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On Running

Taking the Heat: When Your Hot, Your Running’s Probably Not

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I experiment on myself, so you can learn from my mistakes

By Alix J. Shutello

When I was in Hollywood Florida in July and while training in the heat for the Falmouth Road Race, I decided I’d conduct a little experiment on myself to see if I could take the heat.  Well, I failed my own test, if that’s what you’d call it.

I read with great interest, John Hanc’s article, The Heat is On, Running (and Racing) in High Temperatures Means More Than Hydrating Properly, in the August 2011 issue of Runner’s World.  Here’s a guy from the New York City area who wanted to run a PR at the Hottest Half in Dallas and decided to make himself into a human guinea pig to demonstrate how heat can affect the body.

To prepare for the race, John weighed himself, ran eight miles, then weighed himself afterwards to determine how much fluid he lost in a hour. This enabled John to know how much and how often he needed to drink during training and the race. He also prepared himself by logging miles in the hot, muggy days of New York City’s summer heat.

The night before the race, John hydrated, ate salty foods (to keep his sodium levels up), rested properly in an air- conditioned room, and was monitored by a staff who took vital signs and statistics.

The day of the race, John drank cold drinks and wore an ice vest to keep his core body temperature down.  He was confident at the starting line and when the gun went off he took off at a fast pace.  At mile 3, he was feeling good, but by mile 5 his body started to revolt as he quickly dehydrated from exertion.   By Mile 8 his body temperature was at a staggering 103.9 degress and he felt like hell – and you can guess the rest. John had to pull up. He didn’t run a PR but at least he finished; albeit not as gracefully or as quickly as he would have liked.

That Sounded Like Fun
I was inspired by this story so I decided to see how quickly it would take me to crash on a 4 mile run. I figured if John did everything right and only made it to about 8 miles before he started to falter, what would happen if I didn’t prepare at all? It was still dark out when I woke up so decided to use the hotel treadmill. I figured it would be cooler in there anyway since I didn’t have a staff, ice vests, or cool drinks too keep me from passing out on the hot beach. At least on the treadmill I’d have water and a towel near by if I needed it.  I also have a policy about running in a strange city in the dark alone. Not smart for a woman running alone.

So to get myself good and over heated, I started my day off with a large cup of steaming HOT coffee and only a half glass of water.

To ensure that my run would be just miserable I turned up the temp in my room to 77 degrees and just hung out in there for a half hour while I sipped my coffee and watched the morning news. By 6:30 am I walked down to the gym and was already uncomfortable.

The gym, by chance, was warm and with the sun was coming up and blaring through the gym window,  it created a greenhouse effect – meaning the gym was hot.  I drank a couple of shots of cool water and got on to the treadmill.  Within in moments I was sweating and was fidgeting with my IPhone.  Instead of running a full mile warm up I ran a half mile I cranked it up to an 8:30 pace and aimed to go faster, preferably down to a good 10K pace of 8 min/mile or faster for a couple of miles before I took the pace back down.

By mile two I was just exhausted.  Between the heat of the gym, distractions (yes, my IPhone flipped off the treadmill and I almost dropped my glasses when my flailing arms whacked the tray my glasses were resting on), and the fact that I was overheated cause a lot of discomfort. I thought to myself, I have the Falmouth Road Race coming up and if I’m not careful I could bonk half way into the race!

I mean, I wasn’t even running that fast. Last week I was running 7:40 fartleks in the blaring heat but after a night spent with proper preparation and hydration. Here I am now 2 miles into a run I didn’t think I could finish!

It’s not just me who has issues with the heat – everyone does. Joe Vanek from Petersburg, OH, a Runners Illustrated Facebook Friend, had issues running in the heat this summer too. In one of his long runs he described his running experience as follows:

This is some crazy weather to be exercising in. Dehydrated by mile 10, dizzy by 11 and puked at 12. Thanks to the cute little nurse who pulled over to ask if I was ok.

The night before Falmouth I took it easy, kept cool, and rested. I had my traditional pre-race food – protein and a glass of while wine. I stopped with the carbo loading before I race long ago; I realized that if I haven’t carbo loaded by then, the night before a race is not time to start. I went for a swiss mushroom angus burger with a side of broccoli and also, a lot of water.

Race Day:
The day of the Falmouth Road Race it was actually decent weather outside. It was about 75 degrees but very humid. I started the day with ice-coffee, water, and half a plain bagel. 

My first mile was a 8:11 pace but I knew that was too fast.  I monitored myself and ran according to how I felt….which was amazing.

And while I made it through the race just fine, it was not without overheating. I slowed down between miles 5-6 to give myself a little break when I started to get clammy. I ran up to anyone with a hose and poured more water on me than in me. In the end, I was thrilled with my time and my effort, but still disappointed that the heat affected me (I started to get chills). This, by comparison to the 85 degree heat I ran my last marathon in, was a piece of cake….but the fact that I overheat so quickly just hardens my resolve to be careful running in any heat.


2 thoughts on “Taking the Heat: When Your Hot, Your Running’s Probably Not

  1. Alix, good job with both the race and the story. I started running seriously just over 11 years ago at age 45. My first race was the Disney Half. Later I signed up for my first marathon in San Diego through Team in Training. Well even though I live in the Midwest, we had a mild winter and a cool spring so we weren’t getting adjusted to the heat as yet. Feeling in shape, and (over) confident, I decided with my running partner we would run the Indy Mini. I figured I would do pretty well for myself with all this marathon training under my belt.

    The race had a late starting time and I was sweating even before the gun went off. Around mile 6 you enter the Speedway track, it was 120 degrees on the track. I turned into a noodle…(an over-cooked noodle) I ended up walking the remaining miles, totally disgusted.

    Since then I have not ever been able to do well in the heat. Other than training in it on a regular basis, I dont know if there are any other ways to get over it.

    Oh now, every year that I run the Indy Mini, I look around, make sure no one is close, then I spit on that track!!

    Posted by John Tirotta | August 20, 2011, 5:21 pm
    • John, thanks for your comment. I am getting better at the heat but some days I can hack it and other days I can’t. I ran 14 miles today and handled the heat well, but then again I was running slowly because it’s my long distance day. Friday, I ran 5 miles and I was cold at the end of the run. Speed in the heat makes a difference. I am learing that long slow distances are better for me than the short faster ones because of my level of exertion.

      Good luck!

      Posted by Alix Shutello | August 29, 2011, 3:10 am

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