I am SO thrilled to have my good friend Paula Pridgen writing the next post in The Run Around, talking about running in the heat. She and I met when I was living in Charlotte last year through a mutual friend (thanks Jeanette!) at a Charlotte Running Club event. Paula is hella fast and an incredibly talented runner. (Check out her races times!! Sub 3 hour marathon, 1:22 half marathon, no big deal.) She’s also one of the sweetest, kindest people I know.
She also is a great dog mom to Sugar.
Paula and I ran together a few times when I was living in Charlotte; I wish we’d had more time to run together because I know she would be a killer training partner to push me. I just wasn’t in a strong running mode when I was living in Charlotte. Anyway enough about me! Onto Paula’s post!
Can you handle the heat? If you were one of over 100 men and women (about 25% of the female field and 34% of male field) who dropped out of the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 13, the answer to this heated question is probably a defeated “No.” Or at least it is in the case of a 70+degree race day on a sunny course. (Only a non-runner would think 70-degree weather would be a nice day to run a marathon. Yes. Just lovely.)
The men and women that dropped out of the trials and those that suffered brutally to the finish line are not novice runners – they are our country’s best marathoners. The speediest lady of the victims of the LA heat, Shalane Flanagan, has the fastest marathon time of all the women who toed the line that day – a 2:21:14, the 2nd fastest marathon time by an American woman ever, which she set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. After crossing the finish line and making the 2016 Olympic Marathon team, Flanagan collapsed in her teammate’s arms and had to be carted off in a wheelchair to receive intravenous fluids.
The point is that it doesn’t matter who or how good you are; all runners are at risk of suffering a bad performance on a hot race day or worse – a potentially life-threatening adverse reaction to overheating.
I recently raced at the Tobacco Road Half Marathon in Cary, NC on March 13, 2016, which had participants making comparisons to the trials and tribulations in LA. We didn’t have the sun beating down on us, and our temps in the 60s were not quite as hot, but holy humidity! Some experts believe humidity is a bigger factor in running performance than temperature. Thus, I had reason to worry when I saw the weather forecast for the race start was 96% humidity.
But enough complaining about the hot weather – you’ll hear enough of that from your fellow runners in the coming months – here are some solutions:
Respect the Heat – Hopefully, I’ve already scared you enough that you’ll take heed with the heat. Still think you are Shalane Flanagan? Oh wait, yeah…
1. Carry Fluids – I ALWAYS carry fluids on long runs in the warmer months and even some of my shorter runs as well! I’ve even been known to ask a stranger watering his plants if I could re-fill my water bottle. You can buy spiffy water bottles that you can slip your hand into so that you can easily carry them. However, I really enjoyed carrying Harris Teeter-brand water bottles with me last summer. The cheap, thin plastic molded perfectly to my hand once I opened the bottle. I usually mixed in a spoonful of GU brew before taking off on my long run so that I could replenish electrolytes I’d lose through sweat and have some carbs to power me through the final miles.
2. Wear Cool Clothing – I’m a hug fan of hats when it’s sunny – especially trucker hats. I’ve been waiting for a free-ship promo to purchase Oiselle’s American Runner Trucker hat, but I want it so badly that I may need to bite the bullet and pay the $5 in shipping before they sell out. Both hats and sunglasses both go a long way in keeping you shaded on a sunny day. White and light clothing is also best.
3. Slap on Some Sunscreen – As a melanoma survivor, I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing sunscreen! I wear thinksport SPF 50 because it doesn’t contain all the potentially harmful chemicals of other sunscreens than seep into your skin.
4. Plan for a Shady Route (when possible) – You may not be able to change the race course, but you can control where you do your long runs. I do the vast majority of my summer long runs early in the morning and on a shady greenway. It seriously feels 10 degrees cooler on the woodsy trail and – bonus points – there are multiple water fountains on the route.
5. Pour Water On (& Not Just In Your Body) – In the last few miles of the Tobacco Road Half, I started grabbing cups of water at the aid stations and pouring them on my neck. The goal was to try to keep my core body temperature down as much as possible. In the Olympic Marathon Trials, you saw runners doing the same thing. They would grab the water bottles (after getting their elite special-concoction bottles) and pour a little on top of their heads and down the backs of their necks. They also had cold, wet cloths that day that they would use the same way.
Interesting Fact: Normally hot races will have cool sponges for elites but someone with the Trials Marathon slipped up and ordered sponges that contained soap! Thus, Plan B was the cloths. You even saw some of the elite runners, like Kara Goucher, sitting around with an ice vest on before the race start. Most of us will never have access to an ice vest before a race, but we can all do little things like pouring water down the back of our necks to try to keep our core body temperatures cool.
6. Slow Your Roll – By far, the most important change we all need to make in the heat is to not run as fast as we would otherwise. I would estimate that the vast majority of the marathoners who dropped out of the Olympic Marathon Trials did not slow their pace enough to account for the high temps. Fortunately, there are pace adjustment charts that will recommend how much you should plan to slow your pace given the temperature and humidity. This one uses temperature and dew point to calculate the adjustment needed. (I’ll let you google dew point vs humidity if you are unsure of the difference like I was)
Of course, if you are unsure and are racing on a hot day, I would always recommend to be conservative and go out slower than you think is necessary. You can always pick up the pace at the end if you still have something left in the tank, but you could lose a lot of time in the final miles if you run out of steam before reaching the finish. In the Tobacco Road Half, my first few miles were just slower than my average pace for the entire race. And believe me, I was struggling enough in the final miles that I’m glad I hadn’t made it any harder by going out faster.
So, up until this point I’ve written about how we should all avoid exercising in high temperatures as much as possible. Heat is bad for you. Blah blah blah. But is that always the case?
Well, recent hot-topic studies have actually claimed that running in high heat can produce benefits similar to those that runners reap from altitude training. Specifically, heat training can produce increased blood volume…Think of it as “legal blood doping.” And of course, the body will learn to dissipate heat more effectively as it acclimates to running in higher temperatures.
It makes you wonder – If this year’s Olympic Marathon Trials had been in October, after runners had put in months of heat training, would we still have had such high dropout rates? Sure, the elites got in a few hot workouts in preparation, but I’m sure it was no substitute for months of training in the hot mess.
For obvious reasons, I’m not going to recommend that everyone start doing their long runs at high noon in sweatpants, but there may be some safer ways to experiment with heat training. For example, as soon as I saw the first weather forecast for the Tobacco Road Half Marathon, I added a couple of hot power yoga classes to my training schedule. Ideally, it would have been better to get in more than two, but two was certainly better than none. Also, if you are planning on racing a marathon with a later start time like the Boston Marathon, for example, I would do at least one long run in the final weeks leading up to the race at what will be the actual time of day you’ll be racing. That way your body will be more familiar with running during the hotter part of the day.
If all else fails, and you still can’t handle the heat this summer – Well, fall will be just around the corner. And I promise, workouts spent jogging and slogging through the hot, humid dog days should pay off with faster times in cool, fall marathons!
GREAT tips Paula! You can follow Paula for more running inspiration at PaulaPridgen.com and on Twitter, @Paula_Pridgen.
I’ve blogged on this topic as well, and you can find my 8 tips for running in the heat here.
I just ordered that ThinkSport SPF 50 sunscreen for myself! Thanks for the reco. I’m waiting for Oiselle free shipping for the Roga hat. 🙂 My current Nike hat is (ahem) at least 10 years old and doesn’t smell the best. Luckily Maizey doesn’t mind.
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