In March, for the last two weeks before I flew out to Morocco for the MDS, I went to Florida with my parents. We have family there and used to go regularly when I was a child, but it had been over a decade. It was going to be a proper family holiday, revisiting the theme parks, eating lots of naughty foods, lounging by the pool, but also fitting in some heat training.
A lot of people did heat chamber sessions to prepare themselves for the scorching heat of the desert, but they’re expensive and after forking out a lot of money on the race itself and kit, I was reluctant to pay more. Then when I had a last minute panic, they were all fully booked. But luckily I’d booked my holiday, so while out there I booked two marathons, and planned two parkruns and a few training runs.
The first week I was there, I did a couple of runs, just short 3-4 milers but came in dripping in sweat with the humidity even though it wasn’t all that hot. Then the weekend came. At the time, there were only 4 parkruns in the whole USA and one was in Florida. I couldn’t resist so my mum and I drove there, only to find a half ironman taking place instead. We watched the start and got bitten to bits my insects, while I pouted wanting to be taking part! Sunday we drove to Withlacoochee state forest for the Citrus Trail Marathon. It was a very friendly race by Endeavour Racing with 4, 10, 26.2 and 31 mile options. I ran the marathon and my mum the 10 miler. Each distance only had a small number of runners as many people entered as teams of 4, one doing each. It was beautiful. I did my usual thing of going out fast and hanging on, but wow, florida trails are very different to rugged British trails. It was very flat and very pleasant. I was on my own the entire way round, so I stopped and chatted to the marshals, took photos and took in the scenery. I only saw one other runner the whole time and he asked if I was an elite. I said no, and he said “Oh, we must have both gone wrong then, we’re the first to this checkpoint”. Then I realised what he meant, and no, I was winning but he was a 50km runner and had missed one of the switchbacks so he had to go back. I was absolutely ecstatic coming home not just first lady, but first overall.
The second weekend, my mum and I made it to parkrun, a really welcoming group were there including ex-pats who’d introduced the race having moved from near Bushy Park in London where it all originated. They had disclaimers for the American participants to sign (can you imagine that happening back home with hundreds of people turning up?!) and a whiteboard for tourists to write on their names and where they’d come from. I placed second, running my 2nd best parkrun time to date.
That evening we drove to Ormond Beach, ready for the Tomoka Marathon on the Sunday. It started early in the dark, and off I tanked. I held 1st position until around mile 5, and then I got caught by a very strong lady. But I held on to second and felt so strong all the way through, finishing in a time of 3:17:28, which I’d never dreamed off achieving, my previous best being around 3:31. I took home the trophy for first female 25-29. The winning lady ran a phenomenal 3:00 and seconds. The winning male, Tim has a really interesting Instagram account to follow @the_american_runner
So, did it count as heat training? It’s hard to say. The majority of the week the temperature maxed out at around 25 degrees, warmer than home, but much cooler than the desert was going to be. The humidity was obviously unlike the arid heat of the desert. And the marathons were 1st) sheltered through a forest, and 2nd) started so early, I was done before the day got hot. However, I think it suited me, and when I got to the Sahara, the heat honestly wasn’t an issue for me. The photos of people coming out of the heat chambers showed the dripping in sweat, which I wasn’t in the desert. They’re got for scientific sweat testing etc. but its so hard to simulate the dry heat of the MDS. I was happy with my prep as it was and would do similar next time. The Cheesecake Factory visits and several frozen Butterbeers at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter definitely didn’t count as training, that’s for sure!