Just over a week ago I was in Kentucky for work and commented on Facebook that I barely made it out of the hotel parking lot on my 4:30AM run before I was covered in sweat. Last week, Judie noted that she got a late start and that it was 98F while she was running; her pace slowed considerably while she ran as the heat took its toll. Suffice to say – hot weather has arrived across much of the nation, and it is time to think about running in the heat. Here are some tips to keep safe:
- Hydration: hydration doesn’t mean drinking some water when you feel totally parched and dizzy – it is about making sure you’ve saturated yourself 2-3 hours before your run and keep drinking periodically during the run. If running longer distances, plan ahead to not run out of water.
- Beyond Hydration: if you are running for more than an hour in the heat, you need to supplement your water intake with something to replenish electrolytes such as a sports drink, sports gel or salty snack. Without a proper electrolyte balance your body isn’t absorbing the fluids properly.
- Acclimatize: the American Running & Fitness Association recommends that when the heat arrives you cut back your workout intensity to 65-75% of normal and slowly build it back up. While hydrating, of course.
- Run during the coolest hours or split up your workout: this seems obvious, but waiting until the sun is at its peak to head out on a long and hard run is courting disaster. If you can’t run in the early morning or later in the evening, split up your run to lessen the heat impact on your body and give yourself a chance to rehydrate and cool off (ice is your friend).
- Know the heat index: temperature is critical, as is direct sunlight, but the humidity also plays into just how hot it feels outside … and at what levels it becomes really dangerous. Here is a chart to help:
- Wear sunscreen: studies have shown that runners have a higher incidence of skin cancer, probably due to prolonged exposure to the sun and sweating through their sunscreen if they wear any. It is worth investing in ‘sports’ (i.e. waterproof) sunscreen of at least SPF 15.
- Dress appropriately: wear lighter colored clothing, but also looser-fitting clothes. Make sure to wear wicking clothes that will allow moisture to pass through and evaporate. Also wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face and eyes.
- It isn’t over when the run is done: even if you are trying to lose weight, the goal should NEVER be about losing weight during a run, because that is all water weight and means you have lost hydration. So after the run, have some recovery foods (sweet potato, chocolate milk) and plenty of water.
- Have a plan and make sure people know you are out running: stuff happens, and in the heat and sun the situation can go from bad to life-threatening even faster than in the extreme cold! Make sure you have people who know you run, and who are OK and available to have you call for a ride home. Also try to choose routes with available shade in case you just need a moment’s break from the sun.
- Know when to quit: If you are running and start to feel dizzy or nauseous, or get chills or stop sweating – you need to stop immediately and drink something more than just water. Never be ashamed to stop running, or to call for a ride. It is better to get crap about ‘doing something stupid’ on the ride home, then to end up in an ambulance heading to a hospital in a dire situation.
Most of this stuff is pretty much common sense stuff parents have told kids and smart coaches have told summer athletes (like the poor kids in heavy gear for summer football camps) for years. Yet every summer we hear about athletes getting dramatically overheated, ending up in the hospital from the heat or sometimes overheating to the point of death. It seems there still needs to be more communication, more effort and better understanding of just how dangerous it is to get overheated.
What sorts of tips and experiences have you seen or heard about – or had first-hand – for dealing with the heat during exercise?