I seem to be going through a ‘writers block’ stage in my blogging career at the moment and this has coincided with a period of ‘lost mojo’ running wise. Needless to say I’m not a very happy runner. Today I was beaten back by the heat on my lunchtime run and thought I’d pen a few words about the experience. Due to my writers block I have decided to recycle a post from 2016 so there is a good chance most of you didn’t read this the first time around. It’s worth a revisit even if you were lucky to read the original by the way. My posts, like a good wine, get better with age.
In Perth at the moment we are heading towards summer and believe me when I say in Perth we get a summer big time ! Living in what is essentially a desert does have it’s advantages. For nine months of the year I consider the climate to be just about perfect for running. A reasonable temperature with little humidity and even less rain. When it does rain it feels like a warm shower compared to the horizontal ‘take out your eyes’ sleet I use to experience in the Scottish summers I came from. (Apparently it’s worse in winter but I never found out as it was too dark , too cold and too damn dangerous to ever wonder outside.) When Summer does arrive you can still run in good conditions you just need to adjust your day. You need to awake at first light and race the sunrise before the Perth sauna is turned on and anyone found outside understands what it feels like to be cooked in a microwave. If you’re lucky you may get a reprieve in the late evening but when summer comes a calling you may only get that small pre-sunrise window of opportunity.
Runners though like to run and not be dictated to by temperature or season, thus sometimes they just put on the trainers regardless and brave the elements; after first bathing in suntan crème. When you are faced with anything over 30c it’s time to rethink your run. Pace needs to go out the window and in comes survival and damage limitation. Believe me I’ve been there when you’re halfway through a 10k loop and suddenly realise you’re dehydrated and the body has had enough. It’s not pleasant and it always happens when you are at your furthest from any help. (Funny that?) It’s at times like these you need to just knuckle down and plough on, albeit slowly with walk breaks if needed. The most important thing is getting back to the start in one piece without doing to much damage, both mentally and physically.
So what’s the answer ? Running in the heat can improve your running and even make you stronger but there are certain aspects of your run that need to be adapted. As well as running slower you must also be fully hydrated, common sense I know but still worth highlighting. This hydration process is also best started the day before the run and continued up to the run and while running, and of course afterwards. Basically drink, a lot ! I would also recommend electrolytes rather than just water , it all helps.
For me in Perth at the moment I’m out the door and running by 4:50am and although that may sound early the rewards so outweigh the early start. I get to see the sunrise every morning and also enjoy the solitude of the early morning. Everything is so much quieter and you really can bask in the new dawn. The downside of course is after I put my nine year old to bed I scuttle off to my bed myself to eagerly awake my alarm informing me I get to race the sunrise again . My Wife , who luckily is a night owl, gets her ‘Karen time’ so all is good in the Matthews household. (Spending too much time with my Wife always put a strain on the marriage. That was a joke by the way.!) So for summer move your waking day to the left and rise early, enjoy the morning before sneaking off to bed while most people are sitting down wasting their lives watching rubbish on TV and eating ‘crap’. You know it makes sense, I’ll see you out there.
Footnote. I took my own advice for a change and rather than put myself through the sauna that is lunch time running I waited until the evening and ran a pleasant 10k racing the sunset, after racing the sunrise this morning. Both glorious runs for different reasons and so much more pleasant than a lunch time run when I would have been battling the higher temperatures and returning to work looking I’d been swimming while wearing my work clothes. So, as pointed out in the articles below, you just need to choose your time wisely when it comes to running in heat, best to avoid it really but if it is unavoidable make the best of it.
I have found two great articles below that explain how running in the heat can help to improve ones running and with the right tweaks can also be as enjoyable as running in normal conditions.
One of the highest sweat rates ever recorded was that of marathon runner Alberto Salazar at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In the months leading up to the games, which were expected to be oppressively hot, the marathoner was put through a regimen of temperature acclimation training with the goal of helping him adapt to running in the heat. While Salazar placed only 15th overall, the program was deemed a success, physiologically speaking—vitals taken after the race found that Salazar’s hormonal and thermoregulatory systems were completely normal. His body had compensated by causing him to sweat at an incredibly high rate—about three liters per hour, compared to the roughly one liter per hour for an average human.
