“Do you really train in this?” I get asked this question a lot, being a trail runner living in the middle of the Phoenix desert. And the answer is Yes, Yes I do. Do I run when it is 114 degrees out? I do. But I have also learned over the past 3 summers of heat training just what my body can and can’t do. So let’s talk about heat training.
But before I talk about what TO DO when training or racing in the heat, let’s flash back two years to the Hypnosis 25km race with Aravaipa Running. I had a great race, felt really strong throughout the run and after. Drove home feeling good, and ended up in the ER later that night. Over the course of the race, I’d consumed about 200 ounces of water plus sodium. My ER diagnosis: dehydration. How is that possible after 200 ounces of water and electrolyte replacement? If you are a heavy sweater like I am (I think we have established this in the past), and you don’t keep pushing the fluids after the race, it is indeed possible.
Fast forward a couple years…What am I doing differently these days? Well, here are a few of my tips and tricks for training and racing during the hottest days of the year:
- I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a full workup by a qualified medical professional. I get an annual physical, blood work, and over the years, have had my heart thoroughly checked out.
- Start slowly. I don’t just wake up one morning after having trained indoors all summer and hit the trails in triple digits. During the summer, the first few weeks of heat acclimation is always rough. Give your body time to adjust to the added stress of cooling your body while running. There are lots of scientific articles on the benefits of heat training and how the body adapts physiologically to the added stresses placed on it.
- Drink, drink, drink. I can’t stress enough how important hydration is. So, I’ll spend a bit longer on this one. Hydrating for a run or race begins in the days prior to the run. I prefer to train at night, even though it is hotter than early morning runs. So, I am hydrating all day long. In fact, I can see a 10 bpm difference in my heart rate on a run where I haven’t hydrated as well as I should. I personally prefer water both pre and during my runs. In this heat, my stomach just doesn’t tolerate electrolyte replacement drinks, and I have tried most of them. But I make sure that I have something on hand for immediately after my run to replace the fluid I’ve lost, and the sodium too. Whether it is your preferred electrolyte drink, sodium capsules, pickle juice, or a salty food, use it! And keep drinking. I’ve mentioned my race rule- I don’t get to go home until I pee. This rule would have saved me an ER visit.
- Slow down. It’s just not possible to run the same pace in 100 degree weather that you would in 50 degree weather. For longer runs, this may mean adding more walking breaks into the mix to help keep your core temperature down.
- Cool your core. Wearing breathable fabrics and less clothing so your body can utilize its natural cooling mechanisms is very important. And, ice is your friend here. Rolling up ice in a bandana to tie around your neck, adding ice to the bladder on your hydration pack or in your handhelds, or simply tucking ice in various places can make a huge difference.
- Use the buddy system. I try to do my longer, hot weather runs with a friend. Suffering it out together is better than going at it alone. But on days when this isn’t possible, I write my route down on the refrigerator for my husband. Should anything happen, he knows where I’ll be. I know that trail and park names like “Tanks”, “Sidewinder”, “Pemberton” mean nothing to him- but if it is written down and I go missing, there’s a huge Facebook group of Trailrunners that will descend on that mountain like a swarm of bees until I’m located.
- Don’t be afraid to quit. Some days, whether our hydration or eating has been out of whack, our sleep inadequate, or our recent training too intense, we just don’t have it. No training or race is worth our health, or our life. Don’t be afraid to call it a day and head home. There will always be another trail to run or race to conquer.
Hydrate well, stay safe and have fun. I’ll see you on the trails.
*This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.