Like the Wind x BUFF® Partnership
Planet Earth completes an orbit of the sun once every 365 days, give or take an hour or so. We know that, right? But the details are mesmerising: to complete that orbit, our planet travels through space at 67,000 miles per hour. That means we travel approximately 1.6 million miles per day. And of course, the planet is also spinning. One rotation every 24 hours, give or take a few seconds. Every square centimetre of the surface of the Earth gets to see the sun during each spin, which means that at the equator we are rotating at 1,037 miles per hour. Although of course at the poles, we are travelling a lot slower. In theory, we are not moving at all.
These statistics are all well and good. But as runners, we are interested in more modest numbers: our pace, measured in minutes per mile or kilometre; or our times, measured in hours, minutes and seconds. But that is not to say that we are not interested in – and impacted by – the realities of space and the planets.
The sun plays a part in many of our running activities – whether these are achievements or the runs we weren’t so happy with. Runners from around the world share their stories of the sun in this short collection.
Sunrise can be a magical time. In ancient mythologies and religions, sun gods were worshipped daily. Filipino legend tells of Algao, the Aeta sun god who battled the giant turtle Bacobaco. Inti, patron deity of the Inca empire, was god of the sun. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Khepri, god of the rising sun, creation and renewal of life. And those are only a few.
For runners, the sunrise hours can act as their moment of peace and quiet. When Liam Lonsdale lived in San Francisco, he would wake at 4.30am to get ready to run across the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands for a couple of hours on the trails.
“I’d have some breakfast, drink a coffee and be out of the door by 5.30am,” Liam says. “It was a 40 minute run to the Golden Gate Bridge, which would be my warm-up. And many mornings, as my muscles warmed up, so did my skin as the sun rose over the East Bay, as I crossed the bridge. That was such a special time and I’d feel totally energised by the time I hit the SCA trail on the north side. I’d get a couple of hours in on the trails there and then run back across the bridge and be home for breakfast with my young family.”
For ultra distance runner Mimi Anderson, seeing the sunrise was a daily ritual in her quest to break the women’s world record for running across America. The aim was to run a double marathon – more than 50 miles – each day, so Mimi would set her alarm so she was running before dawn every morning.
“My support team would help me get ready in the morning, which really helped me make sure I was on the road by 5am,” Mimi says. “That had the marvellous effect of meaning that I saw the sun rise every day as I headed east from Los Angeles. And while each day would start the same, the landscape I’d encounter would be constantly changing as I moved through the states.”
In the end Mimi did not manage to break the record. She broke herself instead. But that hardly seems to have reduced her love for the experience and the positive memories she has of setting out each day to be greeted by the sun climbing into the sky.
Of course, our experiences of running under the sun’s glare are not always positive. David Garb was chasing a sub-three-hour marathon, and felt as though that elusive number was within his grasp when he secured a place at the 2013 London Marathon.
“In the previous year I had achieved a personal best marathon time of 3h10m and so I headed to London with dreams of possibly achieving that magical sub-three-hour marathon,” David explains. But factors beyond his control would conspire against him. “My dreams were shattered due to the race’s late start time and the high temperature on the day. The midday sun wiped me out… along with my sub-three-hour dream!”
For Emma Joy, it felt as though she could somehow affect the weather, simply by signing up for a race. “My family have an ongoing joke that they should always book a holiday when I am racing,” she laughs, “because whenever I have started a marathon, it has always been a scorching hot!” For Emma, the sun has been both a curse and a blessing. “I ran my third marathon in Paris in 2017 on a very hot day and I struggled,” she remembers. “Without the right kit and preparation, I couldn’t enjoy the experience at all.
It was so bad that I actually told myself that I would never run a marathon again!
“Of course, I did sign up for another. And I made sure that I was better prepared. Running in the heat for my marathon in Amsterdam in 2018, I loved every moment. It goes to show, you have to be prepared for the marathon and you also have to prepare for any weather. Listen to your body, pack the right kit and use sun cream.”