Researchers have been looking at the effects of heat on athletic performance for decades, and their results have been consistently surprising. Studies have found that, in addition to an increased rate of perspiration, training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and, counterintuitively, make a person train better in cold temperatures. In fact, heat acclimation may actually be more beneficial than altitude training in eliciting positive physiological adaptations, says Santiago Lorenzo, a professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and a former decathlete at the University of Oregon. “Heat acclimation provides more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude acclimation,” he says. And in contrast to the live low, train high philosophy, we more quickly adapt to heat stress than we do to hypoxia. In other words, heat training not only does a better job at increasing V02 max than altitude, but it also makes athletes better at withstanding a wider range of temperatures.
Athletes can adapt to heat in one of two ways. The first is through incremental improvements in tolerance over time—work out in the heat a little bit every day, and eventually your body will dissipate heat more effectively. The second way is through thermotolerance, which is a cellular adaptation to an extreme heat experience, like suffering such severe dehydration after a run that you need an IV. Essentially, if you shock your system, your body will be able to withstand greater temperature stresses later on. But successful heat adaptation is difficult—and clearly dangerous—to achieve outside of controlled settings. Lorenzo explains that performance gains are possible only when athletes elevate their core body temperature, and without careful monitoring, it’s possible to elevate your core temperature to lethal levels.
When performed safely, however, heat training can have extraordinary effects. This phenomena fascinates Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, who studies heat acclimation responses in athletes. According to his research, heat training can expand blood plasma volume, but Minson says there also seem to be inexplicable changes to the heart’s left ventricle, which helps to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles. In addition, he says that athletes who train in warm temperatures generally get better at regulating heat by sweating earlier, as Salazar did, or developing a colder resting body temperature.
A 2011 study by a group of researchers in New Zealand also found that overall volume of blood plasma increased at a greater rate when athletes did not drink water during exercise. While some coaches are carefully experimenting with dehydration, Minson and Lorenzo are not because it adds too much additional stress. However, they do say that this type of training can be beneficial because it produces a higher number of “heat shock” protein cells.
Ahead of Western States this June, ultrarunning coach Jason Koop worked on heat training with Amanda Basham and eventual winner Kaci Leckteig. Koop believes this type of acclimating is a good example of blending an academic concept with real-world training. But, says Koop, “at a certain level, you have to compromise training quality for the heat acclimation. Acclimating to the heat is additional stress [on the body], just like more miles or intervals, so you can’t simply pile it on. Something on the training side has to give.”
One method of heat acclimation that Minson uses with his athletes is to do hard workouts on colder days or earlier in the morning, and then start training in hotter conditions with less intensity. He is also looking into adding heat in ways that wouldn’t require an athlete to train in high temperatures at all—using hot tubs, for instance.
All this being said, not everyone responds to heat at the same rate or with the same physiological gains, which makes it similar to altitude training in that it might make a high-performing age grouper, college athlete, or elite a little better, but it won’t compensate for intelligent, consistent training.
How to Incorporate Heat Acclimation into Your Training Schedule
When acclimating to heat, you’ll be forced to compromise training quality, says Koop. While he understands the benefits of heat acclimation, he still prioritizes smart, solid training. But if you want to incorporate heat into your workouts, here’s how he recommends doing it safely.
First, pick a protocol (sauna, hot bath, or exercising in the heat) that minimizes the impact on training, both physically and logistically.
Koop most commonly recommends that his athletes use a dry sauna immediately after running. “It doesn’t impact training nearly as much as running in the heat, and the effects are similarly positive,” he says. He often tells his athletes to not drink water during these sessions to enhance the effect. Koop recommends spending 20-to-30-minutes in the sauna, depending on tolerance.
Koop says that when he has his athletes exercise in the heat—either naturally or by wearing extra clothing to simulate the experience—it will be on a long, slow day for 60 to 90 minutes. The time completely depends on the athlete’s tolerance and previous experience. But he stresses to not do this on a recovery day, because heat training is an added stress on the body. Koop recommends drinking 30 to 40 ounces of an electrolyte drink per hour during these sessions And for safety, he advises using low-traffic sidewalks and bike paths—not trails.
