Carmela Cardama Baez is neither a night owl, nor a fan of running in the heat, so her recent training regime has included more than just logging miles on the track.
Long midday naps and workouts in a “heat chamber” have become part of the process for the Oregon women’s distance runner, who anticipates three potentially hot, late-night 10,000-meter races — and maybe even a 5,000 or two — over a 27-day period beginning with the Pac-12 Track & Field Championship meet in Tucson, Ariz., this weekend
Cardama Baez is entered in both distance races, including a 10,000 scheduled to start at 10:15 p.m. Saturday when temperatures are predicted to have cooled into the mid-70s. Sunday’s 5,000 is scheduled for 9 p.m.
“There’s only two things I do at 10 p.m., either go to bed or run a 10K,” Cardama Baez said with a laugh.
So far this season, staying up late has worked out well for the 22-year-old redshirt junior from Spain.
During the Stanford Invitational on March 29, Cardama Baez ran the third-fastest 10,000 in Oregon history when she finished in a personal-record 32 minutes, 55.50 seconds, making her just the fourth Duck to ever break 33 minutes.
Then last week during the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford, she ran a PR of 15:38.77 in the 5,000 to move her into ninth all-time at Oregon.
Her 10,000 time is 10th-fastest in the NCAA this season, sixth in the west region and second in the Pac-12. Her 5,000 time is ranked eighth nationally, seventh in the west region and second in the conference.
Her previous PRs were 33:24.39 and 16:12.15, respectively.
Cardama Baez’s improvements have been expected ever since her all-American cross country season when she helped Oregon finish third at the NCAA championships with a 31st-place finish.
“I knew it was just a matter of time and consistency in her training,” said Oregon associate head coach Helen Lehman-Winters. “The first glimpse of that was, some of the races she ran in the fall surprised me. They surpassed the level she was training at.
“What’s happened now is she has had really, really solid training and she’s also a gamer. She’s a racer. And those two things are merging. Her training and her ability are all in sync.”
Cardama Baez doubled at the Pac-12 meet last season — her first at Oregon after transferring from Florida State — finishing fourth in the 10,000 and 12th in the 5,000.
Two weeks later she ran the 10,000 at the NCAA West Preliminary meet and didn’t advance to the championships, which were back on her home track at Hayward Field.
This year, the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships are in Austin, Texas, where the average high is in the low-90s for early June. Despite the late start (9:38 p.m.) for the 10,000 on June 6, it’s still expected to be a hot and grueling race.
The heat in Austin is no joke and Oregon fans still remember when former star Jordan Hasay, in her senior season, was brought down by the high temps during her 10,000 at the NCAA West Preliminary meet in 2013, finishing 18th in 35:51.20 despite coming in with the No. 2 time in the nation at 32:06.64.
To prepare for the conditions, all of Oregon’s distance runners have had training sessions in a heat chamber where they run on a treadmill with the temperature turned up. The intent is to slowly get their bodies used to running when it’s hot.
“They turn the heat up and ask you how you’re doing and you’re like ‘Not bad’ and they’re like, ‘Alright, let’s crank it up even more,’” Cardama Baez said during an interview Tuesday. “We have all been going a couple times. Today will be my third time and you do feel better. The first time you’re like ‘Oh my God I’m going to die in Texas.’ The second time I’m like, ‘OK, I might finish this race.’ Hopefully today I’ll be like ‘I might be a contender in the 5K too!’”
Of course, there’s a couple more races on the schedule before the Ducks head to Austin, including the NCAA West Preliminary in Sacramento on May 23-25.
“I don’t put any limitations on her,” Lehman-Winters said. “She has high expectations for herself, as everyone does if you’re wearing an Oregon jersey. She’s never made it to the national finals so obviously she has to check the boxes along the way and stay in the moment.”