Typically I write this annual column during the heat of the summer and sometimes it can be too late to benefit many of you. However, this year I wanted to be more proactive.
Yes, we've had a couple of hot and humid days, but certainly the worst is yet to come. It will get hotter and it will get more humid. Your mind knows the heat is coming, so let's make sure your body does as well.
Let's start with a disclaimer: running in extreme conditions (whether hot or cold) is not smart. Pride needs to take a back seat. Most importantly, if you run in extreme heat, you may feel fine at the time, but know that the repercussions could last days if not weeks.
So before we get into my six tips for running in the heat, I want to provide a preface or a preamble.
Acclimate your body, your mind, and your spirit for running in the heat.
The last few days have offered a mere hint of what is to come, so I hope you've taken advantage of it. If you run everyday, your body adjusts to the changing climate. The temperatures will not go from 60 degrees one day to 100-plus the next (even though we are in Indiana.
If you run consistently every day at a certain time, your body will be less susceptible to the changes in weather. Be a creature of habit and your body will adjust. If you are an infrequent runner, don't start a new training cycle when the weather is extreme.
Also, if you run indoors even some of the time, don't choose an abnormally hot day to head outdoors.
I know this seems like common sense, as will the rest of my tips, but as runners we've all fallen victim to our exuberance.
So without further ado, here are my “other” six tips to running in the heat:
1. Just say no!
Go ahead, avoid the heat. Do your best to run in the early morning hours or after sunset, if you have a lighted running path. If you must run in the afternoon, take to the treadmill. If none of these solutions work for you, find some shade (try trail running) and make it an easy day. If you typically run 7:30 minutes per mile pace, the body will work just as hard running 8 minutes per mile in the heat.
2. Be prepared.
Hydrate, hydrate and then hydrate some more. Drink plenty of water and sports drinks before, during and after your run. In general, you need 8 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of continuous exercise.
My favorite piece of advice on this topic is don't make hydrating a special occasion. As runners, we should always be well-hydrated. It should be part of our daily routine so that when the really hot days come, our bodies are already adjusted to its needs.
3. Hyponatremia is real and it is also preventable.
When I first wrote about this condition in 2003, it was all the rage because two people had died in the previous year. The panic has subsided as education on the topic has increased.
Hyponatremia occurs when the body takes on too much water, flooding the system. Simply hydrating with water is OK in short runs. But when you run and sweat for extended periods of time, the body sweats out a tremendous amount of salt. By simply rehydrating with water, the body fails to get the nutrients (sodium and chloride) it needs. And the more water you take in, the quicker it flushes out the remaining nutrients.
And therein lies the problem. The lesser-educated first-aid workers treat the runner for dehydration by filling the person with more water. The rare instances of hyponatremia has occurred in runners or walkers who have exercised for more than four or five hours.
The bottom line is that your body needs more than just water because it's not sweating just water. So popular sports drinks and salty snacks play a key role. And remember, make it a daily habit, not just a special occasion.
4. Know your body.
As a runner, you should be keenly aware of your body inside and out. You know when something just isn't right, so heed these warning signs. No one workout is so important that you are forced to recover for several days.
An early warning sign that the body isn't handling the hot conditions well is your effort level. If you normally train with a heart rate monitor and are in the 140 to 145 beats per minute range when running 8-minute miles, then a heart rate inching up to 155 or 160 shows that it's time to back off.
A few more warning signs that your body isn't handling the conditions: headache, chills and cessation of sweating.
When you've reached that point, there's nothing to do but call it a day and concentrate on rehydration.
The final warning signs are confusion and delirium. If you've gotten to that point (and you wouldn't know it anyway) then you need medical attention.
5. Prevent what you can.
Staying properly hydrated can be a challenge, so don't ingest things that dehydrate you.
Caffeine and alcohol naturally dehydrate the body, so limit your intake of those drinks.
6. Think ahead.
If you've just run a pretty decent time in a 10K road race in tough conditions and want to celebrate, then knock back a few sports drinks, eat some chilled fruit and take an ice bath. This beats the usual alternative, which often include a few beers, greasy fair food and laying in the sun.
You may feel euphoric, but your body needs to regenerate. If you want to run at all the next few days, then start preparing for that next run now.
A simple rule for post-race beer is to not drink until you've urinated at least twice after your run. So if you are a beer-lover, you better start drinking sports drinks and water.
As for eating, fruits contain plenty of water and key nutrients that the body needs to regenerate. If you include them as part of your regular diet at this time of the year, you are one step ahead. My favorite is watermelon with a heavy dose of salt.
As far as the ice bath goes, don't laugh until you've tried it!