Best options for adjusting workouts to heat.

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Alright, as summer gets ready to peak, some of you are questioning why you decided to train for a September or October marathon! Many of you are not hitting your paces and question not only your sanity but your fitness levels too! Well, I can assure you that if you can trust that your training is still working, that good things can happen this fall. Now, that is not the big idea here, but rather, what I feel are your best options for adjusting your workouts so that you don’t dig a hole too deep to get out of. Before we go into this though, I have to preface with some tough love. The only way you’ll get anything out of this is if you are open-minded and trust me that if you adjust your workouts in some capacity you will be fine. 

You all know the basics- run early or late, and adjust your paces, so I won’t rehash all of that. Instead, let’s blend some adjustments we can make, but still feel like we are getting in what we need to. 

First things first, we need to acclimate to the weather. Even if we aren’t racing in it in the fall, we have to acclimate. If done right, it can make you a much stronger performer. So, with that, your easy runs should just be outside soaking in all that heat adaptation. On the other hand, we have to balance that out. We really can’t push it in even moderately extreme conditions six days a week without consequence. And, what I am going to share doesn’t have to be done all the time, but if you really need a break from the heat and humidity, then these ideas can pull you back from the edge on occasion. 

Speed Workouts

  1. The most obvious way we can adjust (beyond adjusting our paces), is to bring workouts inside to the treadmill. I know, it’s a dirty word for a lot of you. And the “hardcore” is going to explain to me how you’re not a real runner, or whatever. That’s cool. Having heat stroke doesn’t make you a runner at all for a while, maybe worse. For speed workouts, I am probably less likely to do this. Personally, I have a fear of blowing off the back end. So for speed, I might just turn into a hill workout on the treadmill. 
  2. Do hills instead. Any shorter speed workout with repeats that are in the 1-5 minute range can be turned into a hill workout instead. Hill work is speed in disguise. 
  3. Turn into a fartlek. Fartlek is really more about effort over time instead of pace over distance. So, if we are running in the heat, we can say, go do 8×2 minutes at a hard effort instead of forcing yourself into 8×600 meters at 8:00 pace. It takes the pressure off the goal of the workout to be at a certain pace. 

Strength Workouts

  1. Strength is an oddball intensity for a lot of people. For the 4-hour and above crew, it’s not much different than the marathon pace, so you might be fine just doing these as they are written. For the 3:30 and faster crew, you do start creeping closer to lactate threshold territory, so you do need to be careful as to not go over that here and then have to cut the workout short because the intensity with the duration put you in the danger zone. 
  2.  If running a fall marathon, strength workouts wouldn’t really be hitting until late August and into September for October marathons, so adjusting these will probably not be a point of action for most of you. I would say that for many of you, strength pace is probably the earliest you’d feel comfortable doing on the treadmill. You can always use our treadmill calculator and create that perfect combo of speed and grade to get the job done. 

Tempo Runs

  1. To be honest, from Mid-June through the end of August, I rarely give my athletes big continuous tempos (6-10 miles). When with the ODP, we rarely did them in the summer, either. Here’s a great example of a common marathon pace workout (I actually did it today)- 6×1 mile at marathon pace with 2:00 jog recovery. So, the breakdown is some repeat, no less than a mile, going up to about 5 miles per repeat, followed by a short recovery jog. 

So early on, it might be 6×1 mile, then 4×1.5 mile, much like the strength workouts, but a touch less recovery. I’d gradually build the volume to 8 to 10 miles of repeat volume. Once I did that, I’d focus on building the volume of the repeat. So, you might get to the point where you are doing 4×2 miles, 5×2 miles, 3×3 miles, 2×5 miles, 5-3-2 miles, 4-3-2-1 miles. Lots of options here. By the time you get to these workouts, you’ll probably be transitioning to cooler weather, so I would use these on the hotter days, but then do a traditional marathon pace tempo on cooler days. Besides, it helps break up (no pun intended) the monotony of just doing a tempo every Thursday. 

Of course, you do always have the treadmill, as well. I actually like doing treadmill tempos because it allows me to have zero excuses to practice my fueling at a marathon pace. This is a skill that is just as important as knowing the pace. 

Long Runs

  1. Run for time. Many times over the summer I will schedule my athletes with 90-minute to 2:30 (sometimes 3:00) long runs. I’ll see what they are averaging pace-wise on their easy days and use that as my guide for 12-16 mile long runs. 
  2. Again, I like the treadmill for the long run because it gives you a great opportunity to run a faster long run and really nail down your nutrition at the schedule that you want to maintain during the race. Is it boring? Probably? Is it worth becoming really good at fueling? Absolutely. 

One caveat to using the treadmill is that if your treadmill is in your garage and it’s warmer in your garage than it is outside, then by all means, skip the treadmill. But, if it’s in the basement or air conditioning or a gym, then it’s a great opportunity to see where your fitness truly is at instead of bassing it on a tempo run done during the morning with a dew point of 74 degrees and an air quality in the 100’s. 

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to do this all the time, but you have to balance what is being thrown at you. I am all for hard work, but being foolish about not thinking that it has an effect on you isn’t going to do you any favors. I see it all the time, people just beat themselves down way more than they should- mentally and physically. By the time they get to the fall, they are just spent in both areas and then they never race to their potential. Let’s not just prove we can train hard, but let’s prove that we can train with our heads so that we can race our best! 

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