May is almost over so, from here on out, it’s only going to get hotter! If you’re an avid runner, you may think that the summer heat means moving indoors and clocking miles on a treadmill until October, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Runners can still train outdoors during the hot Houston summer as long as they take appropriate precautions. Here's how to be safe:
- Dress properly. If you overdress for the heat and humidity, your body temperature can rise rapidly and you'll sweat much more. These two factors can lead to chafing and dehydration. To avoid these issues, wear light colored clothes, sunglasses and a sun hat or visor. And, skip the instinct to wear cotton: it's actually a prime suspect when it comes to chafing problems, because it absorbs all that sweat and the moisture in the air!
- Hydrate with electrolytes. When it's hot and humid, you lose a lot of electrolytes at a quicker pace. Run with gel packs or sports drinks, and continue to up the water intake all day, even after your run is over.
- Stay slow and steady. When it's 90 degrees outside and 90% humidity, it's not the time to up your pace or your mileage. Instead, stick to runs that feel comfortable and don't get discouraged if you struggle to reach former training milestones. It is hard to run in humidity. Consider yourself a winner just for sticking with any kind of outdoor running program!
Now that you know some precautionary measures, let's look at what might happen if you don't stay smart about outdoor runs in the heat.
Dangers of Running in Humid Weather
It's important to know the potential dangers of running in the heat so you can continue to protect yourself. Here are some of the main pitfalls of running in the humidity:
1. HEAT CRAMPS Caused by an electrolyte imbalance (dehydration is the usual culprit) heat cramps are usually experienced in the abdomen or other large-muscle groups. To prevent this problem, don’t run hard in the heat until you are used to it, and stay well hydrated with sports drinks. If you are experiencing a cramp, restore your salt balance with foods or drinks that contain sodium, or electrolyte supplements.
2. HEAT FAINTING Making sudden stops when running in hot weather can cause you to faint because of the interruption of blood flow from your legs to your brain. To keep this from happening, make sure you incorporate a gradual cool down into your summer runners, making sure to end a workout with at least five minutes of slow jogging and/or walking. If you do experience heat fainting, elevate your legs and pelvis after you come to in order to restore blood flow to your brain.
3. HEAT EXHAUSTION Also caused by electrolyte imbalance, heat exhaustion causes your core body temperature to rise as high as 104°F, leaving you with a headache, nausea, fatigue and extreme sweating. Prevent this condition the same way you would cramping, and treat the problem with rest and cold packs applied to your head and neck as you restore your balance with sodium.
4. HYPONATREMIA The headaches, muscle twitches and confusion associated with this condition are caused by over-hydration, which can dilute your blood-sodium levels. This condition can be fatal, so do your utmost to prevent it by limiting your liquid intake to a maximum of 32 oz/hour and by choosing sports drinks over water, especially on longer runs.
5. HEAT STROKE If your core body temperature rises above 104°F, you have passed from heat exhaustion to heat stroke. At this stage, you can expect to experience, nausea, vomiting, headaches, a rapid pulse and disorientation. Prevent the problem the same way you stave off heat exhaustion; if you suspect you have reached this point, call 911 right away as you’ll need ice-water immersion and IV-fluid treatments.