2012-05-29

Running in the Heat

Not long ago (near the beginning of Winter, to be exact), I provided some suggestions for how to make the most of winter training. I'll briefly recap those suggestions now:
  1. Make the morning workout a habit.
  2. Run anyway.
  3. Leave the record-setting for summer.
  4. Be proud of yourself.
Now, six months later, it's time to think about running in the summer heat.

Summer presents the challenge of staying cool and managing a good workout despite your body's probable over-heating and dehydration. In both of these cases, you will find your muscles feeling sluggish and burning. Depending on exactly when and where you run, the sun's relentlessly beating down on you will alone be a formidable obstacle to getting a decent workout in. In fact, you may actually find that your times start to get slower (even much slower) as you struggle to cope with the heat.

Having recently departed from Ottawa and relocated to the southern USA, I have been experiencing a double-dose of challenge in this area. Not only is it hot because it's summertime, it's hot because it's a far hotter climate. So, as you struggle through the summer heat, take heart that you at least don't have to deal with the kind of change that people like myself do!

Suggestion 1: Hydrate
This is not so much a suggestion as an absolute requirement. I'm not one to hound others about hydration (I leave that to the personal trainers), but without proper hydration you'll be looking at any combination of the following:
  • Constantly sore, burning muscles
  • Overall physical weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sun sickness
  • Heatstroke
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • A trip to the emergency room
That last one may sound a little extreme to some, but facts are facts, kids. Once the temperature gets up into the 80s and above, the temperature is high enough to not only ruin your workout, but also your week. Don't take any chances.

My aunt suggests drinking a glass of water every hour on the hour. That certainly works, and is easy to do while you're at work. If you find yourself out-and-about for a few hours, bring along a water bottle. It may seem like a hassle, but if you're wearing a LiveStrong bracelet, people will recognize you as a fitness badass, and it'll all be worth it.

Suggestion 2: Start Small
You may find it a little frustrating to have to decrease your miles now that you're finally getting some good mileage in, but if you find yourself running sluggishly now that it's hot out, backing off can be a good option for you.

I recommend approaching this the same way I always suggest people approach mileage: Start with something you know you can do, and build from there. For example, if you were running 10km every day in the spring, back down to 8km/day for one week, then add another km/day the following week. Within two weeks, you'll be right back where you were, and feeling less sluggish.

The point here is that you need to acclimate to the heat. Back off a little and do something manageable, then work back up. There's no shame in that, particularly if it enables you to keep your pace high and avoid getting discouraged by slow workout paces.

Suggestion 3: Don't Hide from the Heat
Running when it's hot is a skill that - if developed - gives you an edge over your competitors. Not every race features ideal weather conditions. You trained well during the winter and managed to learn how to run in the cold. Now it's time to train through the heat.

If you think that you "just can't do it," consider the fact that every year thousands of runners like you flock to the Sahara Desert to run the Marathon des Sables. They can do it. So can you.

Suggestion 4: Sunglasses
Sunglasses don't just make you look cool. They protect your eyes from the scorching sun, and from flying insects who like to think that those two moist orbs on your face are extremely interesting, and possibly tasty. There also seems to be a psychological benefit to wearing shades in that it feels a less hot when it seems a little darker. (Maybe it's just me?)

Suggestion 5: Get Off the Road and Onto the Trails
Trails are often lined with trees, which offer much-needed shade. They can also be found near water, which cools the air a bit. (Be careful of the increased brightness caused by water - you'll need some good sunscreen!) An added benefit here is that the ground on trails is softer and will therefore be much easier on your muscles and joints than the pavement would be.

Well, those are a few minor suggestions to get you started, anyway. If you have additional tips, feel free to share them in the comments below.