Running a marathon is a challenge for most athletes. Doing it at midnight while it is 30 degrees Celsius is another matter altogether.
Some of the world’s best distance runners are preparing for just that, however, ahead of the World Athletics Championships in Doha next month.
“For me the challenge is to be as fit as possible, then I’ll worry about the heat … and midnight running,” marathon runner Julian Spence, a member of the Australian team, said.
The event’s schedule will see most events take place at night, away from the searing daytime Qatari heat.
In a world first, the marathon and race walking events will begin at midnight when the temperatures will still be in the high 20s.
Thermostats and saunas become secret weapons
Spence, 33, has been training during Ballarat’s winter.
He even had a run through the snow a few weeks ago.
It doesn’t look like the ideal preparation, but Spence has a secret weapon.
He owns a running equipment store in Ballarat where there’s a treadmill and he’s been cranking up the thermostat to simulate the Middle Eastern climate.
“It’ll come down to acclimatisation, and we can do that through using saunas,” he said.
“So I might go for a run and then I’ll jump in the sauna for half an hour.
“It stresses the body without compromising your training.”
But he is wary of overdoing it when he heads to Europe for some pre-championship altitude training.
“That stress can be harsh enough as it is, and if I start to add a lot of heat work to that, that’s when you can really cook yourself,” he joked.
Athletics Australia’s physiologist Ned Brophy-Williams said the final weeks of preparation before the event would be crucial.
“There are a whole range of different ways of attacking this challenge … whether that’s using heat tents, hot spas, steam rooms, or saunas,” he said.
“[But] we’re not going to see any world records broken in Doha.”
Midnight darkness an added challenge
Some athletes headed for the championships will go to Cairns first to acclimatise, while others will travel to Europe.
The event will be held just 10 months out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which will also be run in high temperatures.
“As much as the Doha world championships are our benchmark event for 2019, I see it as a bit of a practice run for Tokyo,” Mr Brophy-Williams said.
“[It’s] been a hot topic … to really prepare for those environments.”
The heat will be a significant factor — but running at midnight will also throw up serious challenges to endurance athletes.
“No-one’s done this before, no-one really races at midnight, there’s going to be 80 blokes on the starting line all in the same position,” Spence explained.
He said perception of speed and distance changed in lower light.
“The marathon is a very intuitive type of event where you need to be aware of how much you have left to give at any given time,” he said.
“Even just the perception of running in the dark, it can change how you feel, so there’ll be some practising going on.”
With the late nights, the saunas and the altitude, you could forgive Spence and the other endurance athletes for feeling like the world is against them.
“The biggest challenge for me is that it’s a world championship marathon,” Spence said.
“The excitement’s there … but [I’m] starting to look at the little challenges and difficulties that will come up.”