Running in hot weather may not be a problem where you are, but here in Texas the spring has been “a mite warmish.” Highs have hovered in the 100-105 range (38-40 Celsius) for the past few weeks, with no let up in sight. This hot weather can make running uncomfortable, or even downright dangerous.
I had planned on training for a fall half marathon – with summer still another week away I’m glad that other plans caused me to change my mind. But for those half training now, how do you handle the hot weather?
You know all the standard recommendations: stay well-hydrated, don’t push so hard when it’s really hot, take your long runs at the coolest times and so on. Putting these into practice can be more difficult, though. Here are some recommendations I have found worked for me in the past.
Yes, hydration is important, but beware of hyponatration. As far as we can tell from the records, no runner has actually died from dehydration, but there have been several deaths from hyponatration. So how do you avoid it?
It turns out that the runners who have suffered from hyponatration in hot weather have collapsed after consuming really large quantities of liquid to avoid dehydration. Frequently, the problem has been due to taking large quantities of sports drinks. Sports drinks are easier than water to consume in large quantities.
The level of electrolytes in the sports drinks is too low to replace that lost through sweat, the theory goes. Hence, to maintain electrolyte balance it is necessary to run slightly dehydrated rather than over hydrated. This goes against conventional wisdom, but the statistics don’t lie: let thirst be your guide in hot weather, not some arbitrary number of ounces per mile.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not advocating against sports drinks. Personally, especially in hot weather, I like to take a glass of one of the sports drinks before and after my run: my warning is against over-consuming liquid. For my long run, I carry water, because I am not likely to consume too much of that.
Even in a race it’s a good idea to ease off if you find yourself getting dizzy or faint. Better to finish running a little slower than being driven in an ambulance. In training, the temptation is always to push a little harder: the trick to running in hot weather is to know your limits and stay within them. At other times we like to know our limits and push beyond them!
Choose your times
When you have a choice, schedule your long runs and your hard runs for cooler times. If that is not possible, respect the conditions and accept that your running times will be slower for the same level of effort in hot weather. On those really hot, still days, try cross training: I found cycling and swimming both worked well.
Running in hot weather has its own set of challenges. Before I retired, I tried various times of the day to find out what worked best for me. Running early in the morning, when the temperature was still around 80 (27 Celsius) worked well, but the higher humidity was still punishing. I also found myself frequently running in the dark, but after two sprained ankles due to unseen hazards gave up that practice.
Evening running after a day’s work was not very successful for me, so that left me with either treadmill running (which I hate) or running at noon. (I’m not a mad dog, but I was born an Englishman, so going out in the midday sun may have been natural for me.) I found that, provided I started early enough in the year, I could keep running at noon during the week all summer long. I still made sure to drink water before and after the run, and I kept my run to 30-45 minutes in length, saving my long runs for the weekend.
In the end, it’s up to you. Our bodies and running styles are all different, and what works for one runner may not work for another. Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you, but do it early in your training cycle so that you won’t mess up your schedule too badly.