Despite the benefits of heat training, Koop reminds his athletes that running in the heat is extremely difficult and usually replaces a hard day. “You are substituting one potential gain for another one,” he says. In other words, use it carefully
One more article , this time by Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Training. ( http://strengthrunning.com/about/ ) A great read.
Summer training ain’t easy. With skyrocketing temperatures, high humidity, and scorching sun it can feel like it’s impossible to get in a good run.
A long run or fast workout is hard enough. What about a RACE? Like a friend of mine always says: In the heat, I don’t compete!
Even if you just run easy and skip the hard workouts, how are you even supposed to just feel good when running in the heat and humidity of summer?
In the last few weeks, the runners I coach have said some funny things about running in the heat. My favorite:
“I just got back from my 8-miler, and it was BRUTAL. I couldn’t do the workout… my body just isn’t ready for 90 degrees “feels like 95” at 6pm. I just tried to repeat to myself “I LOVE SUMMER!” while also being glad I wasn’t jumping over piles of snow.”
Training well through the heat and humidity of summer takes a careful approach that combines timing, gear, and an understanding of why exactly it’s so damn hard to run in the heat in the first place.
But of course, it will still be tough. A few weeks ago at the Heartbreak Hill Festival put on by Runner’s World, I was talking to another runner about a race she ran in Miami. She was lucky to meet Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan (two pro distance runners), who told her: “I’ll take running at altitude over running in Miami any day!”
Even the pros hate summer running!
Instead of complaining about how difficult it is to run in the heat, let’s see how we can make the best of it. And maybe even make the fall our fastest season yet.
Why is it So Hard to Run in the Heat?
If you’ve read Christopher McDougall’s fantastic book Born to Run, you’ll remember that humans are amazing endurance animals for a host of reasons. We have:
A huge Achilles tendon that produces a significant energy return while running.
A (mostly) hairless body and highly evolved sweat system
Big butts. I cannot lie: according to Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, our glutes are “running muscles”
A special ligament that attaches the spine to the skull and keeps our head from bobbing as we run
Can you guess which adaptation here is impacted by running in the summer? It’s our incredible sweat system.
Perspiration helps cool us off because as our sweat evaporates from your skin, it takes heat with it. But when humidity rises, it reduces your body’s evaporation rate because there’s already so much water in the air. Soon, you feel overheated and have to slow down.
If you live in an arid place like Colorado where the humidity is low, a hot summer day can still wreak havoc on your training for two important reasons.
First, the dry air evaporates sweat from your body almost as quickly as you’re producing it so you can become dehydrated much more quickly. If you start a run slightly dehydrated or run long without any fluids, your performance will significantly decrease (and you’ll feel like death).
As you become more and more dehydrated throughout a run, your heart needs to work harder to pump your blood because it’s becoming thicker (among a few other reasons too). This is called cardiac drift: your heart rate increases over the course of a run even when the intensity stays the same.
Let’s not also forget the heat and sun, both of which increase your core body temperature. As soon as you start getting too warm, running will feel much more difficult. Your “Rate of Perceived Exertion” (RPE) will increase even if you’re running a pace that’s usually comfortable.
Less evaporation because of higher humidity levels, increased chance of dehydration, and a higher core body temperature means that you’ll have to run slower to maintain the same effort. An unfortunate reality of summer training.
The Dangers of Running in the Heat
This article isn’t meant to scare you. After nearly 16 years of competitive racing and running in the heat and humidity of New England and the mid-Atlantic states, I’ve never been seriously affected by the heat in any meaningful way. Neither has any of my teammates in college and high school – and we raced and ran very tough workouts in brutal temperatures sometimes.
But that doesn’t mean the dangers aren’t real. If you run too hard at noon in July, you might experience some type of heat illness. Here’s what you need to know so you can avoid these setbacks.
Heat Cramps: muscle spasms that are caused by large fluid and electrolyte losses from sweating. They can occur while exercising but also hours after your run. No need to worry, they’re not serious – but make sure you stay hydrated and get enough electrolytes with sports drinks or fruit like bananas.
Severe dehydration: we’re all familiar with dehydration. Up to a 4% loss in fluid levels from exercise is still safe, but any more than that and you may experience dizziness, fatigue, and even mental disorientation.
