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Surviving the Heat

Hot Sahara Day

Hot Sahara Day

Training is tough enough most days, but adding brutal summer heat and humidity can make it downright unbearable. As a trailrunner, I do 95% of my training in the out-of-doors regardless of weather, and with the bulk of events being held in the fall and winter months, training through the heat is an unfortunate necessity. Whatever your activity, here are some simple thoughts on how to survive the summer.

  • Take fluids with you. This might sound obvious, but drinking during activity is a foreign concept to some. In cooler weather, I can blast through my local 12 mile trail with barely a 22 oz handheld bottle, consuming maybe half of it, and be just fine. When it hots up, I strap on my hydration pack and tote a minimum of 1 liter for the same route. I'm also fortunate enough to have great access and will even stash a small cooler with extra, iced-down fluids for longer efforts or when I think recharging my reservoir might be necessary. At any rate, take MORE than you think you will. That extra bit may just be a lifesaver!
  • Drink! You've brought the fluids, now drink them! Make sure you're consuming fluids at regular intervals. We sweat constantly, not all at one time. Replenish your lost fluids the same way. Small, frequent sips of fluids are preferable to big gulps at irregular intervals. This will also help keep you from feeling as if you have a belly full of liquid that's just sloshing around. Not fun! And don't stop drinking once you're done with activity. Push fluids after in order to catch yourself up and be ready for the next day.
  • Electrolytes. Drinking water is great and much better for you than over-sugared sports drinks. However, when we sweat, we don't just lose body water but also the vital electrolytes that keep our bodies functioning properly. Replenishing electrolytes will help stave off cramping and will keep your body going, whatever your activity. This can easily be done by popping electrolyte-rich pills at regular intervals or by adding fortified powders or tablets to your water (i.e. NUUN or similar products). The big concern here is avoiding dilutional hyponatremia (diluted body sodium levels). This condition occurs when we overhydrate with non-fortified fluids and unintentionally dilute our body's sodium levels. This can quickly lead to problems, including seizure, coma, and death. BEWARE!
  • Clothing optional. This is a big personal preference. When it heats up, I see most runners shed everything but their shorts. I'm not a big fan of this. Partly out of modesty, but mainly because I like to retain some body coverage from the sun. I choose lighter and looser clothing in the heat. Saturated clothing can often act as a means to cool you in the heat. Covering up may sound counterintuitive, but it really does work. I was racing in extreme altitude and heat in South America last year and noticed that many racers were covered from head to toe in an effort to protect their skin from the sun. I took a cue from them and switched to a long-sleeved, light shirt. It kept my skin from blistering and me from overheating. Ever seen a bedouin in the desert riding a camel with nothing but a pair of shorts on?! Me either! When I was running across the Sahara last year, those guys were covered in loose fitting, light colored robes from head to toe...and were just fine! Now, running in a robe isn't ideal, but I think you get the idea.
  • Sunscreen. You're out there to train, or at the least to enjoy the outdoors, not tan! A nasty sunburn can cut all of that short and can contribute to dehydration. Use a good waterproof lotion or spray that won't shed once you start sweating.
  • "Slow down...Take it easy!" This is a funny quote from one of my fellow Swiss racers and was an ad campaign by the Swiss government to try to get people to slow down on the roads while driving. As a runner, I am sometimes fixated on routes and times. The fact remains that we can seldom cover similar distances in the same times when it's blisteringly hot out as we do on a pleasant fall day. Slow down. Pace yourself. Make sure you're taking care not to push yourself beyond your limitations in the heat.
  • Go with the flow. It may sound gross but really pay attention to your urine. If you're not peeing, drink more. Pay close attention to the color of your urine, as well. Dark and concentrated urine is a sure sign of dehydration. Replenish accordingly!
  • Mind your feet. The feet are our vehicles in the outdoors and they have to be taken care of. Few things are harder on overall foot health than wet conditions. I train in the southern U.S. and it's brutally humid during our summers. That means that within about 30 minutes of my daily start, my feet and shoes are soaked with sweat, so this is something I deal with on the regular. Remember: Cotton is rotten! Invest in a good pair of moisture-wicking socks and change as needed. Wet feet soon become macerated and the skin becomes very friable. Perfect conditions for hot spots, blisters, and tears to form. This will hobble a runner faster than anything. Take care of your feet and they'll take care of you!
120 degrees in the shade would be nice...if there WAS any shade!

120 degrees in the shade would be nice...if there WAS any shade!


Certainly, there are many factors to consider when tackling the summer heat and these are just a few thoughts on the matter. Talk with others and see what works for them. There's no reason to abandon the outdoors for an air-conditioned gym just because it's a little warm out. I really dislike training in the heat, especially as I get older and as my mileage appetite grows, but there's always a day that inevitably comes in the winter when I'm praying for the heat to return! Stay safe out there, thanks for reading, and happy running.


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