5. Hot Weather Distance Running

Jim Maxwell’s Advice:  Distance Running in Hot and Humid Weather

We are once again enduring a very hot end of summer weather pattern. As a distance runner, we are faced with the high temperatures, and sometimes high humidity as well. It is of the highest priority to approach running in this type of weather with knowledge, proper short term and long term planning, a well prepared body and mind, and a back up plan in case of trouble.

First I want to talk a bit about our physiology. We train our bodies to develop strength, speed, and endurance. All three of these "parts" of running obviously rely on our hearts ability to pump blood to fuel the muscles and our whole bodies. Our blood is also the major component of our bodies cooling system. Any time we ask our bodies to do several things at once, in this case fuel muscles and cool us, we are adding up the work load on the heart. This is analogous to running hills or running fast. The work that the heart has to do is increased by doing these two things at once. That is not a problem as long as we gradually add these types of  running to our already established base.

Adding heat to our running has to be done the same way. You need to GRADUALLY acclimate to running in the heat. This means small doses of hotter weather running, slowly adapting the body to this additional heart load. Just like running in the mountains, little hills, then longer hills, then small mountains, then the big climbs. This is easy to grasp with hill running, the same step wise gradual approach needs to be used with running in the heat.

The above is the long term planning. The short term plan, planning to run that week or day in the heat is as follows.

Hydration is the most important part As we have spoken before, ongoing hydration with quality fluids is what we as athletes require. Water is very good, but by itself does not replace lost salts / electrolytes that are in our sweat. Quality sports drinks, Vitalyte, Gatorade etc. (Research shows we drink more when the drink has flavor, and if it's cold.) Water plus an electrolyte replacement product is also very good. Water without electrolytes can be an issue when we have been sweating a lot. Stick with sports drinks in hot weather runningGet your self "super hydrated" in the last two hours before you run. You should be drinking and peeing.

Carry fluids with you. No exceptions. I carry a hand bottle of "emergency" water ( I always have Thermolyte electrolyte pills with me), as well as my water bottle filled with Vitalyte.

The run itself. Dress smart. A running hat, sunglasses, light colored "high tech" fabrics.  Use extra body glide if chaffing is ever an issue. Pick out your run course carefully. Avoid very long runs, avoid hills, and go very slowly.  Again go very slowly. Our use of muscles always generates the heat of metabolism, this will build up in the body as the run progresses. This is why we shorten and slow down the run. We are trying to manage the cumulative heat.

Parts of the emergency plan are to always run with someone, and carry a cell phone. ( Also that second water bottle.) Tell someone what you are doing, where you are running, and when you should be back. Accidents are mostly avoided by proper planning,and keeping others informed.

Lastly, I want to speak briefly about the two "bank account" theory of training as it relates to running in the heat. Obviously the physical part of running in the heat need to be addressed as we have talked about. The mental account can / will be in play in intense weather. Expect  to burn down some mental capital when you run in extreme weather. You need to make a good decision how this run might affect your next race date.

Sorry this has gotten a bit long, but this is a very serious topic. Mistakes in extreme weather are life threatening events. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion are serious medical events. They have both immediate and long term consequences.   Dehydration is dangerous. Stay hydrated.

See you on the trails.

Jim Maxwell