If most people were asked to name five countries with outstanding running cultures, Japan would probably not show up on anyone's list. But Japan has one of the most extraordinary running cultures on the planet, unlike anything I’ve ever come across. Thousands of professional runners compete for corporate teams in some of the most competitive races in the world. The 135-mile Ekiden Relay Race is the nation’s premier sporting event. The legendary ‘Marathon Monks’ run a thousand marathons in a thousand days in their quest for spiritual enlightenment. Yuki Kawauchi of Setagaya, Tokyo, recently turned a very bright light on his country’s running legacy at the Marshfield New Year’s Day Marathon. Not only did he win with a world-leading time of 2:18:59, he did so in bone-chilling (1° F, / -13° C) Massachusetts weather.
Scientists have a pretty clear picture of what happens when summer sunlight, high air temperatures and/or humidity increase both skin and core temperatures in runners who increase their mileage training for a fall marathon or cyclists and triathletes preparing for autumn events. They bake. Muscles in motion generate enormous amounts of energy, only about 25 percent of which is used in contractions. The other 75 percent or so becomes body heat. Yet why someone has more difficulty dissipating body heat on one hot afternoon’s run than on another is still mysterious.
Ask Ryan Sandes, 35, of Cape Town, South Africa who claimed the Western States 100-Mile Endurance race earlier this summer, in part by virtue of his desert race experience. On race day, temperatures in the depths of the vaunted WS100 canyons reportedly reached 100 degrees.
“I would hit these hot-air pockets. It’s like suddenly you feel like you’re being smacked in the face. My core temperature went through the roof.” Sandes utilized simple cooling methods like ice hats and ice baths to lower his temperature and continued to remind himself, “If I can keep it together, I can win this thing.”
Pre-cooling may actually be the best way to acclimate the body and encourage the mind with summertime exertion. So is mid-run facial spray or dousing with giant sponges drenched in icy water.
I often found that the fitter I was, the stronger and quicker my adaptation to heat stress became. I would routinely reach my peak performance at altitude every July.
A Great Fall Season is Made in the Summer
“I speak these words to my college team every spring, as we head into summer training to prepare for the fall cross country season. The message is simple: If we wait until competition time to start worrying about getting fit, we are too late. Once we are in season, the focus shifts to sharpening and refining, bringing the fitness to full fruition. If we don’t have a summer foundation, then we are attempting to build and refine at the same time, which rarely works.
The in-season work is the fun part. We get to run fast, set new personal bests, and observe firsthand our progress. When we are in the summer, however, progress is more abstract and the work becomes an almost mind-numbing process of nailing the basics over and over again. In running that mean lots of monotonous miles run and repetitive form work. In other activities, that might mean dedicating a block of time to the not-so-sexy basics or putting effort into menial background work.
There’s little glory in the summer training grind, just as there’s little glory in learning the foundational knowledge of any subject. We’d much rather be performing fast intervals, or allowing our inner creativity to fly free on our latest project. But we can’t get there unless—until—we nail the basics. Whether in running or in life, you can’t shortcut the process of growth.” – Steve Magness