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Top Ten Ways to Survive Running in the Summer Heat
By Rick Morris
Summer is a great time for running. No worries about dressing in layers, slipping on the ice or fighting the effects of wind chill. But summer running is not without its challenges. The heat of summer can play havoc with your comfort and health. In addition to the obvious discomfort and speed declines associated with summer exercise, running in the heat can cause a number of health and safety problems including dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
You can still take full advantage of the joys of summer by following a few guidelines for running in the heat. Here are our top ten ways to survive running in the summer heat.
This may seem like a no brainer but I continue to be surprised by the number of runners I see beginning their training run at mid day when the temperatures are at their hottest. Get up with the sun and start your training run before the heat begins to build. Not only will the temperature be lower but traffic and pollution levels will be at lower levels. You will have a safer, more enjoyable run and will get your day started on a positive note.
When dressing for the summer heat, the key word is light. Light in weight and light in color. Light colored fabrics will reflect the sun and heat rather than absorb it. Wear the light weight, loose fitting high tech fabrics. That type of clothing will wick moisture away from your body keeping you dry and cool. The looser fitting garments will allow additional cooling ventilation.
Wear Your Water
When it comes to running in the heat, water isn't just for internal consumption. Pour some cold water over your head and upper body. The water will help keep you cool both physically and psychologically. The water will begin to evaporate helping to cool your body and the "cold shower" will refresh you mentally.
Dumping water on your head will help keep you cool but most of your hydration still need to be reserved for the inside of your body. If you are going on a short run of 45 minutes or less you should be fine drinking plain water. The water will keep you from becoming dehydrated or suffering from a heat illness, but if you are running for an hour or more be sure to consume some sports beverage containing sodium and other electrolytes. The electrolytes in the sports drink will help you avoid hyponatremia, which is a dangerously low level of sodium in your blood. If you're doing a longer run , consider wearing a hydration pack of some sort so you don't need to worry about stashing your fluids along the trail.
Hit the Trails
If you're fortunate enough to live near a mountainous or forested area, hit the trails when the temperatures rise. Higher altitude mountain areas usually enjoy lower temperatures than the lower elevations. Forests and other areas with a lot of trees will give you a lot of cool shaded running trails. Even if you don't have forests or mountain areas nearby, hit your local trails. The natural surface of the trails will absorb and reflect less heat than the concrete or asphalt roads.
Hit the Mill
Once in a while it just gets too hot to run outside. When the temperature hits those extreme levels go for a comfortable and safe run on your treadmill. The treadmill may not be your favorite place to run but at least you will be able to get in a good training run in a safe environment.
Adjust Your Pace
When you run in the heat some of your blood flow is directed towards your skin as part of your bodies attempt to keep your core temperatures down to safe levels. That results in a decrease in oxygen and energy delivery to your working muscles. You are forced to run more slowly. Don't force the issue during times of high heat. Decrease the pace of all your training runs to compensate for the decreased blood flow. Your blood also tends to thicken due to dehydration which forces slower running paces.
Learning to run in the heat is similar to any other type of training. You need to ease into it. When summer approaches and the temperature begins to heat up, decrease both the pace and distance of your training runs. As your body adapts to the heat over the following few weeks you can gradually return to your normal training routine.
Let Your Head Breathe
One of the first things many runners do when the weather gets hot is to put on the baseball cap. It seems to make sense that keeping the sun off your head is a positive move; but is it? Yes, keeping the sun off your head and face is a good idea, but many standard caps or hats will actually trap a lot of heat against your head. Much of your body heat is actually dissipated through your head. A solid hat will trap much of that heat and cause you to overheat. Instead of wearing a standard solid hat put on a mesh cap or a high tech hat that is designed to keep the sun off but allow heat to evaporate and escape. You could also try wearing a bandanna made of a wicking material.
Listen to Your Body
Whenever you run in the heat make sure you listen to your body. In most cases your body is like your mother - it always knows best. Learn the warning signals of heat illness. If at any time during your run you begin to feel dizzy, light headed, confused, have muscle cramps or quit sweating, it's time to stop your run. Find some shade and cool yourself by pouring water over your head or covering yourself with a wet towel. Hydrate well, preferably with a sports beverage. Don't ignore the early symptoms of heat illness. Less serious dehydration and heat cramps can progress to the very dangerous heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
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