Running through the Heat

Good morning! I hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend. The weather has certainly turned to mid-summer form, with the red bulb climbing well above 90 around the Northeast and most definitely here in the south. This is always a good time to chat about running in the heat and how best to safely enjoy it. Yesterday I got up around 7am and checked the temperature as well as the humidity level. The temperature was a reasonable 73 degrees but, the humidity was at 98 percent! Together the real feel was something like 84. As I normally do, I checked the hourly to see what those same numbers would be as the morning progressed. As typical, the actual temperature would increase and the humidity would burn off some. Despite the temperature rising to nearly 80 around 8:30, the humidity level would decrease to 90 percent. Which circumstance did I want to run in? Heat versus humidity! In reality the conditions were not ideal in either instance. It is important to understand the physiology of running in warm weather. Often I chat about glycogen and how it fuels our muscles and provides our energy source. When the climatic conditions dictate that same glycogen takes on a more important role and that is to protect us. As our bodies heat up or excessively cold, glycogen diverts from the normal route to the muscles and moves to the skin to cool down or warm in up. Our bodies essentially chooses the greatest need for glycogen and the choice is to protect us. If glycogen went the regular route to our muscles on a hot day, we would run about a half mile and keel over from heat exposure. Often we hear from our runners how they feel like they lost their conditioning as the spring turns to summer. That 5K in the summer requires much more effort than it did in the spring! In reality their conditioning did not change but instead their bodies have not adjusted to the fuel (glycogen) adjustments. It most definitely is an adjustment period and needs to be approached with intelligence and preparation. Hydration is an obvious must and the first thing I do when I get up is begin drinking water. However glycogen is as important (if not more). Because there is a tug-of-war between our muscles and the organs that cool us down, we need to make sure we have a sufficient amount of fuel to start with. Trying to lose weight and run excessively can be dangerous during hot weather and is not advisable. Depriving our bodies of nourishment will most definitely leave us vulnerable when we are out running. Hydration and nourishment from good carbohydrates are both essential to healthy running. Expectations are another component that often leads a runner to great frustration during the summer months. A simple 3 mile run feels like 6 miles, legs are heavy and muscles feel as if they are out of shape. Frustration is a typical emotion and can often lead to shutting down running until the red moves down the thermostat. The best way to combat the frustration is to adjust your approach. Instead of setting out for a certain distance, run for a period of time. Running for a designated period of time without making yourself go a certain distance allows your body to adjust to the effects of the climate. Yesterday I set out to run 38 minutes and at the 30 minute point the effects of the humidity kicked in so I walked for 1 minute. My final 8 minutes consisted of a couple 30 second walks and I finished my 38 minute goal. Without a distance expectation I allowed myself to run however the conditions dictated and I had success! Trying to push through to a certain distance or hit a certain pace is not a way to enjoy success or one that encourages continued running. Many give in and put their running shoes aside until fall. That is certainly is one way to deal with it. Instead you could take some preventive actions such as good nutrition, hydration and change your approach. Eventually our bodies will adjust and while we might not give us that same feeling of running ease we had back in May, we will feel increasingly stronger. Then as fall comes we will feel like a piano just came off our backs and we are back running with greater ease. Unfortunately some give in just before their bodies start adjusting. Adjust your thinking and go out and enjoy your running! See you on the road! God Bless! Mike