“Be careful … make sure you recover fully … this heat is pretty bad” – my Dad, as he rides the bike alongside me on my recent mixed tempo workout in mid 90s heat.
“I’m done. I’m feeling the heat too much, and it is taking me too long to recover between bouts.” – me, as I finish what should have been my second to last rep in the workout and make a wise decision to cut the workout short by a bit.
Running in the heat is tough work. Your internal temperature rises at a much faster rate. It takes longer to recover. You struggle to replenish lost fluids. Your times and effort are all thrown out of whack. All of that is just the normal response to running in the heat, but the abnormal responses are way more serious and way more important to avoid. Running the heat is also dangerous.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious, life-threatening conditions that can creep up on any of us when we run in the heat – even when we are used to it. If you are wanting an in-depth overview of heat related illness, click here for a good online set of resources. If you feel like you are getting into the heat exhaustion category, the simple advice is STOP and start the cooling/recovery process.
Below are some tips for how to approach and respond to running in the heat to prevent any heat-related illness:
1) Avoid the heat, if possible. Try to make plans to run early in the morning when you know heat is coming. This is the best way to avoid heat-related illness … avoid the high heat.
2) Run by feel, not by pace. One of the biggest traps that get people in trouble is running by normal paces instead of running by feel. As the temperature goes up, the effort level at standard paces also goes up. Don’t plan on being able to hit the same paces with the same effort level, which usually means you need to slow down.
3) Try to acclimatize over the course of 7-10 days. If you are going to be running in consistently hot weather, try to take 7-10 days to get your body used to exercising in the heat … without any high effort sessions. As you get used to hotter weather, your body will more readily be able to deal with the increasing heat from workouts.
4) Drink early and often. Start drinking before your run, early in your run, often in your run, and lots after your run. This doesn’t have to be multiple ounces at a time. Even a couple sips will do you good. Also think about avoiding dehydrating liquids in the hours before your run (i.e. alcohol and coffee). If you do drink a coffee beforehand, know that you need to have even extra hydration than a typical warm day.
5) Wear minimal clothing and/or wicking material. Your body needs to use every possible way to get rid of heat, and that includes needing to clear it from your skin. Cotton shirts just won’t do it! Either go with good wicking clothing and/or minimize clothing to allow the wind to help transfer heat away from your body. If you are drenched after a run, quickly change into another wicking material to help speed the cooling process.
6) Allow for more recovery between efforts. If you are doing some type of strength or speed workout, make sure to increase your recovery times. Don’t work on short recoveries if you are already set up to have a tough workout due to the heat. Again, I recommend recovering by feel instead of recovering by time or distance. Don’t be as stringent as you typically would be on “nailing a workout”.
7) Listen to your body. Running in the heat is not the time to push things to the limit. If you are feeling “off” or working too hard, listen to your body. As you build up tolerance to the heat and acclimatize, you will be able to start pushing again. But you have to give your body time to get adjusted. Often you can tease out why you are feeling like a run is difficult – is it your legs?, is it your breathing?, is it general fatigue? is it not being able to recover between hard bouts?. Try to figure out the “why?”, and that can help you decide when to chalk back and when to keep going.
These are just a few pointers on working to avoid getting into the category of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. If you think you might have symptoms of those, remember to stop and start the cooling and hydrating process. If you get confusion, stop sweating when you should be sweating, nausea/vomiting, big increase or decrease in heart rate or blood pressure, seek medical attention immediately. Heat illness is no joke and can have a tendency to go “0-60” without much warning.
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