After running 61 kilometers (38 miles) for my birthday last January I decided that I would like to run an ultra marathon race. A local one if possible and the Nanny Goat 12/24hour 100mile race in May fit the bill. It is a one-mile loop course on a horse ranch dotted with lots of orange trees and other assorted trees like Eucalyptus along Victoria Avenue.
I did not sign up right away as I was intimidated by the prospect but did start training as if I were going to run it. I started ramping up my distance and working into doing back-to-back long runs on the weekend. It was hard at first running at the slower pace but I did finally adapt to it. The toughest part for me was when the weather started getting warmer. I found it hard to be out on training runs of 4 hours or more in the hotter weather but I knew that there was a great possibility that I would be running in those very conditions during a 24-hour race.
In the Goat Pen just before the race!
I found that I really struggled after the 3.5 to 4 hour mark on warm days but did not link this with a lack of salt. I simply thought I was not acclimated to the warmer climate as yet and just needed to run in the heat more. I did find that dry heat with a 20-degree dew point or lower did not bother me nearly as much as say a 50 or 60-degree dew point day with overcast and relatively low temps in the 70’s. While above 60 degrees is not really ideal for running anyway there was a huge difference between running at 70 degrees with a 40-degree dew point and bright sunshine and 70 degrees with a 65-degree dew point and overcast. For me the difference was astounding. I have come to believe that heavy sweaters have the most trouble with higher dew points than average to low sweaters.
I found that I needed to take in 50 ounces or more of fluids an hour to try and stay fully hydrated in this kind of weather as opposed to only about half that in 50 degrees and a 40-degree or lower dew point. This is apparently why I did not have that much trouble running 38 miles in 7 hours and 20 minutes back in January starting at 4:30am. I was hoping with the extra training to be able to do close to the same at Nanny Goat in the 24-hour race.
My last two long training runs of 27 miles were an omen of things to come. The first one was actually planned as 27 but I really fell off during the last 7 miles. The next one a week later was planned as 30 miles but my ankle and heel were killing me by mile 17. I also wasn’t feeling so great at that point but kept on running. By mile 26 I was really struggling and my left heel and ankle were really getting tight and sore. I decided that if I could get my wife to pick me up at the 27-mile mark, with an easy access to the trail for the road, that I would take her up on it. Truth be told, if I weren’t feeling so badly other wise from dead legs and stomach problems I probably would have gutted it out even with the heel and ankle problem.
That was three weeks out from the race and I did not run again for 5 days do to my heel and ankle being sore. Then next few weeks I did not get in nearly enough running. I know I was tapering but with the little running I did it was a super taper. This was mostly due to the weather combined with my heel and ankle problems not healing as quickly as I would like.
The day of the race came and most were relieved to see that the morning would be mostly overcast. I on the other hand was not excited about that at all as along with the 60+ degree starting temperature and overcast was a 60-65 degree dew point. When the dew point and the temperature are almost the same it means that the humidity is pretty close to 100%. Also when I am able to stand around in my running clothes feeling perfectly comfortable before a race it does not bode well for me. Those were the exact conditions that occurred.
Other than some initial intestinal problems and maybe drinking a little too much during the first 2 hours of the race I managed to stay fairly comfortable for the first 5 hours albeit at a much slower pace than I had hoped for. Somewhere between 4 and 5 hours I started having stomach problems and preferred water over my Perpetuem sports drink. I was taking electrolyte capsules every hour but between the capsules and what my drink provided I was only taking in about 450mg per hour of sodium. Because of my sweat rate and the fact that I leave a lot of salt on my skin it would appear that I should have been taking in close to 3 times that amount of sodium.
Me at mile 25
I was falling into a brain fog and I was really forcing myself to take in any nutrition at all. My urine output and color was fine yet I was feeling extremely hot even when I was just sitting for the 20 minutes rest I took at about 6.5 hours into the race. I was walking as much or more than I was running by that time. This was my first time having gone that long of a time in these weather conditions and while I could get away with it in a 4-5 hour marathon I was not getting away with it here.
In hind sight I wish I would have known that it was a salt problem and I would have sat or walked slowly for an hour or two while I built my blood sodium levels back up. I, however, was not thinking clearly and was in such distress that I could not imagine keeping this up for another 16 hours or more.
At just a little under 8 hours I decided to sit a while and see if rest would revive me again but after about 30 minutes or more of sitting and trying to drink I felt it was best to stop and live to fight another day.
I had made it 30 miles in just less than 8 hours and yet 4 months earlier I had run 38 miles in just 7 hours 20 minutes and did not feel at all bad at the end. In fact I was able to give a 200-yard sprint at the end of that long run. Here I was all spent and 8 miles short of my longest run and that wasn’t even a race.
It took until noon the next day before my brain fog lifted. I weighed exactly the same when I got home as I weighed when I left home that morning. I, however, could not eat a full meal all evening. I could only manage small snacks here and there. I really did not want breakfast the next morning but forced myself. By noon my demeanor was returning to normal but my legs still felt like lead and I was extremely sore. This all leads me to believe that I was in the early stages of hyponatremia from my blood sodium levels being to low. I did have some of the classic symptoms, although I was not cramping, but not everyone does.
I am anxious to test out my hypothesis of too little sodium, but the experience has left me with a feeling of anxiety about doing another long run in the heat. I am sure that will wear off soon and I will be able to test out my theory as there is plenty of summer left, although we don’t often get 65 degree dew points during the summer months in the inland Southern California area.
I hope my story can help someone else diagnose a problem they are having doing long runs in the heat and or high humidity and solve it before they have a disappointing result in a race because of it.