Hot weather, wet weather – training in the elements
Many of you are probably training for the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon, 10K or 5K (or another fall race). By October, the weather will likely be much more favorable for running a successful race. Unfortunately, your training plan calls for long runs in the summer, during the heat, humidity (and possibly rain and thunderstorms) of July through September. There’s also the possibility of elevated air pollution. Here are my top tips to successfully make it through your challenging summer runs:
Watch the weather. First and foremost, watch the weather forecast. If you learn in advance that your long run will fall on a day with less favorable conditions, adjust your plan accordingly (see my backup plan ideas below). Keep in mind that running performance drops below optimal levels when temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and will fall 10% or more when temperatures exceed 80. And remember, outdoor runs are never safe during a thunderstorm.
Air quality matters. Canadian wildfires and Ozone have been causing more air quality issues than we have had in previous years. If you are sensitive to smoke and/or ozone, and especially if you have any lung or heart disease, check the AirNow EPA app and/or the AirNow.gov website. You can enter your location and get real-time and forecasted levels of ozone and PM 2.5 particles (including smoke). Armed with this information, you can plan your runs accordingly and create a backup plan if necessary. Both ozone and PM 2.5 (including smoke) can cause headaches, coughing and shortness of breath; so monitor the air quality and be on the lookout for these symptoms to see if you need to adjust your running schedule on days with poor air quality.
Adjust to the heat slowly. You can acclimate to the heat of summer, but it will take 5-10 sessions of running in the heat at a much slower pace (and possibly for a shorter distance) than you normally run. Make sure you are well hydrated before and during these runs. Here’s how:
- Two hours before the run, drink between 17 and 20 ounces of water. About 10 minutes before, drink another 10 to 12 ounces.
- During the run, drink approximately 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes. Adjust this as necessary based on your own ”sweat rate”. If your run will last longer than 60 minutes, consider replacing half of the water with an equal amount of electrolyte drink (Gatorade Endurance which is served at the Healthy Driven Naperville races, Powerade, etc.). Mix the water and electrolyte drink for convenience and digestibility.
Beware of cramping. When you get a cramp or sudden pain while you are running, you need to slow or stop until the pain subsides. If necessary, stop or walk back to your starting point. Gentle movement (flexing of the foot in the case of calf cramp) will help it to subside. The next step is to figure out what caused the cramping to prevent it from happening again. Check out the most common causes and suggested remedies:
- Heat and/or dehydration. Is it warmer than it has been in recent days? Did you drink less fluid than normal? If either of these is the case, then it is likely that you are dehydrated. Next time you run, make sure you pay attention to your hydration. Make sure you drink 17-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours before you run. Then in the 30 minutes before you head out, slowly drink 10-12 ounces of water. If the cramping is accompanied by other symptoms of heat illness (see below), stop, and follow the tips in the heat illness section below.
- Inadequate warmup. If it’s not warm, you’re well hydrated and you were running at a moderate pace, it is possible your cramping came from an inadequate warmup. Make sure you walk for 5 to 10 minutes and do some movement and controlled range of motion exercises before you begin your runs.
- Overdoing it. If cramping occurred while doing speed work, it is possible that you were going too fast for your current conditioning or you ran too fast too suddenly. Next time, try going a little slower and/or do a more thorough warmup before attempting the speed work.
If cramping persists into the next day or recurs the next time you run, consult your doctor or running coach as you may be experiencing chronic dehydration, electrolyte imbalances or other nutritional or medical issues that require professional diagnosis.
Know the signs of heat illness. If you do run outside in the heat, watch for signs of heat illness (nausea, fatigue/weakness, dizziness, cramping, confusion). If any of these occur, stop immediately and cool your body (go indoors, hydrate, put cool water on your head, neck and body). If symptoms persist, seek medical attention. For more details on heat illness, check this CDC guide.
Beware of ticks. Hot weather means ticks. The CDC warns of an abundance of various types of ticks this season. Fortunately, they also offer great advice on avoiding tick bites.
In addition, here are my own tick-related tips for runners:
- Clothing color is a mixed bag when it comes to ticks. Studies have shown that ticks are attracted to light and white-colored clothing. However, ticks are also easier to spot and remove from light colored clothing. Ticks are more attracted to the human body than to any clothing, so be sure to follow the post-run body inspection discussed below.
- Wear bug repellent that repels ticks as well as mosquitos. The CDC site offers some natural/herbal options if you are not interested in wearing chemical sprays while running. They also provide instructions for treating your clothing to repel ticks.
