Right now is the time of the year when I head out for one of my usual runs and a mile in I begin to feel horrible. I feel slow, sluggish, and like I can’t go on. That is when I start to cry (and whine). Usually my husband is with me for this run and he gets the brunt of these emotions. “I did 10 yesterday what is wrong with me? I can’t even do three! I’ve lost everything.”
The sad part is that this happens every year, around the same time of the year, but I do go on to continue my usual running at some point and will do the same thing over again next year. Hey, what can I say, even we running coaches lose our minds sometimes.
If you have been feeling like this lately, fear not. It is just the darn humidity. It is a runner’s nightmare. It makes you sweat like crazy, run much slower, and feel just plain awful. Sadly, humidity can impact your running more than any other weather condition. It can also cause some dangerous things to happen, so it is important to understand just how humidity affects your running.
When we exercise our core body temperature rises, and as this happens our bodies sweat to help cool off. The humidity also causes our core body temperatures to rise even more and it also keeps that sweat from evaporating from your skin, hindering your body’s own cooling mechanism from doing its job properly.
As your core temperature rises from both your running and the humidity, blood is also released throughout your body to areas near your skin to further help cool you down. While this is great in some ways, it directs blood away from your lungs and other organs such as your GI tract. Therefore your body has a much harder time refueling as well as removing waste and delivering oxygen. Moving blood away from the GI tract can also be the cause of stomach distress when you take gels or other supplements on hot days. All of this is a terrible combo for a runner. Even worse, the faster you run, the more heat your body produces. So good luck with your speed work!
This all sounds pretty terrible, and honestly it really is. But there is some good news. Your body is an incredibly adaptable machine. As you continue to run and train in hot and humid conditions it will learn to handle everything much more efficiently. However, it is important that you understand how you can help your body out with these conditions as well as how to look for signs of much more dangerous problems.
First of all you need to learn patience. When heat and humidity are factors during your training there is just no way you can run at the same pace as you normally do under ideal conditions. Running at 75-80º can slow you down by almost a minute per mile and at 80-85º you might even see that go up to two minutes slower per mile. Add in humidity over 60% and you might expect your running to slow down yet another minute per mile. There really are no other ways around it. So when you are stuck running in this weather, just be patient and slow yourself down. It won’t ruin your training. These conditions will likely abate in the near future and your body will somewhat acclimate to running in these conditions within 7-14 days.
Plan ahead. Wear light, sweat wicking clothing. If you’ve been thinking about trying a pair of skimpy new running shorts, or you gents have been admiring those bicep flattering tank tops, now is your excuse to wear as little as possible. Steer clear of bright and dark colors that absorb the sun and look for lighter colors that reflect instead.
Hydrate, hydrate, and then hydrate some more. Like yesterday or better yet the day before yesterday! When summer rolls around plan on drinking a lot around the clock. Don’t hydrate the day before a run, but instead plan on hydrating the whole week. This will help your body out before, during and after. Just make sure you know where the closest bathroom is at all times. Seriously, I speak from experience!
Know the signs of heat stroke and other heat related issues. Remember when I said that the heat pulls blood from your major organs? That includes your brain, heart and lungs, and that is scary.
Early signs of heat illness: profuse sweating, exhaustion or fatigue, muscle cramping and extreme thirst.
Signs of heat exhaustion: dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, dark urine
Signs of heat stroke: extreme rise in temperature, hot skin, shortness of breath, fast pulse, confusion, seizures or unconsciousness
It is very important to understand these symptoms well and assess yourself during hot and humid runs. A lot of these symptoms sound a lot like how we often feel as we push through hot runs. You need to be responsible and assess yourself wisely. Know when it is time to pull off to the side of the road or flag down help. It isn’t always easy to do and we runners pride ourselves on how “strong” we are, but many a runner has been rushed from a marathon or other endurance race because they tried to tough it out and push through these symptoms. We have all heard the scary stories of runners collapsing at races due to heat stroke. Don’t allow that to happen to you!
Always carry your phone with you and some form of ID. Don’t forget your hydration. Bring water with you and know where you can find more.
Happy safe running friends!