[This is a companion piece to the The Mental Games of Summer which addresses the mental game of dealing with hot weather training and racing.]
It’s that time of year that takes most of us by surprise especially down in the southwest. We go from days of pleasant 70s to 90s and 100s in just weeks. The heat is both mentally and physically draining. But through adaptation – acclimation to the heat it can be tolerable. The key is that it is not a passive process.
Some people believe that if you live in the sunny southwest you are accustomed to the heat. That is both true and false. Most typically we move from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office or mall with about one minute of walking outside. This does NOT condition us to the heat. If you routinely expose yourself for periods of time to outdoor heat then you do acclimate (such is the case of landscapers for instance who are out all day in the heat). The latter group of people indeed acclimate and will tolerate heat better than those from cooler climes.
This does not address the athlete however. If you train on a treadmill in your favorite gym or living room, or if you get up in the early dawn hours and run while it’s comparatively cool (75-85F is cool compared to 100-110F) then you are NOT acclimating to the heat – even though you live and workout down here in the southwest! And passively living in the desert southwest will not mean you can run in the heat well.
If you are a fitness runner then the indoor/cool-time-of-day strategy is a good way to keep you going all summer long. If you race, you are not doing yourself a favor because races will not be 70F degrees (like on your gym treadmill) they will often be 85-90F degrees on race day (and sometimes higher).
Fact: Everyone runs slower in hot weather conditions no exceptions.
Fact: Well acclimated runners will fair better than those who are not acclimated. That is they lose LESS time than un-acclimated runners.
Fact: An unacclimated heat runner will experience far more heat related illnesses and symptoms than an acclimated runner.
Fact: Running in the heat (and adding layers of sweat suits) does NOT get you in “better shape”.
Research: It has been clearly demonstrated in controlled laboratories that 52F (11C) to 70F (21C) and 88F (31C) yield progressive decrements in performance.
In Arizona for instance, if you run year round in the “hot times of the day” you can acclimate readily. This is one smart approach. In Arizona, temperatures gradually increase and have a pattern that the highs in each month – February- 70Fs; March- 80Fs; April- 90Fs; May-100Fs; June-July-August 100-110Fs. So you can see that if you run regularly in daily temps, you allow your body a gradual adaptation.
Otherwise, it takes several weeks to acclimate to the heat. If you run 2-4 times a week in the heat you will gradually get your body to adjust. You do not have to run every day in the heat to get used to it.
Some things to do:
Run in small doses at first. You may not be able to do full workouts. If your goal is a 2-hour run; split it up. Run part in the heat and the rest when it is cooler.
Do your “easy” run day in the heat. It’s going to be slow anyway right? Why not get an extra purpose out of the training run other than a hard workout recovery.
Time your run so that it is early morning and most of your run is in the cooler pre-dawn light and only the last part is in the hotter daylight. Or reverse that and run in the evening heat with the last half of your run after sundown. (I know, in AZ it is still 100F after the sun goes down but it’s relatively cooler!)
Do faster but shorter workouts. The longer you are out the more you dehydrate. Replace an hour run with a 25 minute tempo paced run. Or, do a track workout with much faster reps interspersed with rest intervals. But, get them done and then get out of the heat so that you don’t dehydrate unnecessarily.
Stay hydrated all day long. You will not be able to consume enough fluids right before, during and immediately after your run to fully replenish yourself. So, be disciplined to drink all day long. As an example – recently in a ONE hour run in 74F degree temps I lost 7 pounds. One quart is about 2 pounds. I was closing in on a gallon of liquids I had to replace over and above daily requirements. I couldn’t take in that much without cramps!
It’s important that runners go about heat training gradually and progressively. If you do, you will find that you will tolerate the heat better than you ever have.