If you live in the southwest this time of year running becomes a challenge. 100+ degree temperatures dampen enthusiasm even for us dyed-in-the-wool desert dwellers. It’s not picnic for the humid stuff in the northeast or southeast either. So, let’s review a few summer-related training topics.
1. A common myth is that your off season (typically the winter for those up north but summer for us down here) is a time for long runs and “base” training. Actually, you are better served by reducing your total mileage or your long runs and maintaining a speed workout or two instead. Quality workouts translate into better (or maintaining) running economy, better (or maintaining) leg speed and better neuromuscular functioning. There is no scientific foundation for eliminating speed work in the “off” season. Keep it in, and you will start up the new season without having lost much at all! Why start over each year? The premise for continuous improvement is to build on the past year’s accomplishments.
2. If you train in the heat you will run well in the heat. Well, yes and no. Yes, in a high-temped race you will most likely run better than those who do not train in hot conditions. But, odds are you will not be running faster than you could in cooler temperatures. Basically, any temperatures over the mid-60s have been shown to impair performance in distance races. (We’re not talking sprints, ok?) If in fact, you set a personal record under hot conditions, you can bet you would have gone even faster in more temperate conditions.
3. It takes up to a couple weeks to acclimate to hot weather. That is providing you are training in those conditions. Merely living in Phoenix doesn’t mean you will run well in the heat. If you are not training in the heat, you will not have acclimated to any measurable degree. Running inside on the treadmill won’t hack it. There is one research article that even indicated that training in hot-dry climates doesn’t translate to hot-humid conditions.
4. If you train in hot weather will it make you run even better in a cooler temperature race? No. If your running is impaired by running in the heat (you run slower, shorter or just less miles) then in fact, you may be under prepared and race poorer than your cooler weathered cousins. Since training is a function of neuromuscular function, if you train slow you will race slow. This underscores once more the importance of speed work during your “off” season.
5. Fluids are essential. Water is excellent of course, but, balancing that with a replenishment drink is better. The trace elements and electrolytes in commercial products are essential and can decrease chances of hyponatremia, which everyone is commenting on now. Research can get very picky over minute differences in the various commercial products; everything from types and quantities of electrolytes, to glucose contents, absorption rates, etc. The bottom line ends up, very simple: drink what tastes good to you if it makes you drink more! It does no good to have the “perfectly” balanced drink that you don’t like and therefore don’t drink sufficient quantities.
6. And what about sunscreen and hats? Protection from the harmful rays of the sun is important year round. There is some evidence that oil based sunscreens may keep more heat in your body. They block some of the natural heat escape. Be sure to get one that won’t run into your eyes as you sweat. We also know that most body heat escapes through your head. However, wetting your hat or putting ice in it can help cool you as well as keep the sun from beating down on your crown. The visor also shades your eyes and the rim keeps sweat from your eyes. Bottom line: Make the Australian motto your own-Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), and Slap on a hat.
And finally, you do not lose more “real” weight by running in the heat, with warm-ups on, at 3:00 in the afternoon in 110 degrees. You loose water weight! You will gain it all back once you rehydrate. In fact, the oppressiveness of the conditions will do two things which will ultimately make you burn less calories: you will run shorter or less and you will run slower. Therefore you will not lose “real” weight. If weight loss is your goal then run faster, longer or more frequently… even if it means running indoors on a treadmill. [*Treadmills should be at least at a 1% grade, not flat) to equate to flat outdoor efforts.]