You Can Train for a Tropical Marathon Even if You're Stuck in the Polar Vortex

This December, instead of shivering for four hours at my hometown’s holiday 5-K race, I will be coasting through the palm tree-lined Reggae Marathon course in Negril, Jamaica.

It's called a "destination marathon," and it's fast becoming a favorite way for runners to collect finishers' medals while on vacation. True, a long flight home may await me, but so does a piña colada and a beachside massage.

Have I convinced you to try one yet? Great! Of course, registering for the race and booking a flight are the easy steps. Training, however, is never simple. Factor in wildly different weather patterns—from sub-zero temps, snow, and ice to heat and humidity—and you make yourself susceptible to illness, exhaustion, and mental freakouts.
To prepare my body and mind (and yours) for the dual challenge of training in winter and racing in a summer-like climate, I recently talked to Jordan Metzl, M.D., a 29-time marathon finisher and author of The Exercise Cure, and Jennifer Strong Worrell, finisher of the 230-kilometer 2013 Namib Desert Challenge in Namibia's Namib-Naukluft National Park, to find out how to prepare for heated competition when the course is cold.
Brave All of the Elements
Or, as Strong Worrell says, "Practice suffering. The more you get out in it, whatever it is—snow, ice, rain, humidity, wind, heat—the more comfortable you'll feel on race day, no matter what the conditions are then." While it might seem contradictory to run in the cold when preparing for a marathon in the tropics, battling chily wind and rain will prepare the body for the enormous stress of regulating body temperature. If you can push yourself to run strong in a snowstorm, imagine how much easier those miles will feel when it’s 60 degrees and sunny.
Get Creative to Train in Race-Day Conditions
To prep your body for a hot-weather race, "the sweat rate needs to increase to improve your body's cooling mechanics," says Metzl. To get her body "working efficiently for Namib's 120-degree weather," Strong Worrell took up hot yoga and long stints in a sauna. Metzl agrees: "Try cycling or take an indoor running class once a week." You don't have to log every run in a steam room, but regular cross training in heated conditions will give your body a preview of what's to come.
Arrive at Your Destination Early
Metzl warns that it takes up to a week for your body to acclimate to a warmer spot if you've been training in the cold—so try to arrive at your race locale in advance. The day before a race, Strong Worrell logs a short run to, as she says, "get everything flowing and stretched out." Jet lag, she says, can also take a toll, so attune your body's internal clock to your destination's time zone in the weeks leading up to your race by going to bed and waking up earlier and earlier (or later and later, if necessary) each day.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
It's well known among competitive long-distance runners that once you feel thirsty on a run, you're already dehydrated. So drink as much water as you can the day before your race, and pack plenty of fluids for the main event. Strong Worrell also notes that running in developing countries may require you to BYO H20. "My first goal in countries where tap water is unsafe or unavailable is to get a liter of fresh bottled water so that I can stay hydrated during my race," she says. Metzl also recommends increasing salt intake during races in very hot and humid conditions to replenish electrolytes lost from excessive sweating—this can be accomplished by eating energy gels or blocks or simply drinking Gatorade regularly along your route.
Destination Races to Train for Now:
1. Marathon Bahamas
Nassau, Bahamas
January 18, 2015
2. Miami Marathon
Miami, Florida
January 25, 2015
3. Tahiti Moorea Marathon
Moorea, French Polynesia
February 21, 2015
4. Big Island International Marathon
Hilo, Hawaii
March 15, 2015
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Cary Randolph Fuller is the creator of TRACK&FEEL, an online destination for the elegant athlete launching this December. Follow Cary on Instagram @caryrandolph and TRACK&FEEL @trackandfeel.

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