“Bzzz” my smart watch alerted me three miles into a grueling hot and humid run. I looked down to see what all the “buzz” was about: my fitness level was a negative 3! What the heck? Despite all my recent training, my watch determined that my current fitness level was down. URGH! Spying the creek along the trail, I thought about ripping the watch off and throwing it in there.
But why kill the messenger? The fact is my pace WAS slower and my heart rate WAS higher, as was my RPE (rate of perceived exertion). It was not due to lack of training but rather the heat and humidity. I know I’m not alone and it’s completely normal as our weather shifts from spring into summer.
You can expect your run pace to be as much as a minute per mile slower than normal with a much higher RPE for that pace. It takes about 3-4 weeks of running in the conditions to acclimate, assuming you run about 4-5 days/week, and assuming that you are exercising in that heat for about 1-2 hours at a time. During that period, your body undergoes metabolic changes and learns to utilize sweating more efficiently.
It is tempting to avoid the “pain” of acclimating and run during the cooler early morning hours before the sun is up, but this is only going to prolong the process. Eventually you won’t be able to avoid it so you might as well face it now before your training runs get longer, especially before race day. Start with shorter distances/time. You may need to walk before/after or even during to extend your fitness in these conditions.
Keep in mind, acclimating to heat is much more difficult for people over age 60, and for those taking certain medications. If you are concerned about this check with your doctor.
Here are some tips to Staying Cool on the Run:
Run through lawn sprinklers, pour water over your head, put ice in your bra or in your cap, and/or a cube under your tongue.
Drink Fluids and Electrolytes: Do NOT skip these. Take at least 4 oz every few miles. For runs on your own, choose routes with water fountains or gas stations so you can take advantage of some water for topical cooling and drinking. Wear a water bottle belt or carry a handheld water bottle: fill these with electrolytes that work with your gut. Examples are Gatorade or Nuun.
Wear Caps/Sunglasses and Visors. Blocking the sun from your face will make a world of difference. Your own personal shade tree for your face!
Take Salt Tabs/Sticks: As you sweat you lose a lot of salt and in order to absorb the fluids you are taking in you must have enough sodium in your body! Hard to do when it’s leaking out. You may have to experiment with the amount and type of salt replacement you use. Training runs are good time to practice. Do not wait for race day.
Run your long runs with a support group like Roadrunners of Kansas City (RRKC) that provide ice, water and electrolytes every two miles at aid stations.
No matter what, stay tuned to your body and know the signs for heat related illnesses and heat stroke.
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