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Neil Featherby: When the heat finally arrives, don't suffer like I did

Neil Featherby on the finishing straight at the Grandma's Marathon, Deluth. Picture: Neil Featherby

Neil Featherby on the finishing straight at the Grandma's Marathon, Deluth. Picture: Neil Featherby

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It's been a wet old week but the heat will come at some stage and it's best to have a plan for it, says Neil Featherby

My column this week was going to be about some of the things we need to consider when it comes to running and particularly racing during the summer months.

However, after all the rain this week, let's just say it somewhat dampened that idea.

Running in warmer temperatures does take me back to June, 1990, when I experienced running in what has to be said were very hot conditions in The Grandmas Marathon in Deluth, Minnesota.

Grandmas by the way, is a very well-known and hugely popular Pizza Restaurant in the town. At the time, I really had got myself in good shape as this was a race which had been on my radar for a while knowing that it was an A to B course and virtually flat with the exception of the famous Lemon Drop Hill at 22 miles.

The only slight concern which I did have was that everyone I spoke to kept saying how temperamental the weather would be out there. The locals had a saying that if you don't like the weather then just wait 10 minutes and it will change.

Having travelled out there upon invitation from the organisers with my good friend Ian Corrin, from Liverpool, and after spending most of the six hour flight looking out of the aircraft window at the icebergs in the sea as we headed over Greenland and then down for what seemed hour after hour over the Canadian Artic Tundra and then endless miles of dense forest woodland, we landed at Minneapolis airport before getting onto an old DC 3 plane which flew us into the mining town of Deluth which was right on the edge of Lake Superior.

After booking into our hotel, we headed out for a quick run before then being introduced to some of the locals who really were so very friendly and welcoming.

However, I think it was more down to what they thought was our so called Irish and Australian accents. I lost count of how many times I said "we are English" only for Ian to pipe up with, "he is, I am from the Independent State of Liverpool".

As for the weather, it certainly did change so very frequently. One moment you were clouded in mist or rain and then before you knew it you were basking in very warm sunshine.

One particular training run also saw me heading into some woods where I saw a sign which said beware of Bears and Wolves. I never actually saw any although perhaps that was for the best.

The day before race day coincided with the longest day of the year for which the local weather forecast said it was going to be hot and sunny and runners would need to take great care.

My immediate thoughts were, that's okay because as we know the weather will keep changing during the race so I am sure it won't be that bad.

Good one that and as per usual, I had a light race day breakfast followed by my usual two very strong cups of black coffee just over an hour before the start of the race. Coffee is great for those who know about its benefits for long distance running, but on the negative side it is not always a good thing in hot weather.

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Upon arriving at the start at 7.30am with the other invited athletes from around the world which included 32 sub 2:20 marathon runners with most of them boasting times of sub 2:15, the temperature was already 68F and I looked at Ian and said this is going to be tough in more ways than one.

The loud claxon sounded and we were away to a very fast start indeed despite the temperature.

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Five thousand plus runners being cheered on very loudly by large crowds at the side of the road as we followed the shore line of Lake Superior back to Deluth.

The scenery was superb, but we weren't there for that and despite having splits written on my hand for another 2:17 marathon performance, I along with Ian decided to sit on the back of the leading bunch of a dozen runners. We went through 5 miles in 25:40 which was fine, but it was clear that the only change in the weather that day was that it was going to get even hotter as the sun beamed down on us.

Whilst Ian, made the sensible decision to drift off the back a little, I for whatever reason tried to stay with the bunch going through 10 miles in a shade over 52 mins and half way in 68 mins. However, I knew that I was going to suffer later on as I could feel my body really heating up as the temperature had now soared up to 77F.

Yes, I was taking on water and dousing my head and body with it whenever possible, but by 20 miles which was reached in 1 hour 47 mins, I knew I was now well off pace and slowing and that it was going to be a long haul to the finish.

This it most certainly was, but at 23 miles where I had considered dropping out especially knowing that our hotel was in eyeshot, I could see just ahead of me running in his distinctive way, the famous Swedish marathon runner Kjell-Erik Stahl who had a best of 2:10:38 for which I focused my sights on him thinking what a scalp it would be if I could catch him.

As it happens, I didn't, but it did somehow keep me going until I crossed the finish line in ninth place in 2:23:09 and incidentally just two places behind the great man.

Only four runners broke 2:20 that day with Russian athlete Igor Braslavskly, who had a best of 2:09 finishing in 2:18:12.

As I stood there staggering and swaying on my feet just beyond the finish line, I could vaguely hear voices repeatedly calling my name asking if I was okay whilst also hearing on the PA system "and in 10th place, it's Ian Corrin from England".

The next thing I knew, I was being whisked away and was hooked up to an intravenous drip whereby I had four bags of saline solution put back into my body before being released only to be met by my Scouse mate saying "come on lad, I want a bevvie".

Running in the heat particularly when it is also very humid, can be dangerous if we don't take care and therefore we do need to evaluate several things when it comes to running longer distances during what I am sure at some point will be the start of summer here in England, despite this week's weather suggesting otherwise.

During exercise blood transports heat to the skin whereby the body will start to sweat to help cool the skin surface.

However, the harder we work and the warmer the temperature, not only does the body use more blood to help remove the heat, this also leads to more sweat being released which is further complicated in humid conditions for which it is essential that we do take on adequate amounts of water or electrolyte drinks during exercise to avoid the risk of severe dehydration.

A three percent loss of body weight through dehydration will very much affect physical performance due to a number of physiological issues with regards to cardiac output and blood delivery to the working muscles.

This also then lends itself to difficulty with maintaining pace due the perceived effort feeling much greater than it is just as it did for me in Deluth.

Therefore and in truth it is probably a sensible idea to adjust your pace somewhat early on although that of course is easier said than done after weeks of planning and preparation to be at your best.

Most importantly though for those who do have some big events lined up during the next couple of months, be prepared, be sensible and don't end requiring medical help like I did all those years ago.

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