How to Stand Running in the Heat

Because of the heat and humidity, most people wouldn’t pick summer as their favorite season for outdoor exercise—walking and running included.

Spring or fall normally wins that honor. But summer does have a lot going for it. More daylight before and after work means more time to get outside. What’s more, with all the swimming, lawn mowing, gardening, hiking, and vacations, it’s easier to be more active in the summer, so your fitness level is higher.

Here are 10 quick tips you need to know to help you optimize your hot-weather workouts, along with ways to prevent some common heat-related illnesses and ailments.

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Make adjustments: Don’t do long or higher-intensity workouts during the heat of the day. If you must run at midday, pick routes with some shade. As a general rule, start your workout slower than you usually do. If you’re feeling good halfway through, it’s okay to speed up a little bit.

Wear as little as possible: Wear apparel that’s light in color, lightweight, and has vents or mesh. Microfiber polyesters and cotton blends are good fabric choices. Also, be sure to wear a hat, shades, and sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Watch your alcohol and meds: Alcohol, antihistamines, and antidepressants can all have a dehydrating effect. Using them just before a run can make you have to pee, compounding your risk of dehydration.

Drink early and often: Top off your fluid stores with 16 ounces of sports drink an hour before you head out. Then toss down five to eight ounces of sports drink about every 20 minutes while working out. Sports drinks beat water because they contain electrolytes, which increase your water-absorption rate, replace the electrolytes you lose in sweat, and taste good, making it easy to drink more.

Be patient: Give yourself eight to 14 days to acclimatize to hot weather, gradually increasing the length and intensity of your training. In that time, your body will learn to decrease your heart rate, decrease your core body temperature, and increase your sweat rate.

Seek grass and shade: It’s always hotter in cities than in surrounding areas because asphalt and concrete retain heat. If you must run in an urban or even a suburban area, look for shade—any park will do—and try to go in the early morning or late evening.

Check the breeze: If possible, start your run going with the wind and then run back with a headwind. Running into the wind has a cooling effect, and you’ll need that in the second half of a run.

Head out early or late: Even in the worst heat wave, it cools off significantly by dawn. Get your run done then, and you’ll feel good about it all day. Can’t fit it in? Wait until evening, when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong—just don’t do it so late that it keeps you from getting to sleep.

Slow down: Every 5°F rise in temperature above 60°F can slow your pace by as much as 20 to 30 seconds per mile. So don’t fight it—just slow down.

Run in water: Substitute one weekly outdoor walk or run with a pool-running session of the same duration. If you’re new to pool running, use a flotation device and simply move your legs as if you were running on land, with a slightly exaggerated forward lean and vigorous arm pump.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat Cramps
Cause: Dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance
Symptoms: Severe abdominal or large-muscle cramps
Treatment: Restore salt balance with foods or drinks that contain sodium
Prevention: Don’t run hard in the heat till acclimatized, and stay well hydrated with sports drink

Heat Fainting
Cause: Often brought on by a sudden stop that interrupts bloodflow from the legs to the brain
Symptoms: Fainting
Treatment: After the fall, elevate legs and pelvis to help restore bloodflow to the brain
Prevention: Cool down gradually after a workout with at least five minutes of easy jogging and walking

Heat Exhaustion
Cause: Dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance
Symptoms: Core body temperature of 102° to 104°F, headache, fatigue, profuse sweating, nausea, clammy skin
Treatment: Rest and apply a cold pack on head/neck; also restore salt balance with foods and drinks with sodium
Prevention: Don’t run hard in the heat till acclimatized, and stay well hydrated with sports drink

Cause: Excessive water intake dilutes blood-sodium levels; usually occurs after running for four or more hours
Symptoms: Headache, disorientation, muscle twitching
Treatment: Emergency medical treatment is necessary; hydration in any form can be fatal
Prevention: When running, don’t drink more than about 32 ounces per hour; choose sports drink over water

Heat Stroke
Cause: Extreme exertion and dehydration impair your body’s ability to maintain an optimal temperature
Symptoms: Core body temp of 104° or more, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, disorientation
Treatment: Emergency medical treatment is necessary for immediate ice-water immersion and IV-fluids
Prevention: Don’t run hard in the heat until acclimatized, and stay well hydrated with sports drink

How to Prevent Common Heat-Related Ailments

Blisters, chafing, and sunburn can strike anytime, but they’re more common in hot weather. Here’s how to treat these problems and to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Black toenails
Lots of downhill running and too-small shoes can bring these on, as both cause your toes to slam into the front of your shoe. Wear properly fitted shoes and trim your nails regularly. Once you have a black toenail, there’s not much you can do. It’ll usually heal on its own within a few months. If it’s really painful, see a podiatrist, who may drain the fluid from under the nail.

These are caused by friction, excessive moisture (sweaty feet, wet weather), or shoes that are too small, too big, or tied too tight. So be sure to buy properly fitted shoes. Because your feet can expand a half size over a day, shop in the late afternoon or evening. Putting Vaseline, sports lube, and bandages over blister-prone spots may also help. Ignore blisters smaller than five millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser), since they’re usually not painful. But pop the big ones. With a sterile needle, prick the side of the blister and drain it. Don’t remove the top of the blister; instead, cover it with an antibiotic ointment and moleskin or a bandage.

Skin-to-skin and skin-to-clothing rubbing can cause a red, raw rash that can bleed, sting, and make you yelp during your postrun shower. Moisture and salt on the body make it worse. Underarms, inner thighs, along the bra line (women), and nipples (men) are vulnerable spots. To help prevent it, wear moisture-wicking, seamless, tagless gear. Fit is important—a baggy shirt has excess material that can cause irritation; a too-snug sports bra can dig into skin. Apply Vaseline, sports lube, Band-Aids, or NipGuards before you run. To treat chafing, wash the area with soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage.

Muscle cramps
The best way to prevent these is to be well trained, because fatigue seems to be the main reason for cramping in races and hard workouts. Plyometric training (bounding, hopping) may lower your risk as well, and so may keeping well hydrated with a salty drink. If a cramp hits, stretch immediately. If your calf cramps, for instance, stop running, straighten out your leg, pull back on your toe, and hold the stretch for several seconds. You may need to continue this for 2 to 3 minutes. Then massage the muscle to help ease the pain and get you ready to run again.

To lower your risk, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear a hat, run in the shade, and wear sunscreen. Because sunscreen can’t withstand prolonged exercise, stash some in your pocket or circle back to your car so you can reapply every hour. You can also wear technical apparel that blocks UV rays. If you get sunburned, taking an anti-inflammatory and applying aloe vera a few times per day will take the edge off the pain.

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