A few years ago, I was training for a marathon during a mid-August heat wave. Like most 21 year olds, I prepped for my first 13-mile run by hitting the bars the night before, sleeping four hours, and shaking off the hangover with two cups of coffee. I was cramping by mile nine and had abandoned both running and sweating--a bad sign--by mile eleven. By the end of the run, I was borderline delusional, leaving the road for open meadows that I was convinced were short cuts. I was crossing from heat exhaustion to the much more dangerous heat stroke.
My actions were textbook examples of how not to run when it’s hot. For athletes, though, heat exhaustion is relatively common in the summer. During Sunday’s New York City Triathlon, 11 of the 3,000 competitors visited the hospital. It was 90 degrees in Central Park. One racer was in critical condition.
So what’s the best way to exercise in the heat?
1. Pay Attention
Coach Mindy Solkin of the NYC-based Running Center recommends paying attention to your body and the weather. If you’re smart, running in the heat shouldn't be much different than any other run.
2. Check the Index
Check NOAA's heat index before you head out.
3. Drink Up
Hydrate with Gatorade, water, or shots of salt before, during, and after a run.
4. But Not Too Much
Sloshing in your stomach is a sign that water has not worked its way into your blood stream, providing a full feeling that's a ruse for hydration.
Give yourself time to acclimatize, about two weeks is a good rule of thumb, and compensate for changes in conditions by adjusting your training schedule. Ninety degrees in Arizona’s dry heat is much different than 90 degrees in Richmond, Virginia’s humidity.
6. Watch Your Shadow
Run in the morning or evening, when your shadow is longer than you are.
7. Pay Attention
And finally, really do pay attention to your body. If you start taking “short cuts” across cow pastures, it’s a sure sign you're losing it.