Runners Guide to Running in the Heat

With record high temperatures blanketing the country so early this summer, I’ve received dozens of emails and texts regarding heat and hydration questions from runners.  Whether you’re a professional football player or a recreational runner, proper hydration in the heat will enhance your performance and possibly save your life.

Every year too many runners suffer from heat related problems.  These issues range from cramps to fainting to death.  A London Marathon study showed the death rate for marathon runners to be 1 death for every 67,414, which is approximately 1 death for every 2,000,000 miles run.  The reasons for these deaths vary.

Heat illness is very preventable and simple steps can be taken to keep runners safe and injury free.  Educating athletes on the prevention of heat illness is a passion of mine.  I’ve completed the three hottest Ironman triathlon race locations in the world – Brazil, Hawaii and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands – so I personally know the challenge of running long and hard in extreme heat.

I’m very fortunate to have an outstanding medical staff accompanying me with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  We manage 90 players and approximately 40 staff members every day in the Florida heat and humidity.

With football players, the heavier clothing/equipment, up to two practices per day, and the athletes being larger individuals compared to runners, exertional heat illness is an ever-present danger.  When compared to runners with lighter clothing, generally lower body fat percentages and a less intense workload, heat illness is considered to be more manageable.

Safe Running in the Heat Tips

Drink Early and Often

  • Start drinking water and sports drinks at least 60 minutes before you’re exposed to the heat.
  • Practice my “50/50 Plan” (50% water & 50% Gatorade) before, during and after all workouts.
  • Avoid sodas, caffeine and fatty foods at least an hour before any activities in a hot environment.

Monitor your Weight

  • Weighing yourself before and after being in a hot environment is a simple and effective way to determining levels of dehydration.
  • A loss of as little as 2% of your body weight during exercise WILL predispose you to a decrease in your performance and a diminished ability to think properly.

Snacks Rock

  • Salty snacks will make you a better runner so start eating them before, during and after your workouts.
  • Besides water, a runner’s body needs salt and calories.  Pretzels, low-fat potato chips and tortilla chips are great sources of both of these.

Check Your Wardrobe

  • Avoid darker and heavier clothing that attracts heat and raises your body core temperature.
  • Black shirts and hats may be fashionable but they aren’t doing your body any favors in a sunny environment.
  • Lighter, breathable and loose-fitting clothing allows your body to cool itself more effectively.

Timing is Everything

  • The middle part of the day is usually the hottest and most humid part of the day so avoid high-intensity runs at that time.
  • When possible, minimize direct sunlight when running will lower your heart rate and allow more energy for your legs.

Illnesses and Medications

  • When your body is fighting an illness, it’s ability to handle the heat is less effective.
  • Plan and simple: If you have diarrhea or vomiting, you are dehydrated and at high risk of a heat illness.
  • Many medications such as diuretics and cold medicines can prove to be deadly when combined with intense exercise in a hot and humid environment.

No runner wants to stop running in the summer.  Being properly prepared for the heat and humidity by applying these simple steps will keep you safe and help you become a more efficient runner.

Safer & faster:  Does it get any better?!

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

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