Summer running and racing season is quickly approaching and though many people are thrilled for the spring thaw and warm summer temperatures, some of us loathe excessive heat or simply don’t perform as well in heat. Being based in Scottsdale, AZ, I get the pleasure of 100+ degree days beginning in April, so it’s important to prepare for those hot, hot temps pretty early on. I do a lot of grumbling about the summers in AZ, but in order to make sure I can continue running, even at the hottest times of the year, I have a change a few things about my approach to my training.
Perceived effort will be greater in the heat, so what once felt like a 7:15 mile might turn into a 7:25-7:35 mile. There’s no shame in slowing things down- trust me!- because your body needs all the advantages you can give it, so adjust your pace expectations either on your training runs or in your road races. The reason the body feels more taxed in warmer temps is due to increased heart rate, dehydration and reduced blood flow (read: oxygen flow) to muscles. Your entire body has to work significantly harder to achieve similar results achieved in even 10 degree cooler weather because of the negative effects the heat has on the old body.
With all that extra effort, your body temperature needs regulating, enter: sweating. Sweating has a cooling effect, which helps to maintain equilibrium, by removing excess heat from your insides through evaporation. You know how sweaty you get when you run in super humid conditions? It’s like a front row seat to your body’s cooling show, which can be much more subtle when you’re running in places like my dry heated neck of the woods.
In a discussion the other day about dry heat vs. humid conditions, my thought was that dry heat can be more dangerous because sometimes you don’t even realize you’re sweating since it evaporates so quickly, whereas in humidity, you have a very obvious reminder of the fluids your body is losing. Be very mindful of fluid consumption, especially as the weather warms and you lose that sodium and those electrolytes quicker. I always prepare a water bottle before I head out for my run so that it’s ready for me immediately upon return. In this magical concoction, I include a nuun tablet and the amino acid, glutamine, to help aid in muscle rebuilding. Nothing like walking through my front door (or opening my car door) to a refreshing bevvy.
If you have to run in heat (as many of us do at some point), consider a few of these pointers:
Run early in the morning or after sunset: The heat of the day hasn’t beat down yet in the morning, but if you can’t run in the AM, let the sun go down and stay down for an hour or so to allow the ground to cool off.
Wear teeny amounts of light clothing: Light, synthetic fabrics that breathe, absorb sweat and flow are ideal, as well as light colors. Dark colors absorb heat and sunlight. If you don’t even bother with shirts, make sure you’re wearing a lot of sweat proof sunblock!
Consider a shadier route: Even if your usual route has only a handful of trees on it, it will be far better than running along a path or road that features absolutely no overhead cover for the duration of your run. For a small reprieve from the sun, I fancy standing in the shadow of light posts when I have to wait to cross at intersections.
Be aware of temperature details: Don’t guess how hot it is outside, know how hot it feels. One of my favorite apps and websites is AccuWeather because it gives me the temperature outside, including UV index, wind speeds, dew point and cloud cover, but how it actually feels, as well as a graph that depicts the best times of day to be outside for a variety of activities (mine is set to outdoor fitness).
Hydrate or die: While it sounds a bit extreme, it’s true. Be sure you are hydrating before, during and after your workout or run. It can be easy to hydrate before and after, but during takes a little bit of planning. Either consider running with a water bottle or know where the water stops are along the way.
Adjust pace and expectations: The heat will take it out of you, so slow things down and just enjoy your run. Don’t expect to feel as good as that one long run you did back in October when the weather was ideal, without wind or clouds, and you dropped over a minute and a half off of your previous best. Give yourself a break!
Avoid protein in excess before runs: This is an oft-forgotten tidbit that becomes important when running or exercising in the heat. Because the body requires more energy to digest protein, the core temperature rises, which can lead to overheating on a run. The battle of running in the heat stems from trying to keep the body’s core temperature down, so by having a higher starting core temp, you’re not doing yourself any favors.