Training for fall marathons or half-marathons in the summer's heat and humidity is a challenge and tests even the most dedicated runner. The biggest problems runners face when training through the summer is heat illness and muscle cramping.
Hot weather and muscle cramps go hand in hand. The original theory on muscle cramping cited dehydration as the primary cause. While dehydration is still commonly thought by many to be the number one cause of muscle cramping, research raises some doubts about this assumption.
Results of several recent studies found no evidence that dehydration or electrolyte imbalance played a role in muscle cramping. Instead, these studies found that age, high body mass index, lack of stretching, and a family history of cramping were the primary culprits.
While some of these factors, like age and family history, are beyond our control, we can reduce the risk of muscle cramping by losing extra pounds, stretching daily, and adding strength training to our routine.
Some researchers believe that cramping is simply the result of muscle fatigue, which causes a breakdown in the communication between the central nervous system and the muscular system. Studies have shown muscles that cross two joints are more prone to cramping than muscles that cross only one joint. This is thought to be due to the increased workload on that muscle.
More: How to Cheat Fatigue
For example, the gastrocnemius, one of the calf muscles, crosses both the knee and the ankle joint. The soleus is also a calf muscle, but it only crosses one joint. The gastrocnemius is the most commonly reported muscle that cramps during activity.
Heat illness is also very serious.
Every runner should familiarize themselves with the signs and symptoms of heat illness. Pay attention to headaches, overheating, nausea, mental confusion, gastro-intestinal issues, excessive sweating or a loss of sweat, labored breathing, and muscle cramps. The best way to avoid heat illness is to slow down. Hot, humid days are not the time to push the pace.