Beat the Heat
5 Tips to Survive those Scorching Summer Runs
Alright, I know it seems a little late in the summer to be posting about the heat but so far on Long Island, it’s been a pretty mild summer until recently. We’ve had the occasional heat waves but this summer has been pretty bearable temperature wise. It’s only been within the last week or so that we’ve been dealing with consistent hot temperatures which has made it difficult for someone like me who runs in the afternoons. So, I decided to do some research of my own to alleviate some of the downsides to summer runs and thought I’d share the most helpful tips.
Before we jump in, let's look a little at why running in the heat can suck so bad, and why it can also be dangerous. Basically what it boils down to is when you’re hot, your body has to use a lot of energy just to try to regulate your body temperature through processes like sweating. Add humidity to the mix and even sweating can’t cool you down as efficiently. Add running on top of that and you can imagine why running in high heat can feel like such a challenge.
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to heat but the one that everyone seems to agree on is the heat index. The heat index basically describes how hot it feels outside based on temperature and humidity but the heat index differs person to person based on a number of physiological factors. That’s way too much to get into here but this handy chart from the National Weather Service can give you a basic glimpse into the varying “danger zones.”
So what can you do when the heat index starts to creep higher in the summer months? The first option is obvious.
Tip 1: Avoid It
I don’t mean skip out on running for the entire summer but you can still do your best to avoid running when the heat is at its highest point. For many, this means running in the morning. Especially if you can sneak in a run before sunrise, you can take advantage of the significantly cooler temperatures. If, like me, you can’t bear the thought of getting out for a run that early, you could also try moving your runs indoors to a treadmill.
Unfortunately for me, I like to run in the afternoons and I also lose motivation almost immediately when I start a run on the treadmill so let's talk about some other strategies you can use if avoiding the heat isn’t really an option.
Tip 2: Hydrate
As your body works to keep itself cool, you’re going to burn through water much faster than on a traditional run, especially through just sweat alone so it’s important to increase your water intake. I remember growing up I always heard the saying “by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.” Luckily, that’s turned out to be a myth, feeling thirsty is just a helpful mechanism for your body to remind you to drink something every now and then. But how much should you drink and how often?
According to this article from Runner's World you should look to drink at least 16 oz of sports drink an hour before you head out on a run and 5-8 oz every 20 minutes of exercise. Why sports drink? As your body burns through your energy in the heat, you’ll need to replenish your electrolytes. The sodium is also going to make it easier for your body to absorb the water it needs as you go.
Tip 3: Slow Down
Before I mentioned that running in high temperatures is going to feel a lot tougher than it usually does because of the extra energy you’re using. Your heart already has to step up its game on a run but now it’s shifting into overdrive trying to supply enough blood to your skin to power your cooling systems.
Try not to worry as much about pace during your hotter runs, and just run based on overall effort as opposed to speed. You may be running a bit slower than you're used to but your heart is working just as hard to keep everything in check. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to ease into your runs as well. Start slower in the beginning to delay the heating of your core temperatures which will allow you to run longer in the end.
Tip 4: Cool Your Core
One way to conserve some energy is to cool yourself down before, during, and after your runs. By cooling yourself down, your body won’t have to use as much energy on temperature regulation so you can dedicate that excess energy to your workout. There are a few cooling strategies but my personal favorite is to fill my Buff full of ice and wear it around my neck. Ice on the neck cools you down fast and as it melts the cold water runs right down your back.
The easiest and probably the most common cooling strategy is just to throw water over yourself. You’ll get a pretty instant cooling sensation and it will continue to cool you off as it evaporates off of your skin (just like sweat)! I focus mainly on my face, head, and neck because I think it’s the most refreshing but Lifehacker published a great piece illustrating all of the "quick cooling spots" on your body.
Tip 5: Dress Light
Last but not least, put some extra thought into what you wear on your runs. You want something lightweight, and light in color. Something light, breathable, and loose will help you feel the breeze as you run to provide some relief from the heat. The light colors are also going to help reflect the sun so you’re not absorbing as much heat.
If the sun is beating down on you, you’ll definitely want to put on a layer of sunscreen. A study published by the New York Times suggests that distance runners have a higher risk of skin cancer for a host of reasons. Logging high mileage outdoors is automatically going to increase your exposure to the sun, but they also suggest that sweat can amplify the UV impact on the skin. If that’s not reason enough to cover up, it will also help you avoid the awkward “runner’s tan” outlining your favorite tank tops and sports watches. I also play it safe and cover up with a long brimmed runner’s hat to keep the sun off my face altogether.
Risks to Look Out For
Even when taking the proper precautions, there are still plenty of risks associated with exposure to high heat so it's important to be aware of those risks as well as their associated symptoms.
As I mentioned above, you're going to burn through your water stores much more quickly as your body fights to keep itself cool. I tend to bring a water bottle with me everywhere, especially over the summer, to make sure I'm keeping myself hydrated.
Symptoms to look out for:
Extreme Thirst, Less frequent urination, Dark-colored urine, Fatigue, Dizziness, and Confusion
Heat cramps can be brought on by dehydration or simply by exercising in the heat. To treat heat cramps, stop exercising and cool off, rehydrate with water or sports drink, and try gently massaging the affected muscles.
Symptoms to look out for:
Painful involuntary muscle spasms
Heat exhaustion can lead to the more serious heatstroke so it's important to take notice if you start experiencing any of the symptoms listed below. If you suspect heat exhaustion, get out of the sun, lay down with your feet elevated if you can, and drink a cool beverage (water or sports drink).
Symptoms to look out for:
Dizziness, Nausea or vomiting, Cold sweats, Weak but rapid pulse, Muscle cramps, Headache, Weakness or fatigue
Heatstroke can occur if your body temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit and can be life threatening. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with heatstroke it's essential to seek immediate emergency medical attention to avoid serious damage to your brain, heart, kidneys, or muscles.
Symptoms to look out for:
High body temperature, Altered mental state, Alteration in sweating, Nausea and vomiting, Flushed skin, Rapid breathing, Racing heart rate, headache
All symptom and treatment information from Mayo Clinic
Choosing to run in high heat certainly poses its own risks but there are precautions you can take to try to avoid the negative effects. First and foremost, be aware of not only the temperature outside, but the heat index as well so you know what you're in for.
Avoid running during the hottest parts of the day, but if it's unavoidable, make sure you're well prepared. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to the run, and switch to a sports drink immediately before and during your workout. Remember to dress appropriately! Opt for clothes that are lightweight and light in color and don't forget to wear sunscreen!
Once you're on your run, take things slow. Give yourself extra time to ease into the run and pay attention to how you feel. Be on alert for any of the symptoms of a heat related ailment, but also focus on your effort level. Your body has to work harder in the heat so run at a pace that feels comfortable, even if it's slower than you're used to. Once you start to heat up, splash some water on your face, head, and neck to provide a temporary cooling effect.