Precautions to Take While Running in the Heat

With the year being the hottest on record, those of us who exercise and run must be more aware of how to take precautions in the heat.

Runners don’t want to interrupt their training or regular workouts just because it’s summer, and even though the average runner is healthier than most people, it can be dangerous to run in the heat.

Of nearly 11 million regular marathon racers in recent years, 59 of them have had cardiac arrests, and 42 of them died. That death rate of 1 in 259,000 usually has heat cited as a contributing factor.

stretching before going on a run

Physical activity at temperatures higher than 85 degrees strains the heart. The body reacts by producing more sweat and blood vessels dilate. If you are susceptible to heart issues or having a stroke, consider avoiding working out in high temperatures.

Start slowly in the summer and give your body time to get used to higher temperatures. If there’s a string of hot weather days ahead, cut back the time and length of your run in the first few days to let your body acclimate. It can take up to two weeks for your body to get used to working out in hotter temperatures.

Culturally, people in marathons in Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan have raced in temperatures 86 to 95 degrees regularly without issue, and at the 156-mile Marathon des Sables run in the Sahara Desert in Morocco records temperatures at 122 degrees.

Running at temperatures higher than 85 degrees requires training because the body runs the risk of overheating, muscle cramping and dehydration.

Drinking enough fluids is an obvious answer, but don’t overdo it and drink water slowly, pacing slugs of water every 15 minutes rather than all at once. Consider diluted fruit juices or sports drinks that are high in chloride, sodium and potassium.

Also, a banana, dried apricots or whole grain products can help replenish the vitamins and minerals you may lose while running, and serve as great post-running snacks.

Pick the time of day to exercise, and avoid the hottest times, usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The first warning sign of danger is over-perspiration, shortness of breath and complete overwhelming exhaustion.  The fitter you are the better your body will cope with the heat, and it doesn’t hurt to have a monitor with you if need it.

Keep note of muscle cramps that result in painful contractions in the calves, abdomen and quadriceps.

drinking water to stay hydrated

Your body temperature could go as high as 104 degrees and cause nausea, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, weakness, clammy skin and headaches.

Dress for the heat, wearing light colors, a hat, lightweight and breathable clothes. Use sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor), and don’t forget the back of your legs, ears and neck.

Consider working out indoors, or on a treadmill inside. The scenery may not be as interesting, but it could be safer for you.

Listen to your body it you feel any sharp stabbing cramps. Cool yourself with wet towels, get in the shade and drink water.

Recognize early signs for a heatstroke, including confusion and odd behavior, disorientation or even a los of consciousness. Rub the body with ice, or immerse the person in cold water immediately.

Mostly, just don’t overdo it during the summer. The heat bounces off the concrete and the road and bakes the body pretty severely, so take it easy and don’t try to break your record or push yourself too hard. You can do that another day.