In some parts of the country the temperatures have started climbing. I'm lucky in that my altitude affords me cool mornings and afternoon showers. And hail. And lightning. And at the higher elevations, even snow. But that shall soon pass and it won't be much longer until I'm complaining about being too hot.
Let me just throw this out there up front and get it over with. Exerting yourself in the heat (you know, like running...) is dangerous. It can kill you. The best advice for running in the heat is quite simply: Don't!
But you're still going to run, aren't you? Don't feel bad. I will too.
So how can we take this dangerous situation and make it more safe. (Not safe, more safe.) I don't claim to be an expert on the subject. I have read many of the mainstream magazine articles. I have also experienced many years of putting down lots of miles in the heat. This will be a culmination of what I've learned works for me.
And that's where we need another disclaimer. First, what works for me might not work for you. But almost everything in running is that way - extremely personal. Second, I live in the foothills of Colorado. Geography and the specific weather for your area matter. When I'm on vacation in Maine, much of my experience dealing with heat doesn't work as I think it should. Where I can, I will call out the things that I know are personal as well as the things that I know to be rather specific to my particular climate.
Now that mess is out of the way, there are lots of things that will apply to everyone. Most importantly, we live in an age of instant information. Use that to your advantage. Find which weather website or weather app is best respected in your area and check it often. Knowing just what kind of heat you are dealing with will help you plan and set expectations for yourself and your workout. And maybe even knowing the weather will make you call off the run for the day.
Now that you are watching the weather closely you'll notice that there are hotter hours and cooler hours. In my area, the hottest times to be out are usually between 2:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. Between 11:00 and 2:00 is hot, but usually manageable. And the most comfortable times to be out and about tend to be between sunrise and 10:00 and just before and just after sunset. I'm willing to bet your area is pretty similar. For those of you reading between the lines, you'll see the best opportunity for comfortable running is first thing in the morning or right around sundown. Or even at night. I prefer to drag myself out of bed and get going early. I have a friend who prefers to throw on a headlamp and log miles at night. Find what works for your and go with it.
Location, Location, Location
For the sake of all that is holy, avoid running on the asphalt. The blacktop gets hot fast and retains heat for hours after the sun goes down. This is pretty awesome in the middle of winter, but when it's eleventy billion degrees out there, you don't want to train in the sauna. Concrete is only slightly better. But dirt trails are probably your best bet.
Trails have a couple other advantages. First it's TRAILS! I love trails. Second, trails often have trees. Trees make shade. Shade is good. Third, trails often involve water. Trails follow streams and rivers, loop around lakes, and can even have water crossings. When it's hot enough, a good splash goes a long way. Something rather specific to my area is trails with altitude. In many areas, higher altitudes often have lower temperatures. Not to mention training at altitude will produce some other benefits like general baddassery, increased red blood cell count, and bragging rights.
Lastly, there are treadmills. When it's really hot I am not above hitting an air conditioned gym and putting down some miles on the treadmill. Lets face it, sometimes it just too hot. Every now and then I find myself in Atlanta on business. This town has earned the nickname "HotLanta." When I'm out there in the summer I almost always get my miles on the hotel treadmill. I'm not too proud to admit that.
What you wear matters. In a large portion of the country moisture wicking fabrics are the only way to go. Pretty much the desert southwest is the only possible exception. In that area the wicking fabric can actually remove too much sweat too fast and cause problems. (I read it in a mountain bike magazine, it must be true...) For the rest of us, stick with the wicking fabrics. If you don't have a good wicking shirt or hat, head on over to the Run JunkEes shop (http://runjunkeesshop.com/) and check out the JunkEe gear. Pretty much everything should wick - socks, shorts, shirts, unmentionables... If you aren't running in wicking gear you'd better have a darn good reason. The one possible exception is a cotton headband or bandanna. This can be soaked in water and worn around your neck or on your head. As the water evaporates it cools the body.
Food and Water
Some of the more personal issues dealing with heat are hydration and fuel. This is personal because not everything will work for everyone. There is no right answer, only what works best for you. You'll have to figure that out, and it might not be an easy road.
One thing I don't hear many runners talk about is pre-hydrating. This is quite simply the act of drinking a bunch of water or sports drink before you go running. If you don't have to pee right before you leave, you should probably drink more. This is something I learned from an old guy who wasn't teaching me about running, but about that dreaded four letter word that often interferes with running - Work. The theory is simple. Get yourself good and watered up and you'll be able to work for a fair bit before you get thirsty again. It seems to work. But remember, on the really hot days you'll want to drink a little something before you are thirsty to maintain your hydration status.
There are often questions posted in various forums about how often to hydrate and with what. What to drink is best answered as whatever you have and whatever you know works. I prefer water. But there are lots of options today. In most situations most people can run 30-45 minutes without carrying water. Pay attention to how you feel and the weather. If you start feeling the heat, slow down. Walk if you need. Find a drink. Don't be too proud to ask a stranger for help. Cyclists tend to be pretty friendly and willing to share. When it gets really hot, I will carry a handheld bottle for EVERY run. The bottle is about 16 ounces, and I try to finish that in about 45-60 minutes. Some days that's plenty. Some days, that's not enough. But it's usually enough to get me home. You may need more or less.
I'm also not above taking that bottle and spraying some water down my back or getting the top of my head wet. The evaporation helps cool things down. Washing your face feels really refreshing on a long, hot run as well.
Fuel (food to non-runners) is another thing that can make or break a run and is very, very personal. One hot weather thing that I have found that works great for me is watermelon. It has enough sugar to be effective, and has enough juice to help on the hydration front. There are two downsides to watermelon. The juice is sticky and tends to get everywhere. And it's hard to carry. I suggest stashing some on the trail before your run. Mind the critters and pack it accordingly. Your local running store will have a huge selection of gels and chews to help with the nutrition side of the run. You'll have to experiment to see what you like, what your stomach likes, and what you can carry.
Salt tabs are a thing. I sweat more than your average bear. No, I mean it. I REALLY sweat. At the end of a long run I can wring out my socks and make a puddle. It's not uncommon to have people ask if I've been swimming in the creek. And while sometimes I have been, usually I don't. When you sweat this much you will need some help replenishing. Sports drinks help, but they don't quite meet the need. Salt tabs are the secret. There are several different brands. I tend to use Salt Stick, but that says more about what is available nearby than any real brand preference. If you go with the salt tabs, please follow the directions. And remember, these are only for the long runs. If you're out under an hour you shouldn't need them.
Lastly, change how your run. When it's really hot out slow down. There is no pride in putting yourself in the hospital so you don't get to run. We don't like that. Don't be afraid to short yourself a little bit. I know 4.89 miles isn't five. I'm that guy that will circle a parking lot to get the full five. But when it's hot, give yourself a break and just get in the air conditioned car, office, or house.
But it's going to be hot on race day...
Seriously? You signed up for a 5k in Phoenix in August? Why would you do that? Well, unless you plan to use all of the emergency medical facilities offered at the event (Talk about getting your moneys worth...), you really need to find some way to acclimate yourself to the heat. Don't be dumb about it. Like all things, build slowly and listen to your body.
What I've written here are just a few things I've found that work for me. Some of the other Run JunkEe athletes will be posting their tips as well. Give them a shot. See what works. See what doesn't.
Run on friends!