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(Special contribution from the 2013 Guam Triathlon Champion and multi-race winner: Training in a Tropical Climate)

The tropical climate of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands could be brutal if not prepared. It's important to be prepared for such conditions to excel in races such as the Guam XTERRA. (courtesy photo)

The tropical climate of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands could be brutal if not prepared. It’s important to be prepared for such conditions to excel in races such as the Guam XTERRA. (courtesy photo)

By Charlie Epperson

The climate of Guam and the surrounding Northern Marianas Islands (NMI) can be brutal for those not accustomed to consistent high temperatures and more often than not the excessive humidity that comes along with it. We find that a good percentage of athletes competing on Guam come from one of three groups: either visiting athletes from our neighbors in Japan and Korea, transplanted US mainland athletes, or from the strong local running, triathlon, and cycling community that have spent most of their lives on the island.

For the adventure travel racer, Guam and NMI serve as exotic race destinations that offer a surprising number of race opportunities, including numerous marathons, road and off road triathlons, and cycling events each year.

For the rest of us that call Guam and NMI home for a either few years or a lifetime, the benefits and challenges of training and racing in this environment can be a rewarding experience measured by both athletic accomplishments and the bonds developed in your training and racing communities. This series is intended to assist all those interested in preparing to tackle any of the upcoming endurance races in 2014 with some sound advice from a number of seasoned racers and athletes.

The advice I offer is based on my personal experiences as I struggled to adapt to this environment when I relocated to Guam in early 2011. As you hear from some of the other athletes in this series, it becomes evident that we each take a slightly different path to reach our goals. These are products of our experience, coaching, successes and failures as we still continue to mature with our own training. Of course, you will also see some common training principles that are necessary to improve, stay health, and ultimately enjoy the experience. Here are a few that I recommend to practice:

Second male finisher for Strides for the Cure 5k was Chalie Epperson. (photo by Jesse Castro)

Chalie Epperson is always in the lead pack of local runs and has come in first place on numerous events. (GSPN file photo)

“Do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent every month. No matter how good you feel, be very gradual. You won’t know until it’s too late that you’re overdoing it.” – Alberto Salazar

During my first six months on Guam, I suffered daily as I attempted to log easy running miles. I found myself on a number of occasions either turning back early, walking, or worst yet sandbagging my run all together because my body was not adapting quickly to the environment. In hindsight, my acclimation was on track with how a number of other runners have adapted to this climate. But, at the time (especially if it is your first experience) you wonder if this phase will ever pass.

Lucky for us, Guam and the Marianas offers what seems like a never ending season of races ranging from the local 5k to the Guam International Marathon and the week long Saipan Sports Fest held in April, so don’t worry too much about missing the next big race since another opportunity is always around the next corner. As you begin to train for your next race or series of races building up to a marathon, an ultra run, or any long distance cycling/triathlon event, don’t worry if you experience a few setbacks along the way. Be patient, be consistent, and be flexible with your training.

“It was 85 degrees and 90% relative humidity. I remember trying to stay with Bill Rodgers…feeling funny…then I woke up in a tub of ice. I lost 20 or 30 minutes. My body temperature was over 108.” – Alberto Salazar discussing his life threatening heat stroke episode at the 1980 Falmouth Road Race

The climate motivates, or better yet, requires athletes to become early risers. It is not unusual to start and finish a race before the sun rises. Still, I’m amazed to see people training during the hottest part of the day. To achieve the volume of training that is demanded for cyclists, runners, and triathletes-it remains a necessity to get started early or wait until the sun goes down to do the majority of your training. I’ve heard counter arguments that it better prepares you for your race, but unless you are signed up for an ultra run that goes into the hottest part of the day or attempting a bid to race the Ironman World Championships in Kona, I highly recommend avoiding the hottest part of the day. At least while you are attempting to acclimate, there is little added training value in sitting on the side of the road suffering from dehydration.

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other but to be with each other.” – Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run

The best way to integrate into the endurance racing community is by joining one the many discipline-specific clubs that exist. Even if you are the lone warrior that enjoys the solitude of running and bicycling solo, it is still your best bet to get a lay of the land. The Guam Running Club (GRC) served as my introduction into the racing scene and I was lucky to befriend a number of runners that have offered advice to my training and development. The GRC has a rich history that is highlighted by a very thoughtful progressive race calendar that serves to prepare runners for the Guam Marathon typically held in March. If your goal is to run an early spring Marathon or Half Marathon, I recommend taking advantage of their races starting with the 6.7 mile Alley Oop race this Saturday in Umatac. Other upcoming running events to keep on your radar:

The Guam Running Club is a good group to get your run on throughout the island and throughout the year. (courtesy photo)

The Guam Running Club is a good group to get your run on throughout the island and throughout the year. (courtesy photo)

