How to Run in the Heat
Yesterday I wrote about what exactly happens to your body when running in the heat. Today my question is:
What is the best way to run in the heat?
Sometimes you can not avoid the hot summer temperatures, the blazing sun, or the humid day. When faced with this not so fun situation, what do we as runners do? This morning, I spent some time reading what Runner’s World, The Lore of Running, and other running websites had to say about running in the heat. There was certainly a lot of information out there but there were some very common themes I kept reading about: hydration, running during the coolest part of the day, taking measures to keep your body as cool as possible, and adjusting times/goals/distances.
Hydration, or the thought of being dehydrated, is not something us runners should think about only during the run. Replenishing fluids before and after exercise is just as important as drinking during exercise. If you know you will be running in hot conditions, plan accordingly. The longer the run and the hotter the weather, the more important it is to drinks lots of fluid before, during and after exercise. This will help delay the time it takes to reach the point of exhaustion. One way to determine how much fluid you need to replace after a workout is to weigh yourself before and after your run. If you’ve lost a few pounds, it’s a good idea to get some water and sports drink and drink up. I remember doing long runs during the summer and not rehydrating properly. I would get the absolute worst headaches! Looking back on it, I’m certain I was hydrated going into the run, but almost certainly did a bad job of hydrating during and after the run. In addition, it took me a few days to fully recover from the workout. Hydration is essential. Period.
Running during the coolest part of the day is somewhat obvious. But what if you slept in or had to be at work super early and can only run during the hottest part of the day? If you must embrace the heat, try running along shaded areas, head towards the trails, embrace the treadmill if necessary, and wear light (not cotton) clothing. Yesterday I talked about how hot roads can radiate heat back to you. But if you hit the trails, your body will be able to cool off by radiating heat towards the cooler surfaces. Tree lined roads also offer quite a bit of shade which can block the sun and also help your body to cool faster. If you’re anything like me, the treadmill is not where you would prefer to do your long run. However, sometimes it’s just the better option. If you really loathe the treadmill, try mixing up the run with intervals and/or hills to make time go by faster. One run on the treadmill may save your body from the damage caused by one run in the 90 degree weather.
Although there is nothing we can do to make it not be so hot outside, there are things we can do to keep our bodies cooler longer. Before heading out the door, make sure to stay as cool as possible. If you are racing and waiting at the start area, seek shade (and a fan). Also, make sure you are properly dressed. Wear fabrics that wick heat away from the body instead of a cotton T-shirt, which can become heavy with sweat. A visor or cap and a pair of sunglasses are also a good idea. Cooling the body off with a cold, wet sponge can also help to keep your body cool. This can return the blood that is pooling in your limbs, to central circulation, which in turn will keep your heart from working as hard.
Finally, and I think this is the most important one, adjust your time, distances, and effort. Your race goal on a hot day should not be the same as your race goal on a cool day. Every 5 degree rise in temperature over 60 can slow your pace by 20-30 seconds. During speed workouts, take longer breaks between intervals and run fewer repeats. A six mile run in the heat may require the same amount of effort as a 10 mile run on a cool day so it’s important to not compare the workouts. Comparing the two workouts will not do much to help your positive self talk. I came across this quote and thought it was quite applicable: “If you properly adjust your starting pace and goal time, think ‘cool’ while keeping relaxed, and pour plenty of fluids into and on yourself, you will outsmart and thus defeat competitors who stubbornly kept to their ideal weather race strategy.” I’m often times that stubborn runner, and hence get outsmarted and defeated by the other smarter runners.
One thing we can do to become better runners in the heat is to acclimate our bodies. Apparently it takes 7-14 days for our bodies to adjust to the higher temperatures. The best way to achieve this is to train at an intensity greater than 50% of VO2 max and increase the amount of time running from 30-100 minutes. During this process, heart rate, body temperature, and sweat salt content during exercises decrease. Sweating rate increases (able to cool the body more effectively), and the metabolic rate and the rate of muscle and blood lactate accumulation are also decreased. It still will not be the same as running in the fall, but running in the heat can become easier. With all of this happening to your body, think about how much faster you will run when it does become cooler!
Summer is one of my favorite times to run because I am on summer vacation. I can actually be running at 6:00am instead of on my way to work. I’m feeling a little better prepared to take on the summer heat now and I’ll be interested to see how my performance changes. I welcome the day when I can do a long run in the heat and not suffer from severe headaches afterwards. =)
Tomorrow, it’s all about the heat related illnesses.
363 more days to go.
Happy Trails and Happy Running,