now that we're walking consistently, I'm beginning to realize how heavy everything on my body feels. I wring out my skirt and leave a trail of sweat behind me - 4 times in that last 1.4 miles. My feet are swollen and as sore as they were at mile 23 of the marathon we ran earlier this year. I am in awe of how strange my whole body feels.
We get back to the cabin and I am not feeling well at all. I managed to get out of my clothes and laid down on on our bedroom floor, dizzy and nauseous. I can't move. The room is spinning. I try to close my eyes and relax, but it just makes me feel worse. I laid there for about 15 minutes, trying to keep it together. An overwhelming feeling of nausea hits and I make it to the bathroom just in time. I do feel slightly better, and with the nausea and dizziness subsiding, I crawl onto to the top of the bed comforter and fall asleep in a matter of seconds. Ninety minutes later, my husband wakes me up and my body is feeling somewhat back to normal.
Later that day, we rented a Pontoon boat on the river and the spent the afternoon lounging in the water in a little cove. Exhausted from the morning, but fueled by some good old fashioned family fun, it was an unforgettable day.
The lessons I learned these: If you're going to be running with a group under extreme conditions, agree on a pace beforehand and stick to it. You protect yourself, and your friends. Trust other runners when you know you're not feeling well and be sure to speak up at the first warning sign you feel. They are the ones who are thinking clearly, not you.