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Runners Education: Distance Running in Hot and Humid Conditions

Sports Medicine e-Newsletter

August 2013 edition

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UW Health Sports Medicine

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As the temperature rises, there are a number of things to consider to compete successfully in distance events in hot and humid conditions:

 

1. Slow down.

 

The best way to end up in the medical tent on an excessively hot day is to run without modifying your intensity based on the weather conditions. Slowing down is an effective method to keep your body’s core temperature under control. For marathons, plan on adding 15 to 30 minutes to your goal time for a healthy and successful finish.

 

2. Don't speed up.

 

If you change from running a full marathon to a half marathon due to excessive heat (a good idea!), this does not mean you can successfully run a half-marathon at a faster pace than you would have run the full marathon. You have trained your body to work efficiently at a particular pace. Exceeding this pace increases the workload for your body and increases your body’s heat production. This increases the risk for a heat related illness.

 

3. Cool yourself.

 

Any time there is shade, a sprinkler, water or other resource to cool your body, use it. Wiping your head down with an ice sponge or ice towel or pouring cold water over your head can be particularly effective. Your head accounts for a large portion of the heat removed from your body and cooling it can help keep you cool and comfortable.

 

4. Be a conscientious runner.

 

While there are medical providers and volunteers around the course on race day, they can’t be everywhere. If you see that a fellow runner is having problems, seek assistance immediately. Do not assume someone else has helped him or her. If a course medical provider or volunteer is accessible, summon them. If not, have a spectator call 911 for ambulance assistance. Helping another runner in need of assistance is the right thing to do.

 

5. Dress appropriately for the weather.

  1. Wear clothing that easily wicks sweat away from your body and is breathable. Airflow through your clothing will help keep your body cool and help evaporate the sweat.
  2. Wear light colored clothing. It reflects light and keeps you cooler than dark colors. Dark colors absorb the light, which increases your body temperature.
  3. Avoid cotton. Cotton soaks up the sweat from your body and holds it there, impeding adequate airflow to your body and preventing evaporation of the sweat. This negatively affects heat removal from the body.
  4. Wear sun screen designed for athletes if you will be running between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM so that your skin is protected from the sun while allowing your body to dissipate heat.
  5. Wear a visor to help keep the sun off of your face while allowing your head to dissipate heat. Hats are not recommended. A significant amount of heat is lost through the head and hats tend to hold in this heat. On a hot, humid day anything that significantly impedes heat loss should be avoided.

 

6. Fluids.

 

Drink fluids when you are thirsty. Establish and follow your training plan for fluid intake but be prepared to alter it. If you find yourself becoming thirsty, you may need to drink more fluids than you had planned. Note: Sports drinks can alter the natural patterns of thirst. They are designed to aid you but can leave you feeling thirsty. After consuming a sports drink, drink a small amount of water to quell this feeling of thirst.

 

7. Self-awareness.

 

Runners are goal oriented people and work hard to complete races in a set time. During competition, the drive to complete a goal can alter a person’s judgment, regardless of the dangers. Be acutely aware of how you feel as you run and change your goals accordingly. Often, those who refuse to change their approach to the run when weather conditions worsen require medical care. Listen to the danger signals your body sends out and don’t run through them. If you notice another runner struggling with the heat, encourage him or her to take the appropriate steps to remain safe. Be prepared to stop running, if necessary. After all, you will have the opportunity to run other races under better weather conditions.

 

8. Have fun.

 

Enjoy the race, take your time, appreciate the views, enjoy the spectators, thank the volunteers and have fun along the way.

 

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