You are not Harder than the Sun

By Tanya Bennett

© Drawing by Tanya Bennett “The same boiling water that softens potatoes, hardens eggs. It’s all about what you are made of, not your circumstances.” How many times have you read a ‘motivational’ quote of this genre, spurring you on to overlook all the extenuating circumstances and just toughen TF up? This pain that you feel, this desire to give up and crawl back home, it’s all in your head! A *real* runner knows that “to change your body, you must first change your mind”. And look, yes, this tactic has worked marvelously for me upon many occasions, during training runs and ultra races. But at some point, this focus completely overrode my ability to be empathetic to my emotional and physical needs, and I lost all ability to listen to my body... Like the time I ran 80km on an injury and tore all three of my glutes and my piraformis; or the time I ran 40k through the midday summer sun and ended up with heat stroke that put me in bed for 3 days, shivering with a broken body thermostat. The stubbornness of the trail runner is something to be greatly admired, it is truly a impressive feat to run for hours throughout mountainous terrain. But, what if you are actually more of potato, and you don’t like eggs? This is particularly true when it comes to summer training. Often a down season for runners, the rise of ‘challenge culture’ to counter all of the races being cancelled this year, has resulted in more and more extreme activities being lauded. And more and more pressure being felt to participate. Sure, the benefits of heat acclimation can bolster your performance immensely. But, our physiological responses to heat and how we dissipate that through sweat and circulation, vary from person to person and listening to your body is essential in summer. When exercising in the heat, you run the risk of heat exhaustion, which, if ignored, can progress to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are illnesses related to the more general classification of hyperthermia, also known simply as overheating - a condition where an individual’s body temperature is elevated beyond normal due to failed thermo-regulation. Some of the first signs of heat exhaustion are headaches, cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. If you think you’re experiencing heat exhaustion: Stop all activity and rest Move to a cooler place Drink cool water or sports drinks I know firsthand that it is difficult not to get caught up the competitiveness of challenge leader-boards, or chasing your ideal weekly mileage, but these things should be pursued with much caution and your ego is something that absolutely must take a back seat to your physical health. I am finally starting to learn that I cannot outrun the humidity of the Hong Kong summer, and have put a few strategies in place to help me on my ever evolving journey in the world of ultrarunning. Firstly, I have learned to adjust my schedule. In the summer, I either get up at the break of dawn to catch a sunrise trail run, or I get out at sunset to run into the night. I don’t particularly like waking up early, but seeing the sun light up Victoria Harbour and getting home before I’d usually eat breakfast, gives me the extra smug points I need to not snooze through my alarm.  Secondly, and one of the most important decisions I made, was to adjust my race schedule. Given my inability to cope with long runs in the summer, I no longer book any major races until the following year, this means my summer running can be maintenance based, ramping up my training as the weather cools. Lastly, I have a very simple rule for myself every time I lace up and head out of the house: If it is hot, I hike. If it is rainy, I run! I used to think that hiking was cheating, and that when I hit the trails, I had to run and run hard. But, now I understand that although slower, there are just as many benefits to a hike. Don’t mistake this for a gentle amble however, I like to power walk at speed, a skill I find immensely useful in a ultra run (where unless you are an elite, you are most probably going to take some walking breaks). Hiking has also allowed me to connect with many friends that may be interested in trails but had never want to join me on a run, and has granted me opportunity to stop and appreciate many scenic moments I may have missed whilst caught up in the rigmarole of maintaining a certain pace. So, if you are not predisposed to the oppressive heat and humidity that South East Asia brings, like me, don’t pay heed to the notion that harder is always better - Remember, if you overcook an egg, the protein web becomes so tight and retains so little water that the egg white becomes rubbery and the yolk chalky - and that is never a tasty outcome.