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It’s getting to be that time here in Atlanta, temperatures are getting into the 90’s with high humidity making running even more of a challenge. Wherever you are, you are probably dealing with the heat as you run so we’ve compiled a list of 6 ways to beat the heat during your summer running season.
First, it’s important to understand what’s happening when you run in hotter weather. One of the unique aspects of humans is our highly evolved sweat glands; when we are overheated, we perspire more sending sweat to the skin which is then cooled off by the air allowing us to maintain a reasonable core body temperature. As the temperature increases, the more we sweat in order to maintain this balance but the double whammy of high temps and humidity makes the body work even harder because the water in the air from higher humidity doesn’t allow the sweat to evaporate and cool the body.
Running in the heat without proper precautions can cause severe dehydration, leading to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke…a true medical emergency. It’s important to listen to your body while running in the heat and taking the proper precautions. Here is a great article from the CDC regarding heat illnesses; the symptoms as well as the care needed for each. In addition, as a precaution here is a heat index calculator from the National Weather Service which will allow you to determine whether or not to run in the heat (a heat index of 100 is generally considered too high to run long distances).
Even below the heat index of 100, there are precautions you should take to ensure both your safety and continued training benefit; let’s look at 6 ways to beat the heat when running.
Run in the Morning
If you aren’t already a morning runner, the summer is a great time to become one; the coolest temperature during the day will occur during the time just preceding sunrise and will allow you to lessen the effect of running in the heat. We published a 6 Ways to Become a Morning Runner blog earlier this year, and it will help you as you make the change (if you aren’t already a morning runner).
Mild dehydration during exercise is a normal state, but your body’s reaction to heat and humidity will increase the dehydration dramatically.
The best approach to hydration is to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even on rest and recovery days. How much is enough? The best gauge is to drink enough water so that your urine remains pale yellow.
On a day you plan to run, you should hydrate with 8 – 12 ounces of water approximately 30 minutes before your run and, if you are running for more than 30 minutes, bring more water with you.
If you are running for 60 minutes or longer, take water or a sports drink; if your stomach isn’t averse to sports drinks, I would recommend a sports drink. Your body will lose salt through the process of sweating and the electrolytes in the sports drink help to replace this lost salt.
Run by Perceived Effort
Many of us are driven by the pace of our run, trying to either better our pace or, at a minimum, reluctant to let our pace slide. However, during the heat of summer, your body is working doubly (maybe even triply?) hard in order to maintain your core body temperature which makes it more difficult to keep up the pace. The pace that felt like an “easy run” may become “moderately hard” during the heat and humidity of summer; know your body and let your body’s perceived effort drive your pace.
Almost invariably, this will result in a slower pace but this slower pace is driven by the environment in which you’re running and not indicative of lesser performance.
If you’re running outside on these warm days, wear something loose, light and avoid dark colors; to help the sweat evaporate (which is what cools you off), you want the air to flow over as much of your skin as possible. In addition, lighter color clothing will reflect rather than absorb the sun’s ray keeping you cooler.
Of course, with less clothing and more exposed skin your body is subject to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays so be sure to put on some sweat-proof SPF 15 lotion before you run.
Find the Shade
One of the simplest ways to avoid the scalding heat is to find a spot that is well shaded; I typically will try to run a trail or tree-lined path during my summer runs. Not only will this help you avoid the impact of the sun, but I find running in nature to be very relaxing.
Use the Treadmill
I’m not a big fan of running on a treadmill, but in cases where the heat and humidity is just too much (remember, this typically occurs when the heat index is 100 or higher) I’d rather get in some miles on the treadmill than not run.
So, if you’re running during the summer heat and humidity there are ways to lessen the impact and keep on running, so be safe and keep running!!
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.