Jan 4th- Cross Island 10 Miler
Jan 18th- Guam Hafa Marathon (13.1 miles)
Feb 2nd- Gate-to-Gate 21 Mile Training Run
Feb 23rd- Guam Marathon
Apr 13th- Guam International Marathon, Half, 10K, & 5K
Apr 19th- Saipan Marathon, Half, 10K
Apr 26th- Perimeter Relay and Ultra Run (48.6 miles)

The Guam Triathlon Federation (GTF) and their cycling counterpart the Guam Cycle Federation (GCF) are equally accommodating to the beginner and have developed races that lead up to their signature events for the year. CGF has the popular Tour de Guahan scheduled for January 19th.
Upcoming GTF Races and Xterra Offroad Triathlons:

Jan 12th- Stick n’ Back Super Sprint
Feb 9th- Dual Distance National Qualifier #1 Tri
Feb 23rd- Dual Distance National Qualifier #2 Tri
Mar 8th- Xterra Philippines
Mar 16th- Air Force Triathlon
Mar 23rd- Kaduku Duo (Mt. Tenjo, Piti)
Mar 29th- Xterra Guam
Apr 5th- Xterra Saipan
Apr 12th- Tagman Saipan (Olympic and 70.3 Distances)
May 4th- Dual Distance Tri Series #1
May 18th- Dual Distance Tri Series #2
Jun 1st- Cocos Crossing 2.5 & 5 mile swim
Jun 21st- Pacific National Triathlon Championship (Guam Nat’t Tri Olympic Distance)

These groups and a number of others I failed to mention serve to provide you more than an escape on the weekend. They can point you in the right direction with your training and you can rely heavily on them for advice, technical expertise, and general familiarization of the island. Join a group or two and take full advantage of the vibrant athletic community.

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” – T. Alan Armstrong

It's not all about the run either. The Pacific Ocean is nice and warm out here. Jump in on numerous triathlons as well. (courtesy photo)

It’s not all about the run either. The Pacific Ocean is nice and warm out here. Jump in on numerous triathlons as well. (courtesy photo)

Now that you have the race calendars that highlight some of the upcoming races, it’s time to put on paper your goals and what races you want focus in the coming year. Again, Guam and NMI have so many races that I only pick one or two to try to race at 100% effort. I typically use the other races as building blocks within my training.

Every December, I will spend a few days researching races and dates to see I what options I have for the upcoming year. As part of my preparation, I talk with my running and triathlon buddies about what destination races they are interested in and to see if we can possibly align to race together a couple of times a year. I’ve found I enjoy racing much more when traveling with a small group, racing each other. More importantly, much of the enjoyment comes from the common practice of reliving our recent accomplishments, or in some cases our defeat, over a few beers afterwards!

My goals are typically structured around realizing a small improvement in my overall time for the same race or distance- although this remains a challenge as courses and weather conditions continuously change. But, it serves as a good baseline assessment of where I’m at presently. For example, I know I ran just over 60 minutes and close behind Derek Mandell at the Cross Island 10 miler race last January. My goal this year is to run around 58 minutes, which is based partly on what I remember of my fitness from last year compared to how I feel now. A more significant factor is I had a relative injury free year and was consistent with my mileage throughout the year. I’ll use my performance at this year’s Cross Island race to gauge what I can accomplish in the upcoming races and where to better focus my training as I gear up for the long running and triathlon season.

My overarching goals for the year are to race a strong half marathon in Hong Kong in mid-February, return home to focus more on mountain biking and swimming leading up to Xterra Guam and Saipan races, head to the US in May to race near my home and friends in Tennessee, then return to Guam to race the National Triathlon in late June. No doubt that’s a lot of races and this likely may change as the year progresses, but these are my goals for the season. I will use them to develop a training plan that accounts for some recovery time between races and building up periods for the more important races on my schedule. In my case, I put together an extensive race schedule because it serves two purposes. First, the shear number of races on Guam makes it possible and relativity cheap to race this often. Secondly, if I get injured or have a set back throughout the year, I can regroup and focus on another goal without experiencing too much frustration over an injury or illness.

Guam has some bike trails too for your fitness needs. (courtesy photo)

Guam has some bike trails too for your fitness needs. (courtesy photo)

Regardless of what your race goals are for the year, I encourage you to write it down and begin to map a training plan to help you prepare for these events. Once you’ve got to this point, you can either utilize some of the runners or triathletes in your network, or if you need the extra push, hire a professional coach to assist with outlining day-to-day workouts to reach these race goals.

“There is an expression among even the most advanced runners that getting your shoes on is the hardest part of any workout…” – Kathrine Switzer (first woman to run the Boston Marathon)

The quote above likely resonates with all of us. The heat and humidity are not the biggest obstacles we face as we strive to reach a goal this year- albeit they’re always there! Your goal may be to swim the Cocos Channel or take up mountain biking or complete your first marathon. I wish you luck and good health along the way. Stay committed, be patient, and listen to your body.
As I normally do in my own training, I ask for advice. In the coming weeks, I’ll tap some successful endurance competitors to share their perspective with you on training and racing in future articles. Until then start working on your goals for next year!

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