Stood in the Human Performance centre at the University of Bedfordshire waiting to begin my Heat Chamber training for the 2019 edition of Spartathlon and not much has changed since the last time I was here. I’m two years older, a couple of kg’s heavier and as I was soon to find out I was also a little fatter… There was also a new team in place helping Dr Jeff Aldous to once again oversee my training, but otherwise it was all familiar.
I had however forgotten how tough heat chamber training can be, especially when the great British summer has been unable to make up its mind in terms of temperature. I was soon reminded ten minutes into that first session as Jeff increased the treadmill speed to 12kph (normally a comfortable pace) and I felt like I was running at 16kph. The chamber was at 31 degrees, with the humidity in the high 70’s and it wasn’t long before I was soaked through with sweat.
Jeff had explained that this year we would be attempting to raise my core temperature to at least 38.5 degrees and then instead of pulling me out of the chamber, he would slow me down to an easy walk and keep me in then chamber until it dropped. I would then start running again…. Usual safety protocol is to remove participants from the chamber if they reach 38.5 degrees or see an increase of 2 degrees above resting core temperature, however having worked with me before Jeff knew that he could push these boundaries a little.
After a quick wee stop at 30 mins (yes I had to use the bucket and yes I should of gone before) I ran for the next 25 mins at 11.5kph until that core temp hit the magic 38.5. I then slowed down to 4kph for 15 minutes until Jeff was happy to push me back up to 12.5kph for 15 more minutes.
Every five minutes able assistant Charlotte was popping in and out to take readings for Thermal sensation, thermal comfort, Rate of perceived exertion and my heart rate, as well as monitoring the temperature and humidity in the chamber.
At the start of each session a thorough process is completed where my clothes are weighed, the water bottles are weighed, and then I am weighed. I also have to give a urine sample to ensure I am not dehydrated before entering the chamber (a score of less than 600 is needed), last but not least before sitting quietly for five minutes I have to have do the one thing that no one likes to do…. Yep you guessed it… its rectal thermometer insertion time! Which you will be glad to know I am not describing in detail. Once all these baselines are taken the session can start in earnest.
On Day 2 and it was more of the same, starting at 10kph as a warm up and then straight into 12kph for 40 mins, before dropping to 4kph for a 20 min walk to cool down again. We then finished the session with another burst at 12kph.
Day 3’s session saw the arrival of the third member of the team Emily, as Charlotte was given a break from my Diva demands! Claudia from the Universities media team also arrived to take some pics ready for a press release, so it was a good excuse to wear the 2019 team kit for the first time and check there were no chaffing issues. After chatting with Jeff we decided to keep me at 11.5kph until core temp was increased sufficiently, with maybe a quick blast again at the end. This time I ran for an hour, before the core temp reached just shy of 39 degrees. I then had a welcome 15 min walk, before ramping back up to 12kph to finish the session.
The press release can be found by clicking on the following link……. https://www.beds.ac.uk/news/2019/september/university-turns-up-the-heat-to-help-runner-ian-train-like-a-spartan/
The toughest part of being in the heat chamber is the boredom, you are allowed to listen to music but because headphones aren’t allowed at Sparta I don’t want to use them. So instead I have resorted to playing countdown style word games with the perceived exertion charts although neither Emily or Jeff were impressed with my 11 letter word ‘comfortable’ which I made from Uncomfortable!! Tough crowd!!!
Occasionally one of the team do stay for a chat, however they are keen not to affect the conditions in the chamber as too many bodies causes the humidity to spike. Hence often we resort to communicating through the window with a mixture of hand signals, lip reading, and the slightly unclear two way radio which is more akin to a baby monitor.
The team ensure that they keep me replenished with water on a regular basis, and I always feel bad when I pass them my sweat drenched bottle to be refilled. If I am good they even bring me my Sis Gel (others are available) after 45 minutes to fuel me for the 2nd half of the session.
Day 4 and again we went to another level, starting at 10kph, moving to 11.5kph and then being pushed on to 12kph after 30 mins. Things were going well until the rectal thermometer stopped working. This is an essential piece of kit which meant I had to do a quick change before I could continue. Luckily they have a modesty screen in the chamber so this could be done without leaving the environment.
Jumping back on the treadmill Jeff decided to push the speed up to 12.5kph for 25 minutes until my core temp reached its hottest yet at 39.1 degrees, suffice to say I was ready for a walk. It had been my toughest session yet and this was highlighted when my urine test registered 900 after leaving the chamber (remember 600 is dehydrated!!). This was despite drinking almost 2 litres of fluid during the session.
After an intense week Day 5 was always going to be a tough one, and Jeff decided that we would stay at 11.5kph. This meant that I was able to manage my longest stint of unbroken running for the week as my core temp didn’t reach 39 degrees until 65 mins had passed. I was then allowed to finish the session at 10kph for 10 minutes after a 15 minute walk at 4kph.
There is no doubt week one whilst being extremely tough has been hugely beneficial for me. Running in temperatures as high as 32 degrees, with humidity that has regularly hovered around 80% has ensured that even my usual comfortable speeds are a challenge to maintain. It has certainly highlighted how important pacing will be at Spartathlon as well as the need to ensure that I stay as fuelled and as hydrated as possible throughout the race.
I can head to Greece confident that my High Five hydration tabs are palatable in extreme heat, as are my gels, whilst I also know that my little gel sweets don’t agree with me in such temperatures. The socks provided by our team sponsors ‘Runderwear’ cope brilliantly with being saturated in sweat and the British Team Kit doesn’t chaff either.
For now the hard work is done, I have been given my heat acclimation homework for the weekend and I look forward to my final week of training before flying to Greece.
Huge thanks to Jeff, Emily and Charlotte, you have all been great…. Roll on week 2.