New Considerations to Beat the Heat

Summer is here.  In the DC (Mid-Atlantic) region most people equate summer with heat and humidity.  The whole running community is ready to dispense its articles on this topic reminding you to hydrate, run earlier in the morning, and to wear breathable clothing, but here are a few tips for runners you might not catch anywhere else:

1.  Run in the heat!  Acclimation is the best guard against the adverse effects of the summer weather.  You need exposure in order to adapt.  Don't expect to set a PR on a hot days (unless you're a beginner or don't have many races under your belt), but you can ensure you hit your full potential for a given day by acclimating to minimize the adverse effects of the weather.  Fitness in general is another great guard against the heat, so keep running outside and be patient.  You'll notice that the fitter runners have less issues in the summer.

2.  Related to the first point, let go of your pacing goals.  Ideal temperatures for setting a PR is mid-50's to low 60's.  Again, unless you're a beginner without much racing experience, it's harder to set a PR with each degree increase in temperature.  This is especially true at the longer distances.  Ditch the Garmin and enjoy the run.  If it's a race, adjust your goals.  Many Garmin runners are unwilling to make this sacrifice, so they end up feeling slow without truly understanding how much the odds were stacked against them.

3.  Get out of the air conditioning.  If you are a serious athlete shooting for a big race that is in a hot and humid climate, then you should avoid living in an air conditioned world for about 2 weeks before the race (and in general).  If you are serious about improving race performance and are looking for little advantages here and there, this is a big one: Stop living in the A/C.  We here stories about people passing out (or worse) during hot and humid race conditions, but by no means does it mean you can't adapt to heat.  How do some people do it?  We are animals primed for acclimation, so get used to the heat by turning off the A/C at home (use fans) and drive with the windows down in the car.  Turning off your A/C for the summer will allow you to acclimate to the elements more quickly.  This tip is only practical if racing is a high priority to you, so this tip is not for everyone.  

4.  Wear a visor, not a hat.  Visors and hats are beneficial if you don't run with sunglasses, but I am partial to visors for three reasons, a) you want to aid in the body's ability to let heat escape from the top of the head, b) it's ensured that the cold water you are dumping on your head to stay cool will make contact with your head and not be absorbed by a hat, and c) they are a tad bit lighter, and as comical as that sounds, think running over a long course.  If you're balding on top, then a hat is probably your better option.

5.  Get a haircut!  Contrary to popular belief, we don't lose more heat through our heads, but we don't want to trap it either.  If you're running with a Fuelbelt (or similar), pouring water on your head can keep the body temperature down on a hot day due to the number of blood vessels near the scalp (brain), so consider getting a shorter haircut to let the water make it to your scalp.  Heart rate increases naturally on hotter days because in addition to blood being demanded by the exercising muscles, more blood must also be transferred to the skin to aid in sweating (the cooling process).  So a shorter haircut may produce less sweating by not inhibiting the escape of heat. Consider it a "summertime haircut" and then you can unleash the hippie within and grow your hair out again once the winter rolls around. 

6.  Run at night.  It is cooler in the morning, but also more humid.  Evening runs will be less humid, but higher temps.  Pick your poison, see if evening runs are a better option for you. 

To summarize, there are ways of getting around the heat/humidity in the summer without having to cancel your runs.  Consider your gear, from head-to-toe, including shades, visors, hats, wicking clothes (no cotton), thin socks, sun block, etc.  You should always be well hydrated ("drink before you're thirsty"), but make sure you have a Fuel Belt and also have places where you can stop if needed (at least to douse your head).  Then, if all else fails, you should at least be able to do your run inside on a treadmill, there's no shame in that, as it's better than skipping the workout altogether.  Finally, check the weather in advance to see if you can rearrange your weekly schedule around the hotter days.  In the end, consider what you can do to become better acclimated to the heat (lifestyle changes).  

As Tom Petty reminds us, keep running and "Don't Back Down" in the summer weather! 

Train hard (and be smart)!


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