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(Originally published June 2015, updated June 2017)
Here are the key tips that we pass along to all of our Run Farther & Faster runners each year as the first hot days of the summer approach to help them safely and effectively continue training and racing through the summer:
Embrace the suck
Even the most well-trained, heat acclimated runners suffer in the heat. As the mercury rises, performance degrades as the body works harder to keep your core cool. Evidence shows that the ideal running temperature is around 55 degrees, and for every 10-degree increase, runners can expect up to a 3% decrease in performance. As runners at the unexpectedly hot 2012 Boston Marathon realized, in high heat the only smart choice is to adjust expectations and run at a slower pace.
As the summer progresses, your body will adapt to running in the heat. It typically takes at least two weeks of exercising regularly outdoors for your body to acclimate, during which time physiological changes including higher blood plasma volume and increased sweat rate take place to improve your body’s ability to run in the heat. Even after this happens, though, we encourage our runners to run by feel instead of a particular goal pace as the heat will still impact the ability to run at paces that were attainable in cooler temperatures.
Water, Water Everywhere
Hydration is always important, but particularly important during the hot summer months. Our runners have heard our constant mantra that “pee should be clear and copious,” meaning that they should be drinking regularly throughout the day so that their urine is pale in color and they are going to the bathroom several times a day. Do not rely on thirst as an indicator of hydration, as by the time you feel thirst, you are already significantly dehydrated. Drink throughout the day, and never leave the house without a full water bottle and a route that allows you to stop for refills along the way.
In addition to hydrating, pay close attention to your electrolyte consumption. Many runners think of salt when they think of electrolytes and focus on getting in extra sodium, but there are four other electrolytes that are key to performance and that are lost through sweat: potassium, magnesium, calcium and chloride. On particularly hot days, before long training runs or races, we encourage our runners to supplement with an electrolyte capsule. Our favorite is SaltStick (http://www.saltstick.com/), since one capsule has sufficient amounts of each of the above electrolytes. Taking one capsule the night before a long run or race, one the morning of, and one per hour during exercise can help prevent an electrolyte imbalance that occurs with a high sweat rate.
Be an Early Bird
Adjust your schedule during the summer so that you can take advantage of the coolest part of the day. One advantage of the summer months is more daylight, so you can head out for a run as early as 5:15 or as late as 8:00. Running in the early morning not only allows you to run in more comfortable temperatures, but also gets your workout out of the way before the day gets busy and work, family and other commitments prevent you from running.
Dress Like a Cool Kid
Pick your running clothes and gear carefully this summer. Wear light-colored technical fabrics (with UV protection is a plus), a hat or visor, and sunglasses. There are even cooling arm sleeves, seen on many athletes out on the Eagleman course this past weekend. Don’t forget sunscreen, even in the early morning or late afternoon hours.
Ice, Ice Baby
In particular, when racing in hot, humid conditions, ice is your friend. You can suck or chew on ice before the race to pre-cool your core, and take any ice available on the course to add to your water bottle, hold in your hand (ice in your palm helps cool your body), or put down the front and back of your shirt. Wear a light-colored running hat and at each aid station, fill it with ice and put it back on your head. It sounds crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures!
Remember that the adaptations that your body makes to acclimate to the heat will pay off in the long term, and when temperatures return to more mild, cool fall days, all of sweat equity you invested over the summer training will pay off!