a guide to handling the heat on hot summer days
Yes ladies, it is that time of year again. The summer heat is beginning to sizzle, but your training/fitness doesn’t need to flame out over the summer months. The good news is there are some tricks for beating the heat and getting in your runs this summer. Being informed and being prepared are keys to understanding dehydration and overheating – and making the adjustments that are right for you. We’ve researched several different medical and sports performance sources and found some pretty ‘cool’ information we want to pass along.
Our bodies are about two thirds water. When someone gets dehydrated, it means the amount of water in your body has dropped below the level needed for your body to function normally. In our cases with activity such as running and heat, managing our hydration becomes a critical component of our lifestyle and training. The heat index chart below outlines how heat + humidity can add up to dangerous heat levels quickly.
In the heat, our hearts have to work harder as well. The reason is blood volume is diverted to the skin to try and cool the body faster, which takes away from blood flow to supply the running muscles. Heat acclimation conditions the body to become more efficient, however it is a gradual process. Tuning in to your body and how it responds is very important. Pay attention to what it is telling you. Everyone can adjust, but it is an individual thing, what works for one may not work for another. Run/exercise smart.
Overheating, heat stress and heat stroke are all conditions that can be very dangerous and heat stroke can result in death. So, knowing the symptoms can help you recognize when you are in trouble and/or when someone else is. Symptoms of heat problems may include abnormal breathing, intense heat build-up in the head, clammy skin, headaches, muscle cramping, feeling faint, significant nausea, loss of concentration, confusion, any loss of muscle control, unusual heart rhythm and excessive sweating or cessation of sweating.
There are other risk factors that can come into play when considering training in heat. These include the adverse effects of many medications (read labels), whether you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, overall fitness level, lack of heat acclimation, sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption. Talk with your medical professional if you have any other health issues, education/prevention is the key to optimizing your performance.
If you or someone around you shows the signs of heat stress, be sure and get them to stop running or exercising first. Take them to a shady place or inside and give them cool drinks. Help cool their body by misting with hose, cold compresses, etc. If conditions worsen, seek medical attention.
Running in the Heat and Hydration Tips
Think about hydration as a part of your lifestyle. You should be making sure you have enough water during the course of the day, whether you are running or not. Even mild dehydration can cause mood swings, dry out your skin, as well as lower mental and physical performance. Design a plan for reminding yourself to drink enough water over the course of the day. You will feel better!
It takes about 20 minutes for your body to absorb/work with the fluid intake. As well, most coaches/sports experts say you really don’t need any sports drinks for activity of 45 minutes or less, however, you can adjust this as necessary in the heat. You will need to manage electrolytes (sodium, potassium, minerals, etc.) if you are going to be out longer. Your plan for hydration with running/training should include:
- Pre run. Get 20 – 24 ounces of water in you 20 – 30 minute before beginning your run or workout.
- During your run, about every 20 minutes get an additional 4 – 6 ounces. Consider a little more fluid and/or electrolyte mix for runs 60 minutes or more.
- Post run recovery should be another 20 ounces of water and/or some sport drinks. Be careful, learn about sports and ‘recovery’ drinks, many are loaded with sugar, additives and are high in caloric content. As always, be careful with the claims made by advertisers.
More Tips for Running in the Summer
The best plan for working out in the hot summer months is to be flexible and sensible. Slow down when you run in the heat and get your whole workout in instead of going too hard and having the heat stop you. In extreme heat, have indoor workout plans, use a treadmill. Adjustments will have to be made, so use your imagination and creativity instead of complaining about “how stinkin’ hot it is!” You can break your runs/workouts up into segments. For instance, two 15 minute runs instead of one 30 minute run. Do some pool running combined with water workouts. Have fun, it’s summer time!
- Run in the early morning if you can. It’s the coolest time of the day.
- Run during the evening and night. Again, it is cooling down and you don’t have the sun beating down on you!
- If your option (or desire) is to run in the middle of the day, try and find a route with as much shade as possible.
- Wear light and breathable clothing. Cotton soaks up sweat and does not breathe well, making the shirt/shorts heavier as well as increasing chafing while you run. The newer shirts with technical fibers will wick the sweat away from your skin, allowing a superior cooling affect. You can experiment with a technical hat as well.
- If you are running where neighbors are watering, use the sprinklers as cooling breaks! Pour some water over your head/body. Use your imagination to come up with cooling ideas!
- Be sure and know your skin and wear sunscreen if you are going to be out for a while. Be careful and do some research here. Some sunscreen coatings can slow down the sweat rate through your skin, producing a faster heat buildup. We will consult with a dermatologist soon and get some advice to help you with your sun protection plans.
You have to take the soaring temperatures into consideration – do experiment slowly and easily until you are comfortable with listening and responding to what your body is telling you. If you are out in the more extreme parts of the day, running with a friend is a good way to stay safe out there. You can maintain and even increase your fitness level in the summer months. Many women use the summer months to back off a little, and run for the joy of it with maintenance runs in preparation for the official fall training programs. So, pick a local 5K race to run and test your fitness with that! Above all, enjoy the journey and the pure joy of moving your body!