The weather is hot…but your running is not. Don’t stress. There are biological reasons you’re slow on those first hot days. All of a sudden, your body has to turn its natural air-conditioning system—sweat—up to full blast. And just as cranking AC up takes a toll on your home energy bill, the sudden heat change costs your body extra energy too.
If you’re training consistently, your body is used to delivering blood and oxygen to your working muscles. On hot days, you’re asking it to deliver blood to the skin too, so it can shed heat, create sweat and chill you out. The price of this sudden multitasking is that your body says, “Hey! Slow down!” until it gets the hang of doing both things at once. It can take as long as two weeks to get good at it.
To acclimate to this new oven you’re living in and get your running on track, use the following strategies on your body and your workout.
Keep Your Body Cool
Wear the right stuff.
Got a sleek new fitted running tank? Today’s not the day for it. You want a tech shirt that ’s a little loose in the torso, so any type of breeze—from what you’re generating when you run to any ambient air movement can get in there and evaporate your sweat, says Roberto Mandje, manager of runner training, education and products at New York Road Runners. The exception: high-tech cooling sleeves. “It looks counterproductive to have a tank top and sleeves on,” he says. But these can be useful for wicking extra sweat away from you, he says, and many have UPF sun protection built in. And don’t forget a hat or visor.
Put water in you before you put it on you.
Scientists say that drinking water is a first choice over dumping it over your head. In fact, pouring it on your head can make you feel cool and run faster—which makes you produce more heat and could run you into heat exhaustion if you’re not paying attention. Not only do you not want to get dehydrated for your health’s sake, it can also affect your running performance. Even if you don’t need a lot of water on a regular day, you do on a hot one.
Keep Your Workout Smart
Make friends with the gym—or the morning.
Speed work in the heat won’t do what it’s supposed to, since you can’t hit your splits. Take it indoors or get used to doing your workouts early in the morning when the day is coolest, says David Allison, founder and head coach of Marathon Coaching in Phoenix, where triple-digit temps are common. Bonus to getting up crazy early: Ozone levels tend to be lower.
Train by effort.
All those extra demands on your body drive your heart rate up higher than usual when you’re out in the heat. So, for instance, you might be doing 7:15-per-mile pace at an effort that used to turn in 7-minute miles, and you have to adjust your expectations, says Mandje. Focus on feel, not what your watch says.
Break it up.
If you’re training for an important time goal and hitting your splits is critical, break up your workouts, says Randy Accetta, director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America. “If, for example, you were supposed to do 5×1 mile, do 10×800 instead, and cut yourself some slack during the recovery,” he says. “Stand in the shade and drink fluids. Expect to still be slower—studies show it could be 3 to 19 percent slower than usual—but do the effort and turnover as best you can. And don’t think you’re a horrible athlete because you can’t manage it perfectly.”
These coaches all agree, if the heat bothers you: Don’t freak out. If you train smart and hydrate, you’ll get your groove back.
RELATED: Why Runners Should Train In The Heat
Know the Signs of Heat Illness
If you’re sweating heavily but your skin feels cold and clammy, you feel weak, have a fast, weak pulse, and have nausea, vomiting or feel faint—symptoms of heat exhaustion—get to a cool spot, lie down and loosen your clothes, while applying cool, wet cloths to your skin if you can. If, however, you have a super-high body temperature (above 103) and your skin is hot, red and especially if it’s dry, you’re at risk of heat stroke. Ask someone to call 911.