Running in the Heat

Running in the Heat

We've put together a brief article to help you stay safe and still enjoy your run in extreme heat!

After months of braving frosty winds and navigating icy paths, the allure of running under clear skies and amidst blooming nature becomes irresistible. The days are longer, and we don’t need umpteen layers to say warm; however, as temperatures climb, so does the importance of understanding how to navigate the heat safely.


With temperatures expected to soar this week, we can look forward to a whole new set of challenges as we fit our runs and training into our busy schedules. We’ve put together this article to help you prepare for and be aware of the potential dangers of exercising in extreme heat.


We’ll start by explaining the signs and risks of heat stroke and follow up with our own tips on how to avoid it.


In short, heat stroke is what happens to your body when its natural methods of cooling itself can’t keep up and your core temperature rises to dangerous levels, usually above 103oF. It is a very serious condition that can require medical intervention and can become fatal if not treated. Some signs of heat stroke you should be on the lookout for can include, but are not limited to:


Hot, Red, Dry Skin: The skin may feel hot and dry to the touch, as sweating ceases.


Rapid Heartbeat: The pulse may become strong and rapid, even while at rest.


Headache: Severe headaches are common in heat stroke.


Dizziness, Confusion, or Unconsciousness: These are signs of sever heat stroke and you should seek immediate medical attention.


If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, you should seek to cool them or yourself down as soon as possible. This could be as simple as moving to a cooler, shadier place or, if the person is conscious and able to, they should drink fluids. You can also apply cool water or ice packs to the skin; under the arms, behind the knees, and the neck are some of the more effective areas.


None of this is intended to scare you out of running during the heat, just to inform you of the seriousness of not approaching it with caution. When properly prepared for, running in the heat can have many physiological benefits and therefore improve your running performance. Often dubbed “the poor man’s altitude”, some runners will seek out the hottest part of the day to conduct their training. When properly prepared for, some benefits you might look forward to include:


Increased Cardiovascular Fitness: Running in the heat often leads to increased heart rate and higher cardiovascular demands compared to cooler conditions. Over time, this can improve cardiovascular endurance and efficiency.


Enhanced VO2 Max: Exercising in heat can potentially increase your VO2 max (maximum Oxygen consumption), which is a key indicator of aerobic fitness. The body adapts to the increased demands for Oxygen delivery and utilization.


Calorie Burn: Running in the heat typically results in higher energy expenditure due to increased heart rate and potentially longer duration (as you may need to slow down to manage heat stress), which can aid in weight management and calorie burning.


Muscle Adaptation: Muscles may adapt to running in heat by becoming more efficient at utilizing Glycogen and fats for energy, potentially improving endurance.


These benefits are also true from running at any temperature, the stress that generates the above physiological changes is just greater so you will experience a more rapid improvement. Having said that, it is also possible to overstress the system which can cause sickness or injury. Like going to the gym, if you try to bench press more weight than your body can handle, you’re likely to get hurt instead of getting stronger. It is best to practice it in moderation and gradually, so your body can grow and adapt. There are several things you can do to help your body handle the heat and keep yourself safe. Here are some tips we’ve had success with in the past:


Plan Your Route: Plan your route ahead of time. Guelph has many great trails and paths that offer a ton of tree coverage and protection from the sun. Also consider routes with stops to cool off or refill your water. The City of Guelph has many drinking fountains and open-to-the-public splash pads and wading pools across the city. Here are a pair of links with maps and locations of each: Splash pads / pools and Drinking fountains.


Hydrate: Duh! Drinking water and staying hydrated during your run is obvious to most; less obvious is how often and how much you should be hydrating. Throughout the day is the absolute best method; I am never without my water bottle so I can drink as I please. By ingesting smaller amounts throughout the day your body is much more likely to retain it, versus ingesting a bunch at once will make you more likely to just pee it out.


Electrolytes: aka salts, are the other main ingredient your body excretes through sweating. Electrolytes are responsible for so many vital processes within your body, but for our purposes as runners we are more concerned about muscle function and water retention. Electrolytes are used by your muscles to “un-contract”, if you’ve ever had a muscle cramp, it’s likely because you were lacking the necessary electrolytes for your muscles to relax. They also help your body to retain water. Enough electrolytes can be achieved through proper diet, but you can also consider supplementing them with products like Nuun or SaltStick. Look for Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, and Calcium.


Clothing: Not just t-shirts versus sweaters but look for items made of sweat-wicking materials. Fabrics like polyester, Lycra and Merino Wool will actively pull the sweat away from your body and to the outside layer of the garment so that it can evaporate more quickly. Keeping you cooler and dryer, longer. Many fabrics also offer UPF protection to keep harmful UV radiation from reaching your skin.


Adjust Your Effort: Exercising in the heat requires a higher metabolic effort just to maintain body temperature, so your energy needs will be greater. The same pace will feel harder to you at higher temperatures versus cooler ones. Instead of chasing a specific pace, consider methods of measuring effort. Many modern smartwatches include a wrist-based heart rate monitor; while not as accurate as chest strap heart rate monitors, you could use that to try to keep your heart rate within a certain range. A lot of runners will also use a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, essentially listening to your body and judging how hard or easy a run feels.


Run Earlier or Later: Typically, temperatures are lower in the early morning or late evening. If your schedule can accommodate it, you may be better off getting your run in during these times of day.


Weigh Yourself: During the hotter months in my university days, our athletic trainers would have us weigh ourselves before and after each practice. The weight difference would be how much water was lost during the practice and we weren’t allowed to practice the next day until we had gained a certain percentage of the weight back by hydrating.


With the right preparation and awareness, you can not only conquer the heat but also thrive in your running routine throughout the sunny season ahead. All the added benefits can still be achieved by running in normal temperatures, it will just take longer for the physiological adaptations to occur. With the pros and cons of running in the heat outlined above, you can make a more educated judgement of whether venturing outside for your run is worth it or not. If you’re still unsure, consider consulting a physician. Some people simply don’t handle the heat as well as others and should exercise even more caution. By practicing the above tips and tricks, you’ll be a little safer and be able to enjoy your run a bit more.


- Jake


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