Hot Weather!

Its hot!  I LOVE the heat, but I also recognize that heat can be dangerous for vigorous activity.  Today the temperature rose to 88 degrees.  It was the first really hot day of the year.  Even though I typically like running in the heat, today’s run was VERY tough!  The first few hot runs of the year are typically pretty challenging for all runners.  There IS a physiological reason for this, as explained by,

“It’s generally recognized that for every 10-degree increase in air temperature above 55 degrees, there’s a 1.5 percent to 3 percent increase in average finishing time for a marathon. (Translation: An extra 3 to 6 minutes for a 3:30 marathon with every 10-degree increase.) This slow-down occurs because heat impacts runners at a physiological level through various means, including dehydration, increased heart rate and reduced blood flow (and subsequently oxygen) to the muscles used for running.”

I’m including the Runner’s World reference chart here as an illustration of how heat affects one’s perception as well as how the physiological impact might affect training performance and training.  According to the chart, today’s heat is considered “extremely oppressive”:

50–54 Very comfortable PR conditions
55–59 Comfortable Hard efforts likely not affected
60–64 Uncomfortable for some people Expect race times to be slower than in optimal conditions
65–69 Uncomfortable for most people Easy training runs might feel OK but difficult to race well or do hard efforts
70–74 Very humid and uncomfortable Expect pace to suffer greatly
75 or greater Extremely oppressive Skip it or dramatically alter goal

I’ve completed many hot weather runs in the past, so I knew before I set out that today’s run would be a difficult one.  As I began today’s run, I quickly recognized the need to make a few modifications to my original plan.  The first thing that I did was to remind myself to take it easy – I know from previous experiences that pushing oneself in extreme heat just leads to an early end to the run.  Even with a slower pace, I found that I needed to walk a few times when, ordinarily, I would not have.  I also cut my run short by a couple of miles due to fatigue.  Most runners are frustrated by modifications, as making them feels like they aren’t trying hard enough or like they have lost some of their fitness.  I know that isn’t true.  I know that, as my body becomes more accustomed to the heat, I will gradually be able to improve my running endurance (and my enjoyment of the hot run), if not my speed.  In the end, as usual, I was glad that I had gone for a run, even if the actual run was not as pleasant as usual.

Over the years, I have developed a few tips for hot weather running.  Please not that not everyone SHOULD run or exercise in the heat – please check with your doctor before vigorous activity, especially if you have any health conditions.

  1.  Drink early and often.  Hydration is super important in hot weather conditions, even on short runs.  I have found that it is helpful to develop a schedule for drinking – following a schedule will ensure that you don’t “forget” to drink.  I like to drink every mile, but you might have different needs – develop your own schedule and follow it consistently.  You might not feel thirsty at first, but you should drink anyway.
  2. Consider using a sports drink instead of water.  We lose important nutrients (electrolytes) when we sweat and sports drinks help to replace them. 
  3. Try to keep in the shade.  If you’re running, find a path that is mostly shaded – for other activities, look for a location that has lots of shade – even if it’s not where you would typically go.  The shade will help you to feel cooler and reduce burning.  If you can’t find a shady spot, consider wearing a long sleeve white shirt that is designated as “heat wear”.
  4. Wear comfortable clothing.  Clothing that is specifically developed for exercise will allow for greater air flow, dry faster and be more comfortable.
  5. Listen to your body!!!  Don’t push beyond what “feels” right.  You may have to set aside your plans and engage in a less intensive activity.  Don’t be afraid to slow down, take breaks or cut your activity short.  Remember, your body will get acclimated over time and pushing too hard on the first hot day may set your training back further than just truncating your workout will.
  6. Watch for signs of heat injury and respond accordingly.  According to the Mayo Clinic , the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness may include the following. If you ignore these symptoms, your condition can worsen, resulting in a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms may include:
  7. Muscle cramps
  8. Nausea or vomiting
  9. Weakness
  10. Fatigue
  11. Headache
  12. Excessive sweating
  13. Dizziness or lightheadedness
  14. Confusion
  15. Irritability
  16. Low blood pressure
  17. Increased heart rate

If you develop any of these symptoms, you must lower your body temperature and get hydrated right away. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition.

I have suffered a heat injury and I can tell you that IT IS NO FUN!  Not only was I miserable at the time, but it set my fitness level back for months AND I continue to be more sensitive to the heat even after a number of years.  The positive?  I can remind myself that it’s more important to stay healthy than it is to complete any planned activity.  I can truly enjoy my hot weather activities without any internal pressure to perform.