How to be cool (running)

Not that it is breaking news, but the heat can be a major factor in slowing you down. After flying a few weeks ago running during a cooling severe thunderstorm and struggling in almost 100 degree heat on the same four mile loop, I decided to pull some numbers and investigate. That’s what is below, some data on my last five four-runs (all but the June 5 run were training runs on the same loop; June 5th was a race on a similarly hilly but different route).

Day Time Distance Run time Pace/Mile Temperature Day’s mean temp. Above/Below mean Heat Index Percent Humidity
June 7 9:45 AM 4.06 36:27 8:59 79 80 Below 81 60
June 5 8:06 AM 3.95 32:42 8:17 72 82 Below 73 78
June 1 5:28 PM 4.02 37:09 9:14 96 84 Above 98 35
May 26 6:03 PM 4.06 34:49 8:34 70 75 Below 70 83
May 24 7:48 PM 4.03 36:00 8:55 85 78 Above 84 37

- Weather data from Weather Underground.

My quickest runs came when it was coolest. I remember after that June 1 run, I couldn’t cool off. I literally stood in a cold shower for 10 minutes to try. It was a tough run. As Dr. Joe mentioned earlier this week, you must be careful when it’s hot, but running in the heat and humidity is a necessary part training for the AJC Peachtree. It won’t be cool on July 4, so get ready now. Be smart, too.

My strategy is now to wake up early (at least for me, someone that works afternoons/nights) and get out by for my run by 9:30 or 10 a.m. Not quite like those 7:30 or 8 a.m. cross country practices from my past and I know those out there that get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m. to run are laughing at what I call early, but I am still trying to beat the heat. As you see in the chart, if I get out before 10 a.m., I beat the daily mean temperature. I quickly figured out that is something that’s not possible running at any time in the afternoon or evening, when I typically run. I tried to go a few more times in the afternoon 90s. Things didn’t go well, at all.

tempgraph

Yesterday’s temperature chart from Weather Underground shows that once the temperature tops the mean before 11 a.m., it doesn’t fall below 80 until 9:30 p.m. Heat builds up during the day. The only way to beat it is to run early, just as the Peachtree is on July 4. Hopefully, for me as well as for you, waking up early will be worth it. We shall see.

2 comments Add your comment

Michael

June 9th, 2011
11:28 am

This is your first column I have read, so I’m not sure if you’re a PT novice or not. That being said,
all those people, the heat, and the humidity make for tough conditions. Take advantage of every water break along the way, even if you just throw it over your head as you run.

Jeff

June 9th, 2011
4:46 pm

Interesting article, and some helpful information for those who are Yankees or not accustomed to running in the Southern heat. Be sure to train carefully, people, no matter when or where you are running.

That being said… I would MUCH rather run in the heat and humidity of Georgia summers than in ANYTHING else. I wouldn’t have it any other way… I LOVE it. I grew up in Atlanta, born and bred, and I vividly remember playing outside for HOURS in the summertime with my brother and my friends. We’d be out from morning until dinnertime, and remember some of those summers in the early 1980s, there would be several days on end of 100 degrees or more. But what we did was drink plenty of water (thanks to mom, who always made sure we took some breaks and hydrated) and we also were ACCUSTOMED to it. Our bodies got used to it. So, when I got to high school and I was battling through preseason soccer or cross country practices in late August, yeah it was hot, but it wasn’t unbearable and I survived them with ease. Actually, I think it made me a better athlete. I prided myself on toughing out late-game situations on a blistering hot mid-September day and having more endurance than my opponent.

I can’t run in the winter… I just can’t do it. Too effing cold. My body fights me violently… I can’t get my muscles loose, my joints hurt, my shoulders get stiff, my nose runs, my eyes water, my ears ache, and my chest burns and wheezes from the ice-cold air. Like I said, I guess it’s what we grew up with. During the summer, I LOVE to exercise… I can get loose, get stretched, and work up a good sweat. I played tennis every week last summer, sometimes in the oppressive mid-90s with a heat index in triple digits, and I loved every minute of it.

But if you do this (and this especially goes for our Northern transplants)… be SAFE about it. Hydrate THOROUGHLY during the day, even hours before you plan to exercise. Make sure you can cool off effectively after you run or work out… find a shady spot or a cool basement or something and get cooled off. Drink plenty of fluids after you exercise… sip them, don’t gulp. Get a good stretch AFTERWARDS, which is just as important as before. Take a cool shower about 45 minutes after you finish and be sure to hydrate that evening and with your next meal, to make sure you get enough water. And eat a good dinner after a late-afternoon run… look up some research and find the good proteins and carbs and veggies to eat post-workout.

I have never understood those who avoid exercising in heat at all costs… it’s Georgia in the summer, you just can’t do it (hell, the other night, it was 84 degrees at my house at 1 a.m.!) All you have to do is be SMART about it — planning ahead, proper hydration and nutrition, and getting a proper cool-down period afterwards are the keys. So don’t be afraid of the summer heat, folks… embrace it, use it as a challenge, and get your tan on while you’re running! Nothing like a good sweat to help you feel better and get those toxins out of your body!

Enjoy the weather, enjoy the running, and be safe out there!