- Run on paved trails or crushed gravel rather than on dirt trails. Run toward the center of the trail as much as possible. If you must walk through long grass or brush, pick up your feet carefully rather than shuffling to minimize disturbing the ticks.
- Avoid running near small trees and bushes. Ticks can brush onto you from bushes and trees as you are running. If you feel something small hit you, make sure you brush it away. It’s a good idea to brush yourself off anytime you have moved through brush or bushes.
- Make sure your socks are tight to your feet and ankles. Some types of socks (like roll-down anklet socks) provide a reservoir for ticks to fall between the sock and your ankle.
- Follow the CDC recommendations to check your clothing and your body (check the areas listed on the CDC site and check your feet/between your toes) and shower right away (within 1-2 hours) after running outdoors. Wash your clothing in hot water after each run and dry at high temperature for at least 10 minutes. Finally, shake out your running shoes and keep them outside (the garage is a good place) between runs.
Have a backup plan. If it looks like your long run is planned for a hot, humid day, a day with forecasted thunderstorms or a poor air quality day, consider these options:
- Switch the day. Consider moving your long run 1-2 days earlier (or later) if your schedule allows. Your long run is your most important run each week, so moving or adjusting a couple of your shorter runs won’t hurt your training. The goal for the week is to have a successful long run.
- Start early/switch the time. Starting at 5 a.m. can make a big difference in the amount of heat and humidity you face during your long run. Getting some or most of your long run in before the sun rises can improve your chances for success – and in the summer, sunrise is very early. Air quality is usually at its best early in the day as well. Similarly, switching the time of your run to avoid thunderstorms will keep you safe. The weather app on your phone can be configured to detect lightning in your area; seek shelter immediately if lightning strikes in your area during a run.
- Find the shade. A shady course can make as much as a 10-degree difference in ambient temperature and will help you to avoid the heat. Remember, shade is not an option to avoid thunderstorms.
- Go indoors. Consider doing your long run on a treadmill or indoor track. It might be more tedious, but the conditions will be much more favorable. This will allow you to achieve your goal training pace more successfully than running outside in 90+ degree heat, during poor air quality days or during bad storms Avoid boredom by listening to music or a podcast or running with a training partner.
Slow your pace in the heat. If all else fails, you have no other option and you must run in the heat and humidity (and you are not acclimated to the heat), hydrate (as discussed above) and slow your pace. One of the main purposes of the long run is to teach your body to handle exertion and energy expenditure over a long period of time. In the heat, exertion levels and energy expenditure will be much higher for a given running pace. Hydrate properly before your run and go as slowly as necessary to complete your long run, taking frequent hydration breaks (including both water and electrolytes) and walking breaks. If you have extra water (don’t use an electrolyte drink), pour some on your head and on the back of your neck to keep cool. Don’t worry about your pace or time; the training effect is occurring and in your next long run, weather permitting, you will do and feel much better.
Keep sweat out of your eyes. Sweating is important in running; it’s how your body keeps cool. You don’t want to prevent or discourage sweating. To keep sweat out of your eyes, try a headband or an absorbent hat. There are baseball-style running hats on the market that do a good job of absorbing sweat and shield your head from the sun. Some newer running hats even use fabrics with cooling technology such as UA Iso-chill.
Prevent chafing. Chafing can really be an issue in the heat due to sweating. For chafing you already have, try a healing ointment such as Aquaphor. To prevent chafing going forward, try an anti-chafe balm such as Body Glide. Apply this to any areas where your clothing rubs against your body (or you have body parts rubbing against body parts.) Common areas include feet and toes, inner thighs, inside of upper arms, bra lines/seams for women, nipple area for men, etc. Apply before every run but especially for your longer runs. Anti-chafing products wash off very well in the shower after your runs.
Avoid hot spots and blisters. Running in the heat can aggravate blistering due to the extra sweating that occurs. To minimize blisters, make sure you have a good pair of properly fitting running shoes. If you are uncertain, go to one of the local running stores (Dick Pond, Road Runner Sports, Naperville Running Company). Next step, socks. I personally prefer double layer socks (Wrightsock is the brand I wear) as they are virtually blister proof. Body Glide or a similar anti-chafing product applied to the toes and other hot spots can help prevent blisters as well. For blisters you already have, if they aren’t serious (no broken skin), Compeed or similar blister cushions provide great relief. If you have already developed more serious blisters with broken skin and/or infection, seek medical attention.
Stay patient and confident through these hot, long runs and in the fall when the weather cools, you will reap the benefits of difficult training in summer weather.
Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness