Thursday, June 21, 2012

Running in the Heat

It's 95 degrees here in the heat today and I have to say that unlike most people, I love it. I can't wait to get out and run on these hot and humid days. But it's not easy, and you have to do it the right way. So here are some tips humbly offered.

Throw the GPS in the drawer 
It's so easy these days to track every step, analyse the distance and speed of every workout, and of course, when we do that, we start to develop specific expectations. Despite being the first person to post his routes and times to facebook, let's face it, you're the only person that cares how far or how fast your workout was. Don't get me wrong, self-expectations can be great, but on an extremely hot day you should always run for a set time, not a set-distance. Why ?

Lower your expectations
It's important to moderate your expectations, especially this time of year when you might be running in extreme heat for the first time. The heat will affect you because it's not physiologically possible for you to completely ignore it. When it's 80 and you go out and start your run you'll feel the heat eventually. When it's 95 and you step out the door it will hit you in the face the first step. And keep hitting you.

I recommend picking either a different route that you usually run or doing a strict out and back with the goal of turning around halfway through the run. Don't try and negative split. I went out today and picked a route I knew I could normally easily run in under 75 minutes with the goal of running it in 75 minutes. You are not going to run as fast. Accept it. Start the run with the goal of surviving the run.

That may sound lame but 95 degree weather, especially humid 95 degrees is no joke. It's more than most people can handle. Add the fact that this kind of humid heat invariably drives down air quality and you have every reason to reduce your expectations.

Carry a full-sized water bottle, not a fuel belt
I'm a big advocate of a full-sized water bottle under all circumstances, but in the extreme heat, I think it's a must. This is just a question of mass and um, kinetic energy (?) 4 small bottles with 6-8 ounces of fluid will heat up very quickly, where as a single 20 ounce bottle will stay cool longer. Keeping your fluids cool as long as possible helps provide maximum benefit when you drink them. Drinking 85 degree sports drink is not cooling to help keep your core body temperature regulated.

I know for a lot of people, carrying a water bottle is not something they like to do, but my advice is to do it anyway.

Stay in the shade
Try to pick a route with a lot of shade. Shade is 5-10 degrees cooler (or more). Every minute you spend in the shade improves your chance of success. It's not wimpy or anything, it's common-sense smart.

The first 10-20 minutes of the run may not feel very good. You are going to run slower. Live with it. Settle in and run steady- running fast is not what you are looking to do. Don't think about the heat, don't think about the low air quality. Getting panicky will raise your heart rate 5-10 beats a minute and by far the most important thing is keeping your heart rate down. Don't push, don't time your miles, ignore any other runners out on the road.

Concentrate on Your Form
One of the best ways to stay relaxed and get the most out of your run is to work on your form. I'm not a very zen type of guy, but with the heat, your muscles and joints are going to be lose and it could be your best chance to run with really good form. Really good form in turn makes you more relaxed. Being relaxed in turn keeps your heart rate down. This is especially important on hot days. Cardiac drift is going to work in an accelerated fashion on hot days and keeping your heart rate low is essential. If your form is good you will run strong, and if you run strong you'll feel confident.

Back off on the hills
Your heart rate is always going to elevate on hills. In the extreme heat, you have to be especially careful not to let your heart rate get away from you. If you push a hill, your heart rate will soar, and you may not be able to get it back down. In the heat, your heart rate will stay elevated longer, perhaps significantly. Don't charge up a hill only to have to walk after you crest it, or spend the entire rest of your run with an unproductively elevated heart rate.

Don't let the fact you're feeling good goad you into anything
15-20 minutes into your run, even if you felt like crap at the start, you may start to feel really good. That's great. Don't start pushing hard. That's your body settling in. If you start pushing as soon as you start feeling good, you will stop feeling good. Again, cardiac drift will occur. That good feeling, at the same intensity, will leave you in the dust later. Keep your intensity level the same, run and enjoy the fact that for a few minutes, you feel good. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if it doesn't hurt it's not hard enough.

Listen to your body
Normally I am the first person to tell my body to go frak itself. But on an hot day it's essential you listen to what your body is telling you. If it says you need to walk, walk. Heat stroke is not some kind of weird joke, it's incredibly dangerous. Runners and triathletes sometimes get a little superman complex going. Don't. If your body says slow down, even walk, it beats an ambulance ride to the ER.

Replenish, then reward
It's essential that you replenish as soon as you get done runner. I recommend two scoops of Recoverite in a glass with cold water.

My rewards are: Red Bull, @stepehenathome's American Dream, or a Root Beer.

Get some calories in right away. Then sit back and put your legs up and rest and relax.

You earned it.

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