Training In The Heat

Hey kids,

With the advent of summer and hot weather, I thought I would offer some tips for running when it’s blistering hot outside.  As many of you know, I’m the weird runner out there that actually enjoys warm weather for running.  I’m known as a cold weather weenie.  I embrace my treadmill in the winter.

Well, for the past couple of weeks, it’s been well into the 90’s and 100’s with the exception of a couple of days.  Here in Utah, we tend to have low humidity, so yeah, we do have that going for us, but I did live in southern Arkansas for several years, as well as other places in the Midwest where the humidity isn’t quite as low as it is here.

So, without further ado, here’s my tips and tricks for running in hot weather.

  1. Don’t, seriously.  For me, if it’s over 95° I just won’t do it.  Even I have my limits as far as the heat.
  2. Run early in the morning or in the evening when it’s a bit cooler.
  3. Treadmill that run.  Even I’ve been known to do this occasionally in the summer.
  4. For those of us in Utah or other mountain areas, get high.  The standard temperature gradient for the atmosphere is roughly 3.5°F drop per 1000 feet of altitude.  If it’s 95°F on the valley floor at 4500’, then getting up to 7500’ will mean that it’s 85°F.  That’s bearable.  For those of you living where it’s flat, sorry, can’t help you on this one.
  5. Hydrate.  Yeah, this is an obvious one.  For me, I typically will take a 24 oz. bottle for a 6-8 mile run and be just fine.  Others of you may require more, others less.  Going farther?  Plan accordingly, know where those drinkable springs are, or if you’re on the road, take some money so you can hit the 7-11 for a slushie half way through your run.
  6. Pour some water on your body.  There’s evidence that pouring that water on your head and body will dissipate more heat than if you drank it.  An article I read stated that drinking a cup of water that was 34°F will dissipate about 9 calories.  If you drink a half water, half slushie ice mix, you will dissipate roughly 19 calories of heat.  If your pour that same water over your head and body so that none of it hits the ground, you will dissipate roughly 145 calories.  One caveat, obviously if it’s humid, it won’t work as well as evaporation of that water is the key to removing the heat, but it will still feel pretty good, except to me.  I don’t like having cold water dumped on me.
  7. Remember your electrolytes, especially on longer runs.  You can hydrate but you may create some potentially dangerous imbalances.  Not only will you sweat out water, you’ll sweat out electrolytes as well.  You need to replace them.
  8. Slow down some.  I went out for 9 miles yesterday.  It was 93 when I started and I was headed uphill.  Rather than try to push the pace, I slowed it down a bit so that I wouldn’t overheat.  Face it, you’re going to slow down anyway.  Your body can’t get rid of the heat your muscles generate. 

A study on elite marathoners and heat that I read about showed that the optimum temperature for running a marathon was below 40°F.  At 50°-59°F there was a drop off in performance of about 1-2 minutes for a 2:10 marathoner.  For a 3-hour marathoner, the drop off at this temperature range was 4-8 minutes.  When the temperature rises to the 60°-69°F range there was another 1-4 minute slow down on average.  At 70°-79° the slow down became really significant with elites losing another 3 minutes and sub-elites losing upwards of 20 minutes.

  1. Embrace the heat.  Your body can adapt to it.  It takes a couple of weeks, but it can be done.  Every year when I run the Wasatch 100 and the heat is bearing down on us between Big Mountain and Lamb’s Canyon, I’m glad that I did run in the afternoons.  I listen to those around me complain and watch them suffer and I ask them, did you do any training in the heat?  Most of the time the answer is no, they ran in the mornings or later in the evenings.  If you have a hot race coming up, train in the same conditions as you would expect on race day.
  2. Be smart.  The overriding factor here is to use your head.  Yes, you can run in the heat, but remember, otherwise healthy and athletic people have died from heat stroke and dehydration.
Joel is the co-founder of TrailManners.com, owner of KatBlu Web Designs, and Owner of Bomber Athlete.

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