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As an athlete, it’s a pretty kickass feeling when your body finally does what you want it to do. But as an athlete, I have learned to never take that feeling for granted, for often times we are only one misstep on the trail or one sneeze from a germ laden toddler away from injury or sickness. “Feel good” running is never promised, it is never guaranteed, despite all of our best efforts. Therefore, I am hesitant to even write this sentence for fear of jinxing myself in the eyes of the running gods… but…
My running feels GOOD this summer.
If you recall, last summer sucked all of the running confidence I had right out of me. Moving from Vermont back to South Carolina was not only a bit of a culture shock (it’s amazing how much you can forget in three years, like the fact that no one recycles and iced tea is always sweetened), but was a big hot, humid, slap in the face when it came to training. To say I struggled was an understatement; I was lucky if I could make it an entire mile without a walk break, and nearly every run left me with a pounding headache.
There is a reason that the local race calendar is virtually blank for the months of June, July, and August. Because the blazing heat and oppressive humidity of the South Carolina summers are simply too ridiculous to run in, if not downright dangerous.
But, 396 days later, I finally feel like I’ve adapted to this weather, as best as one can feel adapted to running in what often times feels like a jungle, where the air you breathe is comprised of warm swamp water, rather than cool oxygen. How did I do it? Well, the truth is, there is no secret to it. Nothing but good old fashioned persistence and smart training, you know, telling that competitive voice in your head to take a back seat.
Here’s how I’m surviving summer miles:
1. Change your Outlook, Lower your Expectations, Accept the Suck. You know the cliché term “embrace the suck”? Well this is similar. Except you don’t have to embrace the fact that you feel like a slug someone poured table salt on, left out on a sidewalk to shrivel up and die. You don’t need to turn each miserable footstep into some motivational speech about enduring hard times, or pain is weakness leaving the body, or whatever other quote you may have seen on instagram. No. Summer running can be downright pathetic due to the heat. You don’t need to embrace or like one single second of it. But you can accept it for what it is. Hot
Keep in mind that the heat will naturally slow your pace and raise your heartrate. Your body has to work significantly harder to regulate itself in warmer temperatures, therefore you are going to slow down. This is not a sign of weakness, this is simply a fact of science.
So personally, I choose to celebrate every mile that I do log during the summer, rather than dwell on the miles I didn’t get to because it was too damn hot. Change your outlook. Simply accept that not every run is going to feel good, and move on.
2. Hydrate. Obvious, right? Personally, I tend to go slightly overboard when carrying water, but I’d rather be prepared than parched. I’ve taken to running with my hydration pack for EVERY run. Even a 5K. I enjoy having the extra water on hand incase I’m extra thirsty, need to cool down by pouring water over my head, or end up sharing with an under prepared friend. Plus, I find having a large quantity of water on me (in my case, up to 2 liters) allows me to sip the water naturally, rather than either a) chug in large intervals, resulting in an upset, sloshy stomach, and/or brain freeze, or b) use my water too sparingly for fear of running out, resulting in a headache, overheating, and dehydration.
I know some people don’t like the feeling of a hydration pack on them when it is extra hot out, but to me, the benefits outweigh the sweaty risks. And to counter the argument, I tend to put a TON of ice in my hydration pack bladder, which helps actually keep my back, and thus my entire body core temperature, cooler.
2-a. Electrolytes/salts. Balance out that fluid intake. Too much water can indeed be a bad thing, so make sure you are keeping your electrolyte balance in check to avoid dangerous conditions like hyponatremia. I’m personally a fan of products like Tailwind and Hammer endurolytes, but there are plenty of options out there to help keep your sodium and electrolyte levels up.
3. Avoid Mid Day Running. I feel like captain obvious here, but is certainly worth stating. Last summer, we did a lot of mid day running due to my work schedule. It was painfully hot. These days, thanks to new work schedules for both Geoff and I, we tend to hit the trail more often around 6 pm when the sun is less aggressive. Sure, the temps have only dropped from 100 down to maybe 92, but every few degrees helps.
4.Take Walk Breaks (if needed). So many runners I’ve talked to/worked with/run with seem to have this fear of walk breaks, this ridiculous notion that walking will make you less of a runner. I scoff now because I was once one of them. The truth is, taking walk breaks in this summer heat actually allows my body to work at a lower overall effort, allowing me to get in more distance, rather than burning up and burning out trying to run the entire time. And since distance is what I’m training for these days, I’d rather get in higher weekly mileage at a slow, sometimes walking pace, rather than low distance at a faster pace. But that’s just me. See again point 1: lower your expectations.
5. Keep your Body Temperature Down. Use whatever means possible to keep your body temperature down. I’ve found from experience it is worth the extra time and effort to back off early and KEEP your temperature down, rather than to overheat and try to bring your temps BACK down again. In order to keep your body cool:
- Run in as little clothing as possible (toss that shame aside, ladies and gents)
- Use ice or cold water in bandanas or buffs on your head or neck
- Take rest breaks in the shade
- Take walk breaks (see above)
6. Be Smart. Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion. They include, but are not limited to:
- Dark-colored urine or cessation of urinating
- Muscle or abdominal cramps
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Profuse sweating
- Pale skin
Don’t try and run through these symptoms. You don’t have an Olympic gold medal on the line here. Don’t be a hero. Be smart. Yes, I’m shaking my mom finger at you with a stern face.
7. Recover Well. Keep hydrating. Eat healthy foods to help replenish your body. Realize that running in this heat will leave you feeling much more exhausted and REST accordingly. I’ve been paying extra attention to my hydration and fueling methods, not only to help replace everything my body has sweat out and burned up, but to help kick start the healing and recovery that my body needs.
8. Get Back Out There. If your goal is to adapt to running in the heat, then you’ve got to keep getting back out there. Treadmill running won’t help in this case, you’ve got to run outside. Give yourself time to adapt, by gradually increasing the time you spend running outdoors. Listen to your body, and react accordingly, as overexposure to the heat truly can be detrimental. But also fight the urge to want to quit simply because the heat is uncomfortable. Trust me when I say: it gets easier.
What are your tips for summer running? How hot is it where you are this summer? Feel free to join the discussion below!