Let's face it, running in Houston isn't always easy. The weather often gets in our way. After all, who wants to run outside when it's hot and humid?
I get it, I really do. So, if you’re an avid runner, you may think you have to move your runs indoors. But guess what? I'm here to tell you that clocking miles on a treadmill isn't your only option when it's hot outside.
In fact, you can still train outdoors on the hottest Houston days. You just have to take appropriate precautions. And learn to spot the early warning signs of injury.
Tips for safe running in heat and humidity:
Follow these suggestions to avoid weather-related injuries when you train.
Dress for success.
If you overdress for the heat and humidity, your body temperature can rise rapidly. Because of that, you'll sweat much more. And, together, these two factors can lead to chafing and dehydration. (Chafing is that painful rash you get when your clothes and sweaty skin run together. It's also why you see many man with bleeding nipples at the end of a long race.)
To avoid these issues, you have to dress in ways that fight heat and moisture. Wear light colored clothes, sunglasses and a sun hat or visor. But you can skip the instinct to wear cotton, especially when it comes to your socks. Because this material is actually a prime suspect when it comes to chafing problems. It absorbs all that sweat and the moisture in the air! So a better choice would be athletic wear that's made from sweat-wicking materials.
Think Beyond Water
When it's hot and humid, you lose a lot of electrolytes at a quicker pace. That's why you need to replace electrolytes as well as fluids. Otherwise, you could end up with hyponatremia. (That's a condition associated with drinking too much water, without enough salt.) To avoid this potentially life-threatening condition, you have to run with gel packs and/or sports drinks. And you should continue to up that water intake all day, even after your run is over. Pace yourself. Literally.
Ever heard of the experession slow and steady win's the race? Well, this is the moment to embrace that wisdom. After all, 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 for sticking with any kind of outdoor running program!
Now that you know some precautionary measures for weather related hazards. But let's talk about pain that comes from putting pressure on your body. Then, we'll explore what might happen if you don't stay smart about outdoor runs in the heat.
Running and Foot Pain
Whatever the weather, running puts pressure on the muscles in your legs and feet. Depending on your running form, training schedule and biomechanics, you might develop an overuse injury.
Overuse injuries happen when you keep stressing one part of your body. Runners are prime candidates for this problem, because you often run every day. And your sport of choice hits all the same muscles and bones in your body.
The heel pain of plantar fasciitis is a very common overuse injury for runners. But if you notice pain in your foot, and you tend to push off hard on your toe when you run, you could be dealing with a different problem. Andit could come from your legs, not your plantar fascia. (The band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot.)
Here's the deal. Lots of runners don't fully extend their legs towards the end of their strides. That leads to hard push offs on your toes. Which, in turn, can add stress to your soleus muscles. (Located in your calves, they're responsible for flexing your feet.) And, if they're inflamed or stressed, you may experience foot pain when you run.
Of course, your foot pain could also be due to plantar fasciitis. Even Achilles tendinitis could show up as pain in the back of your foot. For all these reasons, you need to see us right away if your runs hurt.
We'll conduct a thorough exam, and may also offer a gait analysis. Because watching how you run could guide us to the root of your pain. Something we can also do if we know your training environment. Since many of the running injuries we're about to discuss are tied to running in hot, humid weather.
Dangers of Running in Humid Weather
We want you to know the potential dangers of running in the heat. That way you can continue to protect yourself. Here are some of the main pitfalls of running in the humidity:
1. HEAT CRAMPS.
These are usually because of an electrolyte imbalance (dehydration is the usual culprit.) You may experience heat cramps in the abdomen or other large-muscle groups. To prevent this problem, don’t run hard in the heat until you've adjusted. And stay well hydrated with sports drinks or gel packs, as we suggested earlier. Then, if you cramp, restore your salt balance with foods or drinks that contain sodium. Or stick to electrolyte supplements, if that's your preference.
2. HEAT FAINTING.
Making sudden stops when running in hot weather can cause you to faint. That's because you interrupt the blood flow from your legs to your brain. How can you stay safe? Make sure to include a gradual cool down in your hot weather runs. And always 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 as soon as you're able. This will quickly restore blood flow to your brain.
3. HEAT EXHAUSTION.
This problem is also caused by an electrolyte imbalance. It causes your core body temperature to rise as high as 104°F. And that leaves you with a headache, nausea, fatigue and extreme sweating. Prevent this condition the same way you would cramping (by staying hydrated.) And treat with rest and cold packs applied to your head and neck while you restore your balance with sodium.
(See earlier reference.) You'll get these headaches, muscle twitches and confusion if you over-hydrate. That's because too much water can dilute your blood-sodium levels. This condition can be fatal. So do your best to prevent it by limiting your liquid intake to no more than 32 oz/hour. And choose sports drinks over water, especially on longer runs or when temperatures soar.
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'l
l experience, nausea, vomiting, headaches, a rapid pulse and disorientation. Prevent the problem the same way you stave off heat exhaustion. But if you suspect you have heat stroke? Call 911 right away, as you’ll need ice-water immersion and IV-fluid treatments.
Remember, I'm a runner's podiatrist who runs. So I know you want to run all the time. And I want to help you do that.
But even if you follow these tips to train safely, you can still develop foot or ankle pain from running. And if that happens? Contact Houston running podiatrist Dr. Andrew Schneider for an immediate appointment. I'll do my best to get you back out there as soon as possible.