Running in the heat

My area is under a heat advisory, with temperatures in the 90’s today, and even higher temperatures predicted for tomorrow. Many of my fellow runners are taking their weekday runs to the treadmill, or running very early in the morning or late at night to avoid the heat. I’ve been hearing lots of dire warnings about the heat; as someone who has transplanted from the humid east to the desert southwest and back again, I am starting to feel like some of those warnings are a little too strident.

Yes, we need to be careful when there is extreme heat. This is what I mean by “careful”:

  • hydrate all day, not just during or after our runs
  • consider a shorter distance and a slower pace, maybe even some run/walk intervals
  • avoid working out at the peak of the day’s heat, or at high noon with unrelenting sun. (Note: peak heat of the day during the summer is usually somewhere between 2-5pm.)

But we also need to get acclimated to the heat! We aren’t always going to have ideal conditions on race day; my first long race, the 2010 Broad Street Run in Philadelphia, had a record high of 94 degrees. I wasn’t ready for those temperatures in May; who could be? That said, we can use the early summer days to begin acclimating to the heat. For those of us training for Fall races, some of our long runs are going to be on hot days; waiting for the perfect weather just isn’t going to be an option. Doing all of our training indoors, on the treadmill, is not only boring but is simply not effective for race-day preparation. We need to build up our ability to handle the hot temperatures.

Most of us live in air-conditioned homes, work in air-conditioned offices, and travel in air-conditioned vehicles (guilty!). While this heat wave is significant, especially considering how early in the season it comes, we will have more hot days ahead. Even if all you do is go for a leisurely walk, get out and get at least SOME movement on the days you’re scheduled to run. You’ll get used to the heat, and you will learn how it makes you feel and how your body reacts to heat — a good thing to know as the runs get longer and the summer stays hot!

The most important thing in all of this, as during any workout, is to listen to your body. Pay close attention to how you feel; light-headedness, dizziness or nausea are warning signs of dehydration or a possible electrolyte imbalance.