Higher Temperatures Bring Added Risks for Runners
When the weather warms up, your body is more prone to dehydration, loss of essential salts and electrolytes, as well as heat illness and even heat stroke. While there is no “magic” temperature at which running pros say, “skip the run and head to an air conditioned gym,” everyone agrees that too many missed workouts take their toll on running performance and overall workout goals.
Rather than skipping your run, performing in the heat requires a different set of strategies and the ability to give yourself permission to take things slower when necessary.
5 Tips For Running Safely in the Heat
Here are 5 tips to help you maintain your preferred running pace and distance, regardless of temperature spikes.
- Run early or late. If you’re used to running in the late-afternoon (often the hottest part of the day), consider shifting your run to the early-morning or early-evening hours to give yourself a 10° to 15° F break. That’s a big difference in terms of core temperature stability and hydration retention. If you’re not much of an early morning person, this can be rough – but take heart! Experts agree that morning is actually the best time to get that cardio workout in.
When you do a moderate to high-intensity workout, it puts your metabolism into high gear even several hours afterwards. By taking advantage of this in the morning, you will ultimately burn more of the calories you consume throughout the rest of your day. That being said, maintaining a consistent workout routine is the most important thing so anytime that works for you is better than not working out at all.
- Place a cooler in a shady spot. Pre-cooling is smart, using ice water on neck, wrists, or a cold shower/bath before a longer run or racing event. If you plan to run more than three or four miles, stash a cooler in a shady spot. Pack it with hot weather, long-distance running essentials: water bottles, towels, an ice bath with ice and water, electrolytes, etc. That way you benefit from a mid-run cooling session as well. There are several benefits to this strategy.
First, psychologically, your body has something to look forward to and that keeps it motivated to continue longer and stronger. Also, your body will appreciate the switch from the hand – or body – warmed water you’re holding at that point for the icy cold water or sports drinks awaiting your arrival. Finally, you can soak hands/wrists in the ice bath, wipe your face/head/neck with ice cold water, and don a bandana soaked in ice water – which you can fold with a few ice cubes inside around your neck for the rest of the run. These cooling techniques will increase pace, stamina and physical comfort.
- Hydration is absolutely necessary. Hydrating is always important – exercise or not. It becomes increasingly important the more you move and sweat, and hydration becomes critical when the temperature rises above 80° and 90° F. Your job is to make sure you replace water and salts lost via sweating. And, since most of us can’t whip out an accurate “sweated liquid volume” on a dime, we’ve learned to use the Sweat Loss Calculator from Runners Connect. This will give you a personalized estimate of how much liquid you should bring with you and consume during the run. U.S. Olympic marathon star, Shalane Flanagan, discovered she has a higher than average sweat rate, which has changed what she drinks before and after races, including, “…drinking sparkling mineral water mixed with coconut water and fresh-squeezed lemon juice both before and after my runs and smoothies made with coconut water.”
Other hydration tips: drink frequently in small doses to prevent feeling thirsty (a sign the body is already dehydrated), avoid chugging large amounts of water as that will backfire on you, and spread rehydration sessions out for the remainder of the day, rather than during or immediately after your workout.
- Minimize the warm up. When outside temperatures approach or exceed the body’s core temperature (98.6° F), the core temp rises quickly – and muscles warm quicker as well. Rather than elevating the core temperature via warm-ups, do low-impact, whole-body stretching to get the blood flowing and then start running at a gentle pace. Muscles will warm-up in no time.
- Listen to your body. In some ways, this is the most important tip of all. If you do this, the other tips become almost unnecessary. Your body knows how to keep itself from heat-related injuries. In fact, studies (2004 by Tucker et al) have shown that the body naturally starts and maintains a slower pace in the heat. This isn’t because you’re a wuss, it’s because your body takes care of itself. Listen to this wise voice. If you’re breathing too hard, cramping, seeing spots, etc., your body is saying, “slow down.” Move towards shade and/or take a walking break so the core can cool back down.
The good news is that our bodies are designed to adapt. If you use these hot weather running tips, your body will make adaptive changes within a matter of two or three weeks. After that point, you’ll be able to maintain normal run times.
Signs Your Body is Overheated
Your health and well-being depend on Tip #5. The following are signs you’re overheating on your run. They’re also called, “signs of heat illness:”
- Unusual cramping, muscle spasms and/or excessive sweating.
- Light-headedness, nausea or vomiting
- Body temperature that is higher than normal but below 100° F
- Decreased coordination or loss of balance
All of these are signs of heat exhaustion. If they are not remedied by slowing down, finding shade, gently hydrating or walking – seek medical attention because your body could be well on its way towards heat stroke.
Signs of heat stroke
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Elevated body temperature – 106° or higher
- Dry skin and a lack of sweat
- Red skin
- Lack of consciousness
If you or your running partner display any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention as it can be fatal. In the meantime, move to a cooler place, ideally indoors or in the shade, apply cooling packs to neck, armpits and groin (stop if shivering ensues) and expose as much skin as possible to the air.
By taking it easy and slowly adapting to hot weather running, your body will get the workout it needs, and we promise that your cooler-weather pace and time will not suffer for it. In fact, having the patience to adapt to harsher running conditions will improve overall endurance and make you a stronger runner than ever before.