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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Running in the heat

I was reading a post over at my running friend Alex's blog at in which she offers a few hot weather running tips, and thought I'd offer up a few of my own for those of you taking on a fall marathon.

I'm surely no expert on this subject, and some of these tips may not work for everyone, but a lot of it is just common sense. As a newbie runner taking on my first marathon in Chicago last year, I had to train through some ridiculous heat last summer and learned a few lessons along the way.

I actually thrive running in hot weather, but will admit that my regiment to prepare for a run on a hot summer day is pretty strict. If my routine is not followed closely, I can pretty much bet I'll run into trouble. Fortunately, I've yet to experience any problems during a warm weather run, even though I can recall days when I considered myself stupid for getting out there to begin with. As long as the preparation is there, I can count on a very satisfying run in the sun.

The amazing body:
I fully agree with Alex's assessment that the human body can do amazing things when taught to adapt to extreme conditions such as running in hot weather. Knowing the symptoms of heat exhaustion and over exertion is key along with knowing what to do should you find yourself in a situation where something just doesn't feel right. There's nothing wrong with stopping what you're doing. Have proper ID and emergency contact information on you along with a little cash for a cab ride if necessary. A cell phone helps too.

Adapting early on:
My fall marathon training programs usually start near the end of June, and hopefully by that time I've already run a few miles in warmer-than-usual conditions. My runs of between 4 to 8 miles will start in the middle of the day, or early afternoon when the sun is at its hottest. I'll throw on a long sleeve on temps between 60F and 70F if necessary. The rule that you should expect to be at least 20 degrees warmer during a run than the outside temperature is an important one. This will become of even more importance when the outside temps are nearing 90F. Dress accordingly.

Hydrate, and re-hydrate:
I can't stress enough how important it is to make sure you're properly hydrated before taking on a run in the heat. It took me quite a while to find the best combination that works the best for me the day before a run. There is always the danger of hydrating too much and disrupting the balance of electrolytes in your system, so I like to munch on salty foods like pretzels late in the day.

Before last year's marathon, I started using Zym Electrolyte Drink tablets in 8 oz. of cold water with my breakfast at least one hour before my run, then another tablet immediately after. Besides helping to stabilize my electrolyte levels, I found it also helps in recovering nicely without cramping or muscle soreness.

Finding relief during a run:
My timing of hydrating during my run was a tricky one to master and is just as important. I found that most larger races set their relief stations every 2.5 or 3 miles, which for me can vary between every 20 to 30 minutes. Of course you may not find many relief stations during a training run, so I use a 4-bottle hydration system by Fuel Belt. Yes it's clunky, and yes it will take a while to get used to, but after a while, you won't know its there, and be thankful that it is. Just like in races, I've trained my body to drink every 20 to 30 minutes, and even closer to 15 minutes if temperatures are nearing 100F. Again, this is easier to master if you're properly hydrated to begin with.

For runs of 10 miles and over, I'll setup my Fuel Belt with two 8 oz. bottles with a Gatorade/water mix (70/30% respectively), and two bottles with straight water that I can drink with Power Gels . Straight Gatorade is much too sugary and causes me rather severe cramping- even worse if taken with Gels. I don't like all that fluid sloshing around in my stomach during runs, and the every 20 to 30 minute rule works well so my body can properly absorb what's already there.

Other tips:
- Wear sunscreen! Not only is heat dangerous, but the sun will cause you to burn if you're out there for a long time.

- Hat and sunglasses. The hat keeps my head cool, and even better when I can pour some cool water on my hat when available. Be careful not to get water on your shoes or risk blisters! I prefer my sunglasses to be polarized to mitigate that deceiving "mirage" effect you see ahead of your route. My overall vision through polarized lenses is much better, I think.

- Wear the proper clothing. Spend money on some good technical clothing designed for working out that will draw sweat away from your body. Avoid clothing that is too tight and with exposed stitching that can cause chafing in sensitive areas. I learned this one the hard way.

- No cotton! If you want to carry around all that sweat, then go ahead. The no cotton rule also applies to socks. Keep your shoes as dry as possible. I like to cover my toes and the back of my heel with Body Glide to keep the blistering to a minimum.

-Start early or start late. This may work for you if you have the time, but if I'm targeting a race, I like to run as close to the start time if possible in training so I know what to expect during those hours.

-Cool down gracefully. Don't immediately jump in a lake or throw ice water over you immediately after a hot run since you may go into shock! Grab some fluids, take a walk, find some shade, and let your body do it's thing. Then jump in the lake!

Again, some of these may not apply to you, but a lot is just common sense. Training for an endurance event isn't just about training your body to reach the finish line, but to practice what works and what doesn't so you have the best race day experience possible- and have fun!

After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

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Blogger runner-grrl said...

Great post, Jesse! I'm going to add a link to it in my comments section on the same topic :-)

Wish I could stand to wear my fuel belt... You are tougher than I am. --Alex

8:29 AM


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