Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Too hot to run?

I see that question posed a lot on Facebook pages and websites where runners gather. My answer is, "No, it's not too hot to run, but it may be too hot to run like it's cool."

This morning when I met with my Tuesday/Thursday group to run at 5 AM the temperature was already over 80 degrees and the humidity near 90%. Our 6 mile run seemed nothing like it did just a few weeks ago. Same course, same time of day, but very, very different, much tougher than it was before the mercury and the moisture in the air shot up.

But still, we run.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," -- Hebrews 12:1
No matter who you are, or how long you've been running, there are people watching you. People who know you, who know you're running, and maybe even think you're crazy for running are watching to see if this is just a passing phase or if you're really going to keep it up. There are people out there you will inspire to get off the couch and on the road IF you keep going. But if you quit, they'll never start. If they see you give up, their inspiration dries up. You run not only for yourself, but also to tear down excuses others use to sit on the couch eating Twinkies and watching TV. If you haven't experienced it yet, you will. Someday you will hear the words, "You inspired me to start running (or biking or hitting the gym or etc.)." People are watching.

So here's my advice to keep running, even when heat and humidity offer seemingly great excuses to stay home and watch TV. (NOTE: I'm no trainer and this is nothing learned in books or seminars. This advice is based on my experience and my experience only.)
1) Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! In the Marine Corps, we were constantly told to drink water. When training and working outside, there was someone over our should all the time telling us to drink. We were told that if your urine wasn't clear, you weren't drinking enough water. I drink at least two gallons of water a day, and usually drink closer to four gallons on tough run days.

Before I run on hot days, I drink a full quart of water before stepping off. If I'm running 6 miles or less, I have another quart standing by when the run is over. For the rest of the day, I'll constantly have a jug of water with me.

2) Supplements. In hot weather, you sweat out more than just water. Electrolytes, sodium, and lots of other stuff are washed out of the body with excessive sweating. These things need to be replaced. I know people who use electrolytes and other supplements, but everyone's needs are unique in this department. I take salt tablets and potassium supplements and sports drink as needed. You'll have to figure this one out by trial and error, or maybe a doctor or nutritionist can come up with a plan to help.

3) Cool yourself. I'm a heavy sweater. After today's run, a puddle was forming under my feet as I stood beside the vehicle guzzling water, and it wasn't because I was spilling any. It was all from sweat! Your body sweats to produce moisture on the skin that's supposed to evaporate. The process serves to cool your body when everything works properly. But when the humidity nears 100%, the moisture saturated air shuts down the evaporation process and God's cooling system isn't very efficient.

Newton's Law of Cooling says the rate at which a body cools is proportionate to the difference in the body's temperature and the air (or other substance) surrounding it. Basically this means that when the evaporative cooling process isn't working and the temperature is high, you're pretty much not going to cool down without making some adaptations.

It's warm enough now that on my long run days, I don't go any farther than 5 miles without stopping to cool down. Instead of a 10 or 15 mile loop, I'll park my car at a central location and do 5 mile loops, stopping at the car between each one until I get in the needed miles. At the car I'll take 5 or 10 minutes to take advantage of the cold water and sports drink stashed in an ice chest before starting the next loop. If conditions don't allow the body to cool from the outside, drinking ice cold liquids does a good job cooling it from the inside.

If the idea of 5 mile loops drives you crazy, you can do this another way too. If you carry a camelback, stick it in the freezer the night before. I tried this last year on a friend's advice and found it doesn't freeze solid, but does supply cold water through a 10 mile run, even on the hottest of days.

4) Slow down. It's okay to not push yourself so hard in hot and humid conditions. Sometimes it seems like you're going backwards in your training when you drop 30 seconds or a minute off your pace, but don't beat yourself up over it. This time of year I may even drop two minutes per mile off my pace on training runs. Often I revert to a walk/run routine before the end of a run and fall even farther off pace. But I keep going to get in the needed miles, even if I have to finish with a walk.

This strategy got me through many a long run last year in the heat and humidity, sometimes nearly overdoing it still. But I remember the first cold front that pushed through and left us with lows in the 60's in September. Early the next morning I decided to take advantage of the cooler, drier air and try my first 20 mile run. I didn't run it fast, but I didn't run it slow either. More importantly though, it seemed pretty easy as 20 milers go.

Even though I'd been running shorter and slower through the heat, I was ready to pick up the pace and cover more ground when favorable conditions returned.

5) Run Early. This last one seems so elementary that I almost didn't list it. Here in central Arkansas, the temperatures are still hovering near 900 after sunset. The coolest temps of the day are usually around 5 or 6 AM. So most of my runs start at 5. Because it's still dark, I carry a small flashlight so drivers can see me and I can see obstacles or critters along the route. If you're not a morning person, this may be a difficult strategy to incorporate. For me though, it's well worth turning the TV off a little earlier and going to be so I'm not out running under the blazing sun.
I'm sure others have their own tips for running in hot weather, but these are my top four. Here's a two-minute video from giving recommendations for running in hot weather.
"They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." -- Jeremiah 17:8
How do you combat the heat and humidity to get in your miles? Feel free to leave your answers as comments to this post.

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