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.
Should I slow down, speed up, or stop altogether? Whatever you do, don't be afraid to struggle. Unless you’re over-ambitious, foolhardy, or vainglorious, you won’t injure yourself by pushing your legs and your lungs. Every workout can be a good workout as long as you make the right amount of effort. The key to your future happiness and fitness is your willingness to joyfully do battle with your weaknesses.
It’s not uncommon to see the North African leaders in a race cast caution to the wind by impulsively going out faster in their opening mile than anyone else would dare. Sometimes they even sacrifice their own race by going out hard, dropping their competitors only to tire in the late stages to allow one of their teammates to ultimately win. Look at their stride. They don’t think too much about planning or splits. They do things in more in a natural way. But at the same time, they can also get carried away.
Sometimes, for reasons difficult to explain, an athlete or weekend warrior will perform at a level far superior to their previous bests – and well beyond their most optimistic expectations. How does this happen? Craft and hard work are essential, of course. Planning, testing and monitoring also have their place. But what is the mysterious “X factor” that elevates an athlete’s performance above and beyond all expectation?
There was a time in my life when I thought the ultimate goal of running was to compete, and the greatest happiness to be derived from training was to win. For me, there was no worse feeling than not being able to race up to my expectations. Not surprisingly, I discovered that my happiness and self-esteem were directly linked to my win/loss record. I began to question the wisdom of this approach; I began studying the nature of competition itself.