Guide to Running in the Heat

Thus far, it appears I couldn’t have worse timing for my second half marathon:

Actually, yes. It could always be worse. The high on Saturday could be in the 100’s rather the 90’s and there could be clear skies rather than the cooler shade that an overcast sky will (hopefully) provide. Here in the South, the Summer temperatures mixed with high humidity levels create an environment similar to that of a South American jungle. Seriously, this weather is not for the faint-hearted. And running in this weather? Well that’s just crazy.

But us crazies, it seems that we are die-hards. Rain, snow, and apparently blanketing humid heat cannot keep us out of our sneakers and off the pavement. This requires a level of commitment of course, and said commitment doesn’t come without warnings.

After signing up for the race, and running a very few and scattered short runs, I made it priority to extensively research running in the heat, how it effects you, and the best ways to deal with it.Don’t get me wrong, summer is my favorite season and more often than not, you can find me outside enjoying the boat days and poolsides that accompany it. However, exerting oneself in high heat & humidity without taking proper precautions can actually be pretty dangerous. So to avoid all that nonsense, lets review shall we?

When we run our body temperature rises and we produce sweat as a mechanism to cool down our skin. Sweat does not cool the skin down, the evaporation of it does. When your body is enveloped with high humidity, this decreases your ability to “chill out” resulting in a more exhausting run then say, if you were running in more arid conditions. As you sweat, your body loses fluid that needs to be replaced – this is where the dehydration factor becomes an issue. So not only do we have the potential problems of overheating, we’ve got to deal with ensuring that we are properly hydrated before, during, and after our run. This can be a pain literally and figuratively, but I’ve got a few tips up my moisture-wicking sleeve that will hopefully aid in the learning process:

Running in the heat!

Hydrate

First things first – prevent the problem before it starts and adequately hydrate. A lot. But not too much because that can cause all kinds of other issues. See? This whole thing is a balancing act that needs to be handled with care. But for real, you need to make sure you drink, probably more than what you think. We are looking for light yellow pee here people, not deep orange road cone pee. If know you are going for a long run, start prepping the day before, making it a point to drink a good amount of water. During the run, take sips as necessary. I’ve been one to go for long runs (12 miles) without water only to find myself nausous later in the day due to dehydration. In fact, I even went out and got one of these fancy little guys:

I call him Squirt. Squirt is a hand-held bottle of heaven on a hot day and even if you don’t think you need him, you do – so go get one (here). Also, if you plan on running over an hour, you will typically need something more than water to replace lost fluid, sodium, and potassium. This is what Gatorade was invented for, so drink up!

Go Early

This is a no-brainer but still a tough one. I’ve made it clear how much I loath waking up early to run but unfortunately this is sometimes your only opportunity. It’s the coolest time of day, plus you get the added bonus of watching the sun come up, which is always kind of nice. The sun and temperature typically reach their peaks between 3 & 5 PM rendering it fairly difficult to get a tolerable run in after work. You could always run in the evening but I refuse to run after it gets dark because that’s when all the drunks and wierdos come out – a bad combo for a lone runner. However, if you feel safe then by all means, have at it.

Dress Appropriately

Now is not the time to bust out your all black cat suit. You want light colored, loose-fitting clothing that stays dry. Also, if you get up after the sun, slip some sunglasses on and a hat or visor to keep the sun out of your face. In fact, this may be a great time to try out the ‘running in a bra‘ challenge or for you guys, no shirt at all – just be sure to…

Wear Sunscreen

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard that the ozone layer is thinning out quicker than Prince Williams hairline. Word on the street is the sun’s UV rays are pretty bad for you as well as your complexion. No one wants premature wrinkles or a nasty sunburn so slather away. At least an SPF 30 or higher and preferably one that won’t sweat off. Be sure to spray your arms, legs, ears, and neck as well as your face before heading out, even if its early – better safe than sorry.

Acclimate

People often question how I could possible run in this weather. Well, it takes determination as well as the ability to take the time to train your body to function adequately in the heat. This acclimation process should take about two good weeks. Spend some time outside during the hottest parts of the day. I go for a mile long walk twice in the afternoon to help develop a tolerance. Some of my runs have been later in the morning as well. This is a grueling effort on my part but will pay off when the cooler temperatures of an early morning run will feel far better than those later, hotter runs.

Stay Indoors

Be aware of the temperature and understand that sometimes its going to be just too damn hot out. When this happens all you can really do is suck it up and deal with the most hated of all exercise equipment (to me anyway)…the Treadmill (cue dramatic introduction…) I don’t like the treadmill. Runs always seem to take significantly longer and you don’t even get to look at fun scenery. I fight a losing battle every time I step on its stupid rubber track but when the mercury’s rising and your opportunity to squeeze in a run is not during an acceptable outdoor exercise time, this may be your only option. Unless of course you want to look like my dog after a short walk outside in the stuff:

Hot Bella

Which you don’t, so be aware of your body’s needs and stay inside.

Cool Down

Go for a dunk if you can. Nothing cools the body down more than a quick splash is some cool water. If you have a pool, awesome, jump on in after your run. If you don’t, splash around in a creek or take a cold shower. At the very least, it will give you a relieving image to focus on as your trudging along.

Lower Your Expectations

It’s no surprise that you will not preform your best when you are fighting against the elements. It’s hard, but the sooner you accept this the better. I’ve found my average pace has dropped by almost a minute compared to my early spring times. This bothers me a surprisingly small amount. Heat will slow most mortals down no matter what, and so by allowing my body to set its own pace when I go for my runs is perfectly fine with me. I’m not pushing anything, I’m simply looking to finish on Saturday and knowing that it will not be a new PR for me relieves some pressure to push myself further then necessary.

Of course, if you ever begin to feel dizzy, disoriented, or overly exhausted, stop running immediately and call for help. This could mean you are suffering from heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke. Heat stroke can be deadly so this is not the season to be a super hero. Heed to your body’s warning signs and be aware of how you are feeling, physically and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to call it quits for the day – your body will thank you.

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5 thoughts on “Guide to Running in the Heat

  1. On days like today, where the mercury hits 94, I look around me and wonder why I’m the only person sweating. There are even people going out for a run and they look pretty dry. Yet I cross the street and I develop a thin cover of glistening saltwater around me like it’s trying to escape.

    It’s pretty annoying. I wish I didn’t sweat so easily in summer, which is why I’ve come to make it my least favorite season. I will do a fast tempo outside in 20 degrees 20 times before I step outside once for a jog in 90 degrees. It’s also the reason why I can’t seem to deliver a fast time at the marathon – I lose too much sweat by the time I hit mile 22.

    Great tips though!

    • Thanks Dan! Originally hailing from the North, these summers are brutal for sure. It makes me miss the times when it was considered hot out if the temperature creeped past 75. Ah…what I would give for that now…

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