Running in Hell

My true feelings for the small eastern North Carolina community I’ve inhabited for nearly four years have ranged from private loathing to precariously negotiated contentment. Though I’ve always tried to make the best of being somewhere where a healthy, progressive way of being is by default a radically alternative lifestyle, I’ve never embraced the local culture. Truthfully, I never thought it worth it the effort and internal change required for that to happen.

With my time here waning, I experienced a realization: This really, truly is Hell.

Heat wave

The epiphany arrived with an unseasonable heat wave earlier this week. “It’s 99 in the shade,” isn’t an exaggerated cliche. Additionally, when the wind shifts just so it delivers smoke and haze from a 30,000-acre wildfire contained but still smoldering 45 minutes south. It’s as if the fire and brimstone ever-threatened from the pulpits of unairconditioned Southern Baptist churches has finally arrived to punish us for all our evil-doings.

What’s a would-be ultramarathoner to do about the torrid conditions? Run in them — but with modifications and precautions. Here’s how I kept from getting too hot and bothered.

Beat the heat.Finding the most temperate conditions meant getting started by 6 a.m. and finishing before the sun rose too high. As pre-dawn activity isn’t my true nature, I traded one comfort zone for another. It was more than worth it.

Slowed down and drank up. In heat and humidity, I’m good at my usual training paces for an hour, tops. I gave myself permission to ignore pace and run by feel, always finding a comfortable effort. Though speed decreased, the frequency of needing liquid increased significantly. Carrying water or stashing refreshing bottles of melting frozen Gatorade to sip from quenched my thirst.

Searched for shade. The neighborhood where I live has no shade and plenty of baking pavement. Not ideal. The extra time and effort to drive to a tree-lined section of town and nature trails near the breezier coast paid off. I still felt the sweaty weight of saturated air, but never had the sensation of being too hot. Thank you trees!

Sought motivation.If pushing through humidity ever started my mind grumbling, I reminded myself that no one makes me run, and the ability is a privilege. I thought of runners who complete the inferno-like Badwater Ultramarathon. I thought of soldiers in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, letter carriers, and laborers, for whom making a living requires being active in any conditions. I looked ahead to when safe training in heat will provide an additional increase in fitness.

Treated myself to the treadmill. One day I pampered myself on the treadmill with built-in fan and satellite radio in the climate-controlled YMCA. The relief of not having to deal with sticky conditions translated into a grateful, super-charged run. It was more like going to the spa for eight miles.

Reviewed information about running in hot weather. It’s potentially life-saving to follow these practices and recognize signs of heat illness. I stayed mindful to the typical symptoms I experience when overheated: chills, nausea, and cramping.

Temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit will never be ideal for performing an activity that raises the body’s temperature. But with time and safety practices, the amazing human body will adjust. After all, people have lived and run comfortably in the Middle East and Southern Hemisphere for thousands of years. I aim to follow in their footsteps.

If you’ve got a tried-and-true method of keeping your cool, please add it in a Comment.

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1 Response to “Running in Hell”


  1. 1 anthonyp June 9, 2008 at 5:45 am

    I know how you feel – we hit temps of 95+ yesterday for the Need for Speed Relay. It was nuts out there and they cancelled the relay later in the day due to so many people having to go to the hospital due to dehydration.

    Today we are expecting a high of 97 with a real feel in the 100s !


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