It's that time of year where the weather is hazy, hot and humid. Regardless of what the temperature is outside we still have to get in our runs. The treadmill is always an option, but if you're racing during the summer then chances are it'll be warm during one of your races. It could even be in the 80s during your fall marathon. The best way to prepare for a hot race is to train through the heat.
As athletes, it's imperative that we hydrate as much as possible, especially in the heat. It is not enough to drink extra fluids the morning before your run; hydration needs to start long before that. If you run in the heat day after day then you risk putting yourself in a constant state of dehydration. The recommendation for the general population is to drink a half ounce of fluid per pound of body weight. As athletes, we actually need more than this, and we need to be replacing the fluid lost during training. When it's hot out you should either carry fluids with you or have places where you can stop and rehydrate. You should do your best to remain hydrated whether it's a short, easy run or a long, hard run. Failing to hydrate properly will not only affect your performance that day, but subsequent workouts that follow.
Water alone may not be sufficient enough in the heat. Hotter climates cause you lose more fluids and more electrolytes, which means an electrolyte solution is a much better hydration choice than plain water. Low electrolyte levels can lead to muscle cramping or hyopnatremia, which can be deadly. If you are getting swollen hands or headaches when you run, then you may want to evaluate your training nutrition.
Along with staying hydrated, there are other things we can do to stay cooler during a warm run. Wearing sunscreen helps protect against harmful UV rays, but that protection also helps keep you a little cooler. Without a layer of sunscreen covering it, your skin is actually "cooking" in the sun, causing your body to work even harder to cool itself down. For best results, apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you run so it has a change to penetrate the skin and remain in tact through your pending sweat fest.
Clothing is also important in the heat. Look for loose, light-colored clothing (preferably made of wick-a-way material) to help the body manage heat. Cotton does not breathe well and it will just make it harder for your body to cool off. A light, wick-a-way hat is also a good idea as it helps keep your face shaded, protects your head from UV rays, and will help keep some of the sweat out of your eyes. A bonus feature of wearing hat is that you can also stash some ice inside before heading out for the run (or swing by your house in the middle of your run) to help keep you cooler.
The most important thing to do when you run in the heat is to go slower. Don't be surprised to find your heart rate is higher at a given pace. This is caused by the extra stress placed on the body as it works harder to keep cool. On hot days it's ok if part of your run is out of its normal heart rate zone, but do not spend the whole run there. It's best to run halfway between what your pace should be and what your heart rate is telling you. When you start to see your heart rate decouple from your pace it means that you are accumulating too much heat. At this point, slow the pace to allow your body to cool down. If you try and run at your normal pace your body will either force you to walk or you will put yourself at risk for heat exhaustion. You don't want either to happen when you are far from home.
When you run in the heat, use caution and listen to your body. It takes a couple of miles for your body to accumulate heat and you may not realize how hot it is outside until it's too late. If you're new to running in the heat, start by running multiple loops near your house just in case things don't go as planned. For safe heat acclimation it's best to do shorter, aerobic runs in the heat. Save the "best effort" runs for cooler days or the morningwhen it's not so warm.
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