I’m an outdoor runner.  Some people are, some people aren’t, but for me there is no grey area. 

When I run, I run outside.  Cold, wind, rain, snow if I’m traveling – no problem.  Part of it is the fact that I simply enjoy being outside in the elements.  There is nothing better than a cool morning run, a sunrise, spotting deer along a running trail.  It’s the best. 

There is another reason why I run outside however and that is the treadmill.  My archenemy.  My kryptonite.  I loathe it.  I dislike virtually everything about it. 

The Dreadmill

It takes a lot to get me on the dreadmill, exigent circumstances I like to say, and there are usually a combination of factors at play that force me inside. 

It usually isn’t enough to just be the weather.  I have just about every type of running “gear” that there is thanks to my very understanding and wonderful wife.  But if travel to a new city, icy streets and an early flight conspire against me all at the same time, I do sometimes end up with an indoor run. 

In the last 12 months I have gone for 270 runs covering 2,456.21 miles.  Every single one of those miles has been run outdoors.  The previous year I ran 232 of my 234 runs outside.  Just two runs on a treadmill.  

Two years later I can still remember both of my indoor runs vividly. 

The first took place the day of my 25th High School Reunion, the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I arrived in Philadlphia at 4:00 p.m. and needed to get an 11 miles in quickly before meeting up with my good friend Steve.  I didn’t have time to drive from the airport hotel, get my run in, get back, shower, change and make it back out to Manyunk.  So I hit the hotel treadmill for my longest-ever indoor run of 11 miles.  I hated every second of it.

The other came just after Christmas when we had high winds and rain falling with a temperature of 28 degrees here in Austin.  The temperature was fine, but the wind was gusting up over 30 mph.  A big front blowing through town.  I had an appointment with my personal trainer that morning, so I simply went to the gym a bit early, knocked out my 6.25 mile run on the treadmill, dried off and hit the weights. 

That’s it.  In two full years we have run 504 times and only twice did we climb on a treadmill.  That is 99.6% if you are scoring at home.  Man vs. Nature.

Here in Austin it is not the winters that make that make outdoor running challenging and dangerous like some of my runner friends in the Northeast and Midwest – for us it is our Summers.

Last Sunday for example I rose at 5:00 a.m. to get out before sun up.  Temperature 73 degrees, 86% humidity.  I put two 10 ounce bottles into my waterbelt, one with water, one with grape Gatorade.  I hit the hill route for 14 miles.  Covered it in 1:44:41 (7:29 pace).  A pretty even-paced training run although I did ramp things up late with my final two miles clocking in at 7:13 and 7:12 to wrap things up.

I stepped on the scale when I got back inside.

5 lbs. lighter.

Think about a 5 lb. dumbell.

A 5 lb. bag of sugar.

I lost that much weight in just 1 hour and 45 minutes, while I drank 20 ounces of fluids!

This time of year the “challenge” for outdoor runners  is not snow, ice, wind and storms – it is something far more difficult and in a lot of ways far more dangerous.  Heat. 

For a marathoner or even a middle distance runner there is no greater evil than the heat.  Heat can bring on two conditions that will negatively affect your performance.  Overheating and Dehydration. 

Overheating occurs as your body begins to lose the battle in how much sweat can be evaporated from your skin.  This is the primary “cooling mechanism” in each of our bodies. 

As your internal body temperature rises you start to sweat.  Your body then begins to send more blood to the capillaries at the surