When running in the heat, the most important factor is to remember to take it easy. Even the most well-conditioned athletes have to be careful, although the more fit a person is, the better that person can cope with running in hot weather. Even climate preference, some people can handle hot a lot better than cold. I am one of them. The best time of the day to run during periods of extreme heat is early in the morning before the sun rises, or late at night after the sun has disappeared. With the high humidity in Rowan County, it is better to run in the morning since humidity gets worse throughout the day and we have been experiencing late afternoon thunderstorms. If it is unavoidable to run at these times, run in shaded areas such as trails. Avoid running on long, open blacktop roads. The dark surfaces of the roads absorb heat and cause hotter conditions.
Now, of course you can run on an indoor track or treadmills that are located in a well air conditioned area. We have both at our YMCA. If you have been running inside and want to run outside take extra precautions since your body is not used to the heat.
Run small circuits close to where you start. Therefore, if you start to feel the affects of the heat, you can stop before causing serious damage to your health. When running in hot weather, it is advisable to wear lightweight and light colored outfits. Outfits with the words “cool-max” or “dri-fit” are great. They stay a lot drier and they are very lightweight.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! All runners running in heat should abundantly hydrate themselves before the start of a run. (Remember, when you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.) The longer the distance, the more fluid is lost. During all runs in hot weather, the runner should attempt to drink. Some are able to run with back packs or belts that are designed for runners. Or, plan your route so that you have water fountains/bottles available on a regular basis.
Likewise, it is important to drink after the run to keep the body hydrated. Hot, humid conditions promote sweating, which in return can cause dehydration. Sweating is good for you (really!) because it cools your body. But, when you lose too much water, you become dehydrated.
Remember that some decongestants, such as ones allergy sufferers might take, can also contribute to dehydration; likewise for other popular beverages such as coffee and alcohol.
Don’t expect that you can make up for several days of not drinking enough by downing two cups of a sports drink before your next long run or race.
The average (sedentary) person needs around eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day. Runners need more, at least sixteen 8 -ounce glasses daily. Another good way to get your correct intake of water is half of your bodyweight in ounces.
Two hours before your daily summer workout or race, you should drink 16 ounces of fluid.
Ten minutes before you start your run, drink another one or two cups of water or a sports drink. Drinking early and drinking often is the key. It is advised you should drink immediately after finishing a run (in intervals) Advised is a minimum of 16 ounces for every 30 minutes you ran.
If you don’t, the following could happen:
• Heat cramps: a very painful cramp that rarely “work themselves out.”
What to do:
• Stop running.
• Drink fluids immediately (Sports drinks as well as water)
• Massage the muscles once the pain begins to subside.
• Cool your body with wet towel
• Get out of the sun!
• Heat exhaustion: very serious and can lead to heat stroke. Symptoms are:
• Dizziness and “goose bumps”
• Nausea (sometimes accompanied with vomiting)
• Moderate to a severe headache
• Weak legs
• Lack of coordination
• Rapid pulse
• Heavy sweating often accompanied by moist and cold skin
• Muscle cramping
What to do:
• Stop running
• Get medical attention
• Get out of the sun
• Drink large amount of fluids (in intervals), including sports drinks.
• Lie down and elevate your feet above your heart.
• Loosen clothing.
• Heat stroke (Which can be fatal!): Unfortunately runners will sometimes ignore the symptoms of heat exhaustion and will continue to push themselves until they are nearing a total thermoregulatory breakdown. Symptoms are very similar to those of heat exhaustion, but rapidly progress to:
• Weakness in the legs to the point that the runner may fall
• Strange behavior
• “Fuzzy” thinking
• Rapid pulse
• Hot/dry skin
• Body temp of 104 or higher
• Lack of consciousness
• Convulsions or seizures
Someone suffering a heat stroke needs immediate medical attention. They should be moved out of the sun, cooled by either rubbing their body with ice or immersing them in cold water and given fluids intravenously.
So please follow the recommendations to stay hydrated and cool. If you don’t, you are not running to improve your health anymore, you are putting your health in jeopardy.
Ester H Marsh, ACSM Cpt Associate Executive and Health and Fitness Director JF Hurley Family YMCA