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HOW TO BEAT THE HEAT DURING SUMMER RUNNING
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If you have never run outdoors in the southeast in August, it is a little like running inside of someone's mouth. The heat and humidity are tremendous. There is no such thing as waking up early enough, at least for a teenage boy, to beat the heat when it is in the mid-80s by sunrise. Nevertheless, each morning I would venture out for a few miles along the streets in my neighborhood, the cicadas roaring and my body cooking. By the time I made it home, I'd be overheated, panting, and wondering why on earth I signed up for cross country.
It would go like this until late September. But when those first autumnal days arrived and the dewpoint dipped below 70 and the temperature below 80, I felt reborn. In fact, I felt like I was actually running. Fall was the reward for those summer months of discomfort.
But hot conditions can make you feel like you are making no progress, and it’s easy to throw in the towel. Your cardiovascular system has to work overtime to deliver oxygen to your muscles. The energy required to do this raises your core temperature at the same time you are sweating out your precious fluids and electrolytes. Humidity makes the cooling effect of perspiration less effective as your sweat runs off your body instead of evaporating from your skin. The net result is a lot of work for sluggish paces.
The good news is that this is not a permanent state, and most runners acclimate to warm conditions in three to four weeks. As with any new stress you introduce to your training, you must seek an incremental adaptation. This means don't do mile repeats on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day if you have never worked out in temperatures over 80. The risks of doing so can be ugly and lead to exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke (unless you are already acclimated to a warm environment, that is). A runner who trains in Houston, for example, is likely more efficient in the heat than a runner who trains in Portland.
Also, do not adhere to paces you would in cooler months. A chart like Tinman’s illustrates just how much slower your paces should be. Most year-round runners look at the summer as a time for base training. You should too. I avoid racing anything over 10k in the summer and let the weather dictate my race goals.
I grew up running middle and high school cross country in the southeast. Every summer my coach would mail out a training program we were supposed to begin the first of August.
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Coach Zach Shtogren is a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach and a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Endurance Specialist. Coach Shtogren is a firm believer that running has the potential to shape and redirect lives at whatever age, and that a diligent athlete who focuses on a long-term goal can achieve just about anything.
Of course, staying hydrated is paramount. Consistent fluid intake throughout the day will help your muscle cells recover. A simple electrolyte supplement can speed your return to homeostasis. How much fluid you should consume depends on your metabolism, but the “pee clear” rule is a good rule of thumb. Do not gulp down a liter of water right before you run, as this will only cause bloating and urination. A diet of water-rich foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, mangoes, peaches, and watermelon will supplement your fluid intake. It is salad season anyway, so take advantage.
If you feel weak, nauseous, or dizzy, stop your workout and retreat to the shade. The progression from overheated to medical emergency can be a quick one, so err on the side of caution if you feel suddenly off.I was never a stud cross country runner, but I was certainly better than I would have been had I not trained in the heat. On the team I coach today, I can attribute a lot of my runners’ successes or failures in October and November to the work they did or did not do over the summer.
Training in the heat might feel physiologically and psychologically draining, but remind yourself that cooler conditions will come, and that eventually (when they do) you will run with remarkable ease.
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