Ever since I read "Born to Run", I get what I call “Badwater fever" every July. As most know, Badwater is that ridiculous ultramarathon in Death Valley. It is held mid-July and spans 135 blistering, horrible miles up to Mt. Whitney. People describe their shoes melting into the pavement, experiencing heat-induced hallucinations, and essentially, the feeling that they are going to die on the side of the road.
Of course, the minute I read about it, my only thought was, “I must do this.”
Two summers ago, I started to incorporate heat-acclimating runs into my daily runs. Mostly they were 3-5 mile runs when Scott had baseball practice; about 110 degrees for 30-50 minutes. Not because I was training for Badwater, but more because I wanted to be ready for the end of marathons in full sun and rising temperatures without feeling like I was dying.
It worked - I ran Indy very well that November, albeit it was cloudy and 50 degrees. But the heat training made me think there was something to it. The mental benefits alone were significant. You just need to remember to bring gum, a handheld water bottle, and the belief that nothing lasts forever.
Nowadays, my running time is limited. Cool morning runs have been replaced by rushed lunch runs on the unforgiving Beltway Trail, a hellish path with no shade. But to be honest I kind of like the suffering. Typically, I'll run to the bank, take an hour to trek up the Beltway, then wind down the streets of Summerlin only to arrive at my office with a crazy sense of accomplishment and a ton of energy. It feels great. By the way - my Board of Directors TOLD me to take these breaks. Who am I to say no?
Even better, we had a record-breaking cool spring; it was amazing. Summer arrived in Vegas in mid-June with a vengeance, but my desire to keep training in heat persisted. Perhaps most exciting: I can sleep in! No more 4am wake ups to get miles in. I am heat acclimated! I am a desert lizard! I AM WELL RESTED DESERT LIZARD!
(::insert inappropriate yelp of pride that will soon be followed by its fall::)
On Saturday, I slept through my alarm. Note to self: buy a new alarm. By the time I finally dragged myself out of bed, it was 10am. Wow. I felt like I was in college again. Scott was safely in the Midwest with family and I was single as a Pringle. I could do whatever the heck I wanted. Namely: run Red Rock.
So despite heat warnings, I packed my car and headed to the town of Blue Diamond. I LOVE the town of Blue Diamond. I wish I could live there. It’s so small and so quaint; it’s essentially located in the armpit of Red Rock Conservation Area and its population sign actually references the burros that wander through town on occasion. A million runners and cyclists stage here every weekend, swarming the little town with aggression, ambition and bad parking. I have no idea how its inhabitants stand us.
That lasted approximately 18 minutes. By mile 2, I stopped to catch my breath. This was way harder than I thought. But if I was running Badwater, I would have 133 miles to go. So I kept going.
I climbed and climbed. I’d run this route a hundred times before, but never with this much effort. I kept my footsteps on the white line, since the asphalt was spitting heat at me. Small goals: run the mile you are in. Be present. Embrace the suffering. It will all be okay.
By the time I made it to the Overlook, mile 6 out of 12, my tune had changed considerably. It sounded more like, “F this s**t.”
I found a totally normal-looking family on holiday WITH A COOLER and begged them for a bottle of water. They looked at me like I had three heads. I tried to play it all cool and nonchalant, like yeah, I do this all the time, oh, you think it's hot? Wha? Nahhh.
They gave me water.
I almost cried.
I ran off before I could ask them for a ride.
My main reason to continue: we all know Strava is unforgiving. It tracks every step. Accountability is clearly the thief of joy.
I ran back. Downhill, right? Easy peasy. Except my damn heart rate wouldn’t go down. It averaged between 190 and 200 bpm; WAY over the max for a long run, especially going downhill. My lips were cracking, I had stopped sweating.
The water I had left for myself at the next stop was boiling hot. I was pissed. I was hot. I was looking at my watch constantly; how in the WORLD was it only mile 7.3?
The horizon started to shimmer in the distance and the first tentacles of heat stroke were slowly starting to twist themselves around me. By the time I reached First Creek, I looked around for other human beings. Help in the form of modern transportation. I spotted a small male loading logs into his car. Damn the fact I had just watched the complete series of "Confessions of a Killer: the Ted Bundy Tapes." I needed help and I had few options. If the dude clubs me to death, well, that's a tough way to go. Yet it still seemed like a more glorious end than dying on the side of Highway 159 and having my body picked apart by vultures (who, by the way, were circling above).
Turns out Ted Bundy was nothing more than a sweet graduate student from UNLV that enjoys hiking and traveling. He needed the logs for a research project. He told me later that he honestly thought I was going to yell at him for taking logs when I first approached him. I'm not even sure I was walking a straight line at that point; I was in no place to comment on his log-collecting.
Happily, he drove me to the entrance of the town without incident. I told him I would pay his kindness forward and thanked him for not killing me. He laughed.
The good people in this world outnumber the bad. Period.
I spent Sunday licking my wounds and Monday running in those delicious morning hours. Tuesday, I slept in (ahh!) and managed to arrive almost an hour early to my second meeting of the day, conveniently held at a nature preserve, as the team was meeting to discuss a possible venue for our Fall 5K. With my free hour, why not run the course? I had my running shoes on! It was only 91 degrees. Plenty of water AND time. I can get my 2 mile warm-up in, then bust out some 400s. I was feeling exceptionally proud of my planning until...
A golf cart scared the pants off of me on Mile 1.5 when it drove up behind me. The security guard rather formally told me that a call had been made about a “random jogger” in restricted areas. Restricted areas? I am a rule follower! I didn't see any signs. I looked at my feet; still on pavement. I'd been on the road the whole time; it wasn't like I was scaling fences. The man told me that I missed the main trail (how?) and my presence was “of concern.”
I was still trying to formulate a response ("...I broke the rules?") when he offered me some advice: “Jogging in this heat is dangerous.”
Like any runner, the use of the “j” word is enough to inspire an eye roll, a shake of the head, a snotty comment. I blinked. Choosing to ignore his vernacular ("...I am a jogger?"), I simply said I was heat-acclimating. He asked what heat-acclimation was. I explained the issue with hot marathons. St. George. LA 2015. Boston 2017. Badwater EVERY year. Runners live to suffer. So I enjoy frying my body in the midday sun while pushing the pace - what's the miscommunication? Why was this guy not getting it?
He blinked at me. We were at a total standstill.
Like fool, I didn't know when to shut my mouth and informed him this was only the warmup; I still had 8x400 to run with 200m floats, followed by a 1 mile cool down.
His jaw visibly dropped. I guess people don't use this area for speed work?
He told me the trails were for “walkers and cyclists,” not joggers. (I coughed loudly; the j-word again) and said I needed to leave. Fearing arrest via golf cart, I agreed to head back to the main area. I wasn't sure if I should run or walk - running was forbidden, yes? Well, it was too hot to walk. So I ran, a tiny little rebellion that felt pretty darn good. By the time I got back, I found my water bottle and called it a day. I finished my run later at Mesa Park, where runners are allowed to run at all times without government oversight or interference.
The summary of all of this: running in heat is a suffer fest but it makes you stronger. Some people may never understand this, and that's okay. The bottom line: running is always an adventure.
And Badwater is still on my mind... :-)