I got off the plane in Abu Dhabi to a temperature reading of 102°F. I thought my saving grace would be the desert’s lack of humidity; I was very wrong. I set out for a casual four-mile run at 6:30 a.m., hoping to beat the worst of the heat. I did, but that wasn’t saying much. It was still over 80° when I started, and as the sun rose, so did the temperature and the humidity. On top of that, there was barely any road to run on—the hotel’s quaint brick roads quickly turned into soft trails through the sand dunes. Instead of banging out my usual Tuesday speed workout, I found myself slogging through four very slow, sweaty miles.
The silver lining: Those miles did come with benefits. “There’s definitely a mentally or spiritually freeing aspect to changing your venue, because training on the same routes can get stale quickly,” says Ian Torrence, an ultra-marathoner who also coaches ultra-marathoners through McMillan Running. Plus, “an optimal training program will include a variety of workouts—speed, stamina, endurance—that challenge your physiology across the board. This could also include tough terrain like hills and different surfaces like sand, rocks, and roots. These elements, when added intelligently to a plan, increase leg strength and aerobic capacity and improve coordination.” Great, desert runs FTW!
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Talk about a 180-degree change—in environment and weather, since the temperature dropped about 100 degrees after our flight north. In Finland, my friend and I road-tripped from Helsinki, at the southernmost tip of the country, to Luosto, a tiny town above the Arctic Circle. I had to log two runs during our time here: one three-mile run and one 16-mile run. The three-miler was easy enough; Finland was super flat, so that made me feel speedy and kept me from getting too cold while running around the lakes of Savonlinna.
The 16-miler, though—that’s where I messed up. On Saturday, long-run day, my friend and I spent nearly 10 hours in a car, driving over the Arctic Circle to Luosto, where we were staying in an igloo to watch the northern lights. I pushed the long run back a day, and when I woke up Sunday morning, everything was covered in Finland’s first winter snow. Sh*t. I told myself I had to run, so I put on my fleece-lined leggings, thermal long-sleeve and vest, mittens, fleece earband, and laced up my sneakers. I made it one mile. ONE MILE. The ground was too slippery and I honestly felt too isolated in the woods to go any farther on my own. I was disgusted with myself; I had two weeks until race day and all I could manage was a mile? I was screwed.
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“Missing one of the last big long runs can certainly hurt potential on race day, but that will vary based on the person, their goals, and how training has otherwise gone,” says Elizabeth Corkum, a USATF-certified running coach and senior instructor at Mile High Run Club in New York City. “The last real big long run is like the last big dress rehearsal. Now, obviously getting to the starting line healthy and safely is first priority, so if a runner is sick or injured, it would be advisable to prioritize rest.” My IT band had been bothering me since a half marathon two weeks before… I decided to chalk this up as an excuse to rest my leg pre-race, and I swore I wouldn’t miss a step of the taper.
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