"A huge part of being fit is being heat tolerant," says Chris Kostman, chief adventure officer of AdventureCORPS and race director for the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile, nonstop running race across Death Valley in the stiffing July heat. Many races in hot weather locales are held in cooler seasons, such as the ING Miami Marathon in January, to reduce the heat risks to athletes. But Kostman holds his race in the hottest place and season on purpose. "If you are holding what is considered one of the world's toughest foot races, you can't tiptoe around Mother Nature," he says. In preparation for scorching sun and temperatures reaching up to 130 degrees, Badwater athletes follow a four-week sauna regimen (available at badwater.com), which allows their bodies to process heat, fluids and sweat more efficiently.
"However, you always have to be cautious in the heat and pay attention to your body, no matter how acclimated you think you are," says Andrew Middleton, assistant coach with McMillan Running. According to Middleton, proper training and knowing your body's abilities and signals are key.
Precautions to Keep You on Pace
If the heat really isn't your thing, run in the morning (usually just before sunrise) for the coolest temperatures of the day. When possible, you can also seek out shady routes for relief from incessant sun. Dress in light-colored, synthetic clothing (to reflect the sun's rays, wick and dry quickly), that fits loose enough to promote airflow. Moving air helps to evaporate sweat and thus maintain body temperature.
"Although counter intuitive, it's important to cover up," Kostman says. Skin is your body's largest organ. Keep it covered to prevent excess absorption of the sun's heat and to prevent sunburns. Not only is sunburn uncomfortable, it inhibits your body's ability to properly sweat and cool. A runner with a loose-fitting shirt is best prepared for the heat. Sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses allow you to make your own shade and provide protection. Plus, constant squinting in the bright sun can give you a headache. And when it's just too hot to function, Burn's go-to workout is running in the pool. "It's a great way to sneak in some extra mileage and switch up your routine without overheating."
Even with proper training and gear, the most important skill is listening to your body and knowing the danger signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps and hyponatremia. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, are disoriented, have stopped sweating when you know you should be, have goose bumps in hot weather or your skin feels clammy, stop exercising, get out of the sun and seek medical attention.
Despite the challenges, running in hot weather is an important skill to hone. With an ever-ready water bottle, a few weeks to adjust, good common sense and general precautions, you can successfully continue with your fall marathon training program through the dog days of summer.
Allison Pattillo writes about fitness, gear and her adventures for several publications and websites, including The Military Times newspapers, iRunFar.com, Activegearreview.com and 40andfired.com. She is a former editor at Trail Runner magazine.