Most of the country has been experiencing a tremendous heatwave. For the South this often means a double whammy because we have heat along with the high humidity and high dew point. Heat can really take a toll on a runner, especially for runners who are in training for their upcoming fall marathons. The only saving grace is knowing that in the fall, when the temperatures drop, they'll feel faster and stronger.
But what's a runner to do in the mean time?
Well the first thing is ongoing good hydration. Be sure to drink throughout the day, the day before a long run. Be careful not to over hydrate and risk flushing out your electrolytes. Drinking moderate amounts of water throughout the day and eating something salty like pretzels works well or just ingesting one sports drink during the day before your long run along with the drinking water throughout the day will help prevent depleting those vital electrolytes. If you don't want the added calories, plop in an electrolyte tablet into one of your servings of water. If you are a coffee or tea drinker (and yes, soda too), you can drink those, but do not count them as a water source. Those drinks often work as a diuretic. So drink your tea, but also drink your water. A good self check to see if you are well hydrated is when you void (pee) check to see if it is translucent. If it's translucent you are pretty well hydrated. It can have a little tint of color, but if it's dark in color or opaque (you can't see through it), then you are not well hydrated.
The morning of a long run (about 1.5 hrs before the run), be sure to get in at least 20oz of water. (Drinking it 1.5-2hrs prior to the run will give it time to pass through your body so you can void before the run.) Drink water throughout the run up until about 45-60 minutes. Then begin using sports drink in order to help replace vital electrolytes (mainly sodium and potassium) needed to ensure good hydration and keep muscle cramps at bay. If Gatorade or the like tend to give you stomach distress, try adding electrolyte tabs like NUUN to regular water. If you do this it will help to provide the essential electrolytes you need, but you'll then need to make sure you're getting your fuel (carbs) from another source such as gels, chomps, chews, or regular food like pretzels.
Secondly, slow down. You will anyway, so you might as well not fight it. And no, you're not being a weenie when you slow down due to the heat. There's a physiological explanation. Even if you're running in mild temperatures (say around 60 degrees your core temp will begin to increase as your body "warms up." One way your body works to cool itself is to send more oxygenated blood into the tiny blood vessels of the skin (the capillaries). Well, as you already know, your body has a certain amount of blood, so when it sends more blood to one area of the body, that means it decreases the amount in other areas of the body. In this case, when more blood moves to the skin, less is available in the working muscles. Less blood in the working muscles means less oxygen getting to the mitochondria in the muscle tissue where it's used in the energy-making process. Not only does that mean less oxygenated blood getting to the muscle, it means less blood available to carry away the waste products of the energy production (i.e., lactate). This combination spells fatigue and you begin to slow down.
The other day I ran when it was 70°F which in NC during the summer is chilly! LOL! So you think that would have been a great run, but it was terrible. Reason? The Dew Point was also 70°. Dew Point is the temperature at which water condensates on your skin. Normally when you sweat, the body cools itself when the sweat evaporates from your skin. When the Dew Point is high, however, the sweat will not evaporate. It just stays on your body. So you're body can't cool off. That's why some runs you're pretty dry while others, your really soggy. So, as mentioned above, when your body can't cool itself through the evaporation process, it will divert oxygenated blood to the skin to cool you down. That means less oxygenated blood going to your muscles, explaining why you feel like a slug and why you're not meeting your training paces. When the dew point is high, forget your watch and paces and run by feel.
In the those milder temps, not as much blood is diverted, so you don't really see much of a difference. But as the temp climbs and the dew point increases, your body works harder and harder to cool itself off, and less and less blood is sent to the muscle. It's like a salmon swimming upstream. No matter how hard you try to "pick-it-up" your body just begins to peter out. Use the chart below to set your expectations for a workout based on the Dew Point.
Beyond a crappy run, running while poorly hydrated can put a runner at high risk for some some pretty severe health issues. Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke are three heat-related illnesses that can effect runners. Below is a description of each along with what to do for each condition.
SIGNS OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS
Causes: Loss of electrolytes and accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles.
Conditions: Muscle cramps and/or spasms, heavy sweating, normal body temperature.
Conditions: Muscle cramps and/or spasms, heavy sweating, normal body temperature.
Treatment: Drink water and sports drink, slow down, massage affected area.
Causes: Intense exercise in a hot, humid condition and loss of electrolytes.
Conditions: Profuse sweating, possible drop in blood pressure (less than 90 systolic, the top number), normal or slightly elevated body temperature, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, decreased coordination, possible fainting.
Treatment: Rest in a cool place, drink water and sports drink, if blood pressure drops below 90 systolic, call EMS, avoid activity for at least 24 hours, refrain from running or exercising in the heat for at least one week.
This is a medical emergency!
Causes: Intense exercise in a hot, humid condition, older age, dehydration, obesity, wearing heavy clothing, running in the heat when you have an infection or fever, certain drugs such as amphetamines, diuretics, beta blockers, cardiovascular disease, poor acclimatization, high blood pressure.
Conditions: High body temperature (106 or higher), lack of sweating characterized by dry, red skin, altered consciousness.
Treatment: Call EMS! Rest in a cool place, remove clothing to expose skin to air, apply ice packs or cool water to groin, underarms, neck (stop if shivering).
Some other tips to consider when running in the severe heat:
- Run with a buddy or group. Running with a buddy allows you to monitor each other on a run. You might not be able to recognize that you're suffering signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke because your judgment might be altered, but your running buddy can recognize the signs and start providing aid and/or seeking help.
- Don't let a buddy talk you out of providing aid or seeking help if you feel they are suffing from heat illness. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Run with a phone. I know many do not like running with a phone, but a phone may be what saves the life of runner. Getting medical help quickly can make a huge difference. Be sure you charge your phone before heading out on your run.
- Tell someone where you're running and then stick to that route. That way if you do encounter a problem and don't return in a timely manor, your friends/family will know where to look for you.
- Carry a hand held water bottle or wear a hydration belt or backpack for longer runs
- Stash water on your route for a long run. Have a backup plan if the water is gone when you get there. (i.e. carry a phone so you can call someone to either pick you up or bring you water). If you have a 20-miler and the water you stashed at mile 12 is gone, DO NOT try to run the rest of the run with no water!
- Carry some money with you. Put a few bills in a zippered baggy and pin it inside your shorts, stash it in a running belt or put it in a pocket of your handheld water bottle. Many times, I've gone into a convenient store dripping wet to by buy emergency water/Gatorade while on a run.
- Plan routes that take you by public water fountains.
- Become certified in Frist Aid. The American Red Cross provides classes in first aid and CPR.
Note: If you're looking for a running group in the Greensboro, NC area, RunnerDude's Fitness offers weekly free open runs on Wednesday nights at 6:00pm and Saturday mornings at 6:30am. All paces welcome. For the Saturday run, coach RunnerDude is "on call", restocking water coolers put on the route as well as checking on runners during the run. Runners can text, call or message RunnerDude during the run if they find they are in distress or need assistance. For more info on the weekly group runs, click here.