Thursday, June 23, 2011

Beat the Summer Heat!

Like most of you, I am finding it harder and harder to get out and run with these temperatures climbing. With the coolest it gets in the morning being 78-80 degrees, it's hard to find a good time to run if you want to avoid the "dreadmill." But don't worry! I am here today to give you a few tips on how to beat the heat, but to also explain why it is so hard in the summer months compared to the rest of the year.
Let's first talk about why it is so difficult to run in 80-100 degree weather. Logically, anything under 98.6 degrees should feel cool to us because that's our internal temperature, right? WELL, technically 98.6 degrees isn't your skin temperature, it is actually much lower. Bear with me here, I'm about to get smart. All of your body's functions (metabolism, digestion, etc.) produce heat as a byproduct, so you have to constantly try to vent that heat to maintain a consistent internal temperature and avoid overheating. Now venting this heat does not actually make you feel cold, if you are venting at just the right rate, you should feel comfortable, not too hot, not too cold. When we are out in weather that is at or near our internal body temperature, even if we aren't running, it becomes difficult to vent efficiently, so your nerves in your skin send messages to your body telling you that it is uncomfortable and you need to find some shade or a cooler area until it can catch back up and let you bring your body temperature back down. To make matters worse, when you run, the energy you use to make your legs and body move turns into heat! This heat makes your internal body temperature rise even more, and when your body is already having a difficult time cooling down as is, running gets tough pretty quick. There is an unwritten running rule called "the 20 degree rule" that is usually applied to the cold, but is even worse in the heat. When running, always dress like it is 20 degrees warmer outside. So in the winter, if it is 35 degrees, dress as if it was 55, maybe shorts and a long sleeve. But when the temperature is already 100, how are you supposed to dress? Like it's 120? How do you dress for 120 degrees?
Well, in lieu of seeing a bunch of naked runners, let me give you a couple tips to help keep your body temperature down in the summer heat.
  1. Dress appropriately. Get moisture wicking clothes, they will be a life saver. In case you don't know what moisture wicking clothes are, go over to your closet. Pull out that race shirt from a couple weeks ago. See all those little holes and meshy material? That's moisture wicking fabric. Moisture wicking fabrics work because they have two main properties about them, they are both hydrophilic and hydrophobic. Hydrophilic (water loving) properties of a shirt are usually obtained by adding a finish or treatment into the garment, which will allow the shirt to pull sweat away from your body and absorb it into the fibers. Hydrophobic (water hating) properties of a shirt are usually the materials themselves, like polyester, which speeds up the evaporation, making you cooler, faster.
  2. Stay Hydrated! The amount of water or electrolyte drink you should take in per run varies from person to person, but there is a general guideline. Try to drink about 4-6 oz for every 20 minutes out in the heat if you are running slower than 8 min/mile and about 6-8 oz for every 20 minutes if you are going faster. Since it is extra hot here in Texas right now, I would suggest determining your sweat rate for a more personal guideline. To determine your sweat rate, weigh yourself before and after a run (this works best if you go for about an hour). For each pound you lost, you lost about 16 oz of water. So, if you lost 3 pounds in 1 hour of running, you would need to replace 48 oz of water, which is about 12 oz per 15 minutes during your run. VERY IMPORTANT! Don't forget that you're supposed to be drinking 8 glasses of water a day anyway, plus all the extra you need from running. For each pound lost, you need to drink between 20-24 oz of water/electrolyte drink post exercise. So from earlier, since we lost 3 pounds, we need to drink between 60 and 72 ounces to rehydrate. To avoid drinking this much afterward, we would have had to utilize our sweat rate knowledge and drink the 12 oz per 15 minutes. Staying hydrated on a day to day basis is critical when training for distance in the heat.
  3. Don't expect to run the same pace you do in the winter. You will not run anywhere near the same speed you do in June than you did in December. As we talked about earlier, it's just harder to keep your body from overheating in the summer, so you just flat out won't be able to run as fast. The chart above is an adjusted pace chart for a 13 mile long run. These times are per mile, so if you normally average 9:30 per mile in your long run and it's 90 degrees outside, your expected speed would be about 25 seconds slower, or 9:55 per mile.
  4. Do your best to get out there early. Or do your best to get out there after dark. This is going to give you the best chance to get the lowest temperatures possible on a hot summer day. Even if you wake up at 6 a.m. and it is 78 degrees outside, that is still better than running in the heat of the day when it can get upwards around 95 with a 102 degree heat index. The hottest time of the day is between noon and 4 p.m. That is when the sun is highest in the sky and will be beating down directly on you, so do your best to avoid those times.
  5. Wear sunblock. Aside from the obvious, "I don't want to get sunburned" reason for wearing sunblock, a little known fact is that it actually helps keep your body temperature down. The reason sunblock keeps you cooler is because it literally does what the name says. It blocks the sun from directly heating your skin. So in a way, we can say we are almost tricking the body by applying sunblock into making it think it's cooler outside. In terms of which one to use, I myself have been using Mission SPF 30 Ultra-Sweatproof Sunscreen. Anything over 30 SPF is really a waste because unless you're training for ultras, you aren't going to be outside long enough to need anything else.
Well, those are some things to consider before heading out on your next run. You know, I'm not 100% sure if it really does anything, but I have been going out about once or twice a week, during the hottest hours of the day and doing a normal workout. I feel like I'm getting stronger in the heat, but I can't tell for sure. So if you do try to acclimate yourself to the heat by diving right in, be safe and bring plenty of water. If I missed anything, let me know in the comments, because this is a blog by a runner, for a runner, and we like to help each other out. Take these tips wisely, and you will love living the Life of a Runner.

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