Blazing asphalt – how to workout and avoid heat stress

Copyright 2015 Dennis Mitton

heat eggI grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where a nice summer day starts out chilly and inches toward seventy-five. Who cares about the week in August when we shield our eyes from that blinding thing in the sky and watch the thermometer push toward ninety? For runners it’s  so infrequent that you can take it off without any effect to your running program.

Not so here in sunny South Carolina. Not for me anyway. I barely made it through May last year and by June I was done. I couldn’t even make it through short runs without turning to lead halfway through. Beating sun and heat stress were doing me in. I finally just quit running and did yoga inside with the AC blowing. I came out of the summer lighter and more flexible but I’d like to keep up with my running this year. I’ve found several things that allow me to feel much more comfortable in the heat. I’ll have to wait and see how they work when I wake up to 90 degrees and dripping humidity but I’m hoping to make it at least through June this year.

If you’re going to run or workout in the heat this year please consider the following to stave off heat stress and sluggishness:

    • Run shorter routes and add a second lighter workout. It’s the sun that seems to kill me. Working out in my garage doesn’t have the same effect. If it’s blazing out I might cut my run in half and then finish up with some kind of workout in the garage. Or you can do another workout later when you’ve cooled off. Misery in small doses seems a little more bearable.
    • Ignore this and your legs will feel like spaghetti a mile out: ensure you are hydrated before you run. If you pee before heading out notice the color. It should be clear pale yellow. Any darker and you are not hydrated. Drink some water and chill for half an hour or so.
    • And please. Do pee before you run. When it’s this hot your body becomes a water processing plant. The need to pee hits like a truck. Take care of it beforehand to avoid being both baking hot and completely uncomfortable. It’s hard to run with your legs crossed and around here they shoot strangers running into the woods.
    • Ramp up your time and miles slowly. This year I started running during the middle of the day as temps began to increase. And if it’s really cooking I cut my miles. I will run a shorter loop that I can do twice or three times depending on how I’m feeling. A ten mile out-and-back is too much of a commitment.
    • Slow down or walk. There have been times when I have slowed to just a running heat1form. There have been times that I’ve walked. I burn the same number of calories and enjoy the same workout. And there is a mental reward for finishing your distance. Remember that unless you are training for the Olympics you are just out enjoying your body and nature. It’s more fun to enjoy it standing up rather than laying down after you pass out from pushing yourself in the heat.
    • Where a hat. I’m not a hat guy but have learned to like the small bit of shade it gives my eyes. Toss the canvas trucker hat. Wear a lightweight hat meant to wick moisture and you will definitely feel the relief.
    • Run as close to naked as you can get. I wear the least I can and not get arrested. I also invested in some running togs made to wick moisture away and keep me  cooler.  I’ve been surprised to learn how well they work.
    • Get a hydration pack. I bought one on a whim because I was so baking hot and because it was on sale. Now I can hardly leave the house without it.  A must.

And a couple of things not to do:

  • There’s more drama.  I think – and feel free to fill in the blanks here – that your body is more strained and you’re having a little less fun. So tiny things that don’t normally bother me begin to loom large. I take an extra minute or so to make sure I’m all set knowing that a little pinch in my shoe or the battery in my headphones dying will irritate the crap out of me. Be proactive.
  • Wear sunscreen. An absolute non-negotiable.
  • Avoid the rain. At least here in the South. I held off on a run once last year waiting for the black clouds to open. When the rain came I ran out expecting a nice Northwest style run. Good bloody gawd. It was the worst run I’ve ever had. It was still ninety degrees and when the rain hit the pavement it turned the entire street into a stream bath. I have never been on such an uncomfortable run.

So take it slow. Take it easy. Let your body acclimate. Remember that you do this for fun and that you would like to do it again tomorrow.


Author: Dennis Mitton

Science writer. Evolution, bio, health, fitness, longevity, and philosophy. Love Russian lit. Run a slow 5k. Proven breeder/twins. Monkey Dance author.

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