It is not just on the race course that the sun can make an unexpected difference. For Matilda Egere-Cooper, founder of London-based Fly Girl Collective, a springtime run came with an unexpected twist. “One of my recent runs in the sun took place on the last day in May this year,” explains Matilda “After what felt like the longest winter ever, the sunshine finally arrived in London and it was as glorious as it was unexpected. It was also extraordinarily hot. “I managed to knock out a midday long run in Clissold Park – one of the green spaces in the centre of London – with a local member of my run group Fly Girl Collective. A quick water break ensured we survived it, but it was a reminder never to underestimate the elements… and to wear shorts next time!”
In many cases, racing in the heat is not unexpected. Zach Bitter, a BUFF® ambassador and athlete coach, had an idea of what he would be facing at the USATF 100 Mile Road Championships:
“The race was hosted on a 1.17-mile paved loop in the Nevada desert, where the daytime temperatures reached 94°F (34.5°C). The course was a total of 85 laps and throughout the majority of the race it was necessary to stay wet to cope with the heat. So that meant a lot of topical cooling using BUFF® sleeves, visor and multifunctional headwear that I soaked throughout the race.”
Thankfully for Zach, his plan worked and meant that he secured his fourth National Championship title.
Another BUFF® athlete, Adam Kimble, has a similar story. He knew the midday sun would play a part in his race. “At the Desert Ultra in 2018,” he says, “I raced 250km across the Namib Desert in a stage race over five days. The Namib Desert is vast, beautiful, and incredibly exposed. So the sun was perhaps the most difficult facet of the race.
“That said, what the sun took from us in terms of sapping energy and dripping sweat, it gave back in the form of unforgettable sunrises and sunsets every day for the entirety of the race. The race was the story, but the sun was the author!”
… To Sunset
While sunrises can be magical and the heat of the midday sun can be brutal, the other end of the day – as the sun sets – can be equally impressive. For ultra-runner Emma Pearson, who raced around the Alps through France, Italy and Switzerland in a 100km trail race called ‘the CCC’ with her husband Mike, running into the night was an unforgettable experience. “The sun set while we were savouring salty chicken bouillon and pasta in the ‘ravitaillement’ tent (aid station) in a town on the route called Champex Lac,” remembers Emma. “At this point we had been going for nine hours since the race start in the Italian town of Courmayeur. We were already tired and yet we were only about half way through.
Mike and I headed out into the night, into the woods – where it was darker still – and carried on. The route was very mountainous: up, down, along, up, down, along. And it was a long night – nine hours of darkness.”
Emma and Mike reached the finish of the race in the French town of Chamonix to be greeted by the sun rising again. But it is the memory of the sunset that stays with Emma when she thinks about this experience.
As we have seen here, the sun can enhance the experience of a run… or it can make the going really tough. And in one unusual upcoming marathon, the sun will play an important part in helping an athlete complete her challenge.
Laura Try plans to run a mile every hour for 26 hours, and in between the runs she will complete various tasks she has dreamed up – everything from building something for the house to a litter pick. “I recently took inspiration from an Australian called Beau Miles who has done something similar,” says Laura. “And when I mapped out the distance around the block in the village where I recently moved, it is exactly a mile. So that inspired me. I’m going to leave the front door, run a mile and arrive back home to complete one of the tasks I have come up with.”
Laura has chosen to attempt the challenge on the Friday closest to the summer solstice where the sun will be in the sky for the longest time: 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight in the UK, where she lives. Of course, even with all that daylight, staying awake for 26 hours will not be easy, so Laura has recruited friends and neighbours to join her throughout the challenge, to help her complete what she has set out to do.
And that is probably a good point for the sun to set on this selection of stories. The summer solstice is a special time and for runners: it presents the longest period in the year when we can run in the light. So take advantage of the longer days and remember how we are all connected by running in the same rays, wherever we are on the planet.
Starting on 1 June 2021, BUFF® has challenged runners using Strava to log 206 minutes of running up to the summer solstice on 20 June. The BUFF® Chase the Sun challenge is open to all Strava users and you can register here now. It is a call to all of us to make the most of the extra daylight and it is not too late to join over 165,000 other runners, if you are up for a challenge.
Illustration by Ian Ekboir.