Prevent this level of dehydration by starting your run already hydrated (your pee should be a straw color) and replacing your lost fluids as soon as you finish running. You can figure out exactly how much fluid you’ve lost by weighing yourself before and after a hot run.
Heat Exhaustion: if you work out too hard in the heat, you may come down with heat exhaustion – a case of dehydration, headache, nausea, and a core body temperature of up to 104 degrees. It’s much more common in runners who aren’t adapted to the heat.
If you think you have heat exhaustion, stop running, get out of the sun, and cool down with a cold drink and preferably air conditioning. And next time, run earlier in the day!
Heat Stroke: Danger! Heat stroke is very serious since your core body temperature is probably over 105 degrees. Symptoms include disorientation with clumsiness, confusion, poor balance, and a lack of sweating. Immediate medical attention is required where you’ll be cooled with a cold bath, air conditioning, and cold liquids.
At the 1978 Falmouth Road Race, Alberto Salazar (two-time winner of the NYC Marathon) suffered heat stroke and collapsed at the finish line after fading to the 10th place. He was rushed to the hospital with a temperature of 107 (!) degrees and read his last rites in a tub of ice water. He recovered and went on to become one of the greatest coaches our sport has ever seen.
7 Tips to Beat the Heat
The heat of summer isn’t the time to run your hardest workout and biggest mileage weeks – unless you’re super careful.
Run by effort, not pace. Running in the heat is the perfect opportunity to work on the skill of running by feel. Instead of strictly following pace targets that you might normally follow, run by time and effort rather than distance and pace.
Run early. There’s no perfect time to run in the heat of summer. But the early morning hours offer the lowest temperatures and a break from the strongest hours of sunlight (even though the humidity will be at its highest).
Get off the roads! Asphalt and concrete absorb heat and radiate it back onto your poor, wilting body. The summer months are a good time to try more trail running. Bonus: you have to run a little slower on trails which will keep you slightly cooler and trails are usually shaded. Win-win.
Adjust your expectations. If the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory (when the Heat Index, a score that reflects a combination of both heat and humidity, is over 105 degrees) running fast or long will be difficult and dangerous.
Even if there’s no heat advisory, remember why it’s so hard to run like you normally do in summer weather. Maintain the same effort and don’t sweat the slower paces (see what I did there?).
Don’t wear dark colors or cotton. Gear matters in extreme conditions so dress appropriately! Synthetic fabric like polyester is used in most running gear these days – use it.
Start your run hydrated (and keep hydrating). Even though hydration has been overemphasized in the last decade (see Waterlogged by Dr. Tim Noakes), it’s important to hydrate well before and after your run. Unless you’re running more than 75-90 minutes, you probably don’t need to take any water with you. But learn what works for you.
Plan your run around water. I never carry any fluid with me on a run – even a 20 miler in the summer. Instead, I run by fountains in public parks where I can swig some water and stay hydrated. If you live in a dry climate, running through sprinklers can help you stay cool, too. And who doesn’t love frolicking through a sprinkler?
Running in the Heat Has Its Advantages!
With all the whining we do about summer training, it actually makes you a better runner. Running in the heat causes our body to acclimatize to the conditions and adapt:
Your body gets better at sending blood from your core to your skin, helping to dissipate heat
With all that blood rushing to your skin, your muscles now get less oxygenated blood. So to compensate, your body produces more (who needs blood doping?!)
The body learns to control its core temperature and it won’t increase as much after you’ve acclimatized
You start sweating sooner at a lower body temperature to improve the cooling process
Sweat contains less salt so you maintain the right electrolyte balance
All these adaptations improve your efficiency and make you ready to run even faster as soon as the heat and humidity drop in the fall. So embrace the heat and run through it!
Then again, there’s some evidence that suggests that summer training is difficult because you think it will be difficult.
Yeah, tell me that after I shuffle home from a track workout in the sun and I might throw you out of my living room window.
But, it’s useful to know that at least some of the drudgery of running in the heat is because of our brain. It may present a good opportunity to “train your brain” to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
When you do, you’ll be in a good position to run a lot faster this fall. Take advantage of the physical AND mental adaptations you’ve gained from a summer of uncomfortable running.
You might just surprise yourself at what you’re able to run in a few months
This morning for the obligatory Sunday long run we were joined by another running group…