29 May 2011

Running on the Sun (Or in Maryland during the summer)

Here is the post that I know everyone (aka Alex) has been eagerly awaiting: my tips for running in summer.

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor (obviously), licensed professional, gym trainer, etc. of any kind. (Although the sheer amount of Discovery Health channel (RIP) programming that I watched while in undergrad might suggest otherwise.) The advice I provide derives from my own personal experiences and, let's face it, is pretty commonsensical. Just covering my bases here.**

Having spent the past year training in the cold/mild weather of the UK, it was something of a rude shock to come back to Maryland, where both the temperature and humidity levels have been rising ever higher over the past few weeks. While last year I was able to escape the heat by moving to Edinburgh for the summer (where a 'intolerably hot day' is considered 75F or above), I am going to have to muddle through it this year. Since it does me no good to spend all of my time complaining about the weather, I've decided to share some of my favorite tips for running in the heat. They have helped me in the past and I hope that they will be of use to others. (Don't get me wrong though, I am still going to complain about the heat.)

  • It takes roughly 2-3 weeks to acclimatize to hot weather. Re-adjust your personal goals and times accordingly. 
  • Slow down! As noted above, it takes 2-3 weeks to adjust to hotter weather. Even then, many runners fall into the trap of starting off too fast (i.e. at a 'normal' pace) too soon. Even if it does not feel 'too hot' outside when you start your run, once your core temperature rises due to physical exertion it will feel much warmer. Starting off your run at a slower pace will allow your body to adjust and prevent you from exhausting yourself too soon. 
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!!!! I can't stress this enough. It seems like common sense, but when push comes to shove, many runners forget to bring adequate fluids (water, sports drinks, etc.) to support their summer runs. I run into this problem all of the time because many times it seems cool enough outside that I will be able to 'make do' on whatever fluids I imbibed prior to running. Once I get a few miles into the run, however, I almost always regret this decision. How do you combat this problem? Most sports physicians recommend drinking adequate fluid (8-16oz) 30-45 minutes prior to exercise and then 6-8ozs every 10-15 minutes while running. If you absolutely cannot tolerate carrying a water bottle, try a hydration backpack or pre-position water bottles around your running route.
  • Learn to recognize the early signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion. These include: nausea, chills, dizziness, cessation of sweating, disorientation, hallucination. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop immediately, seek a shady area, drink cold water, and rest. Pushing through these symptoms could lead to heat stroke (a condition that requires emergency medical attention). No run (training or race) is worth risking that.
  • Run early or late. These are the times of the day when the temperature and humidity levels are likely to be lower, thus making for a more pleasant run. It also decreases your chances of heat stroke and sunburn. If you must run during the day, try to run along shady routes. 
  • Wear light-colored, moisture-wicking running clothes. Avoid cotton clothing, which soaks up sweat. If you can tolerate it, wear a hat. 
  • Don't forget sunscreen
  • Try alternative forms of exercise to running. Go pool running. Hop on a treadmill. Cross train.
  • Be sensible. If the weather channel has issued a heat advisory (which they usually do for a good reason), don't go for a run. To sound horribly cliche, it is better to be safe than sorry.

**The title of this post refers to the documentary by the same name. It covers the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile summer race through Death Valley that ends on a mountain. I highly recommend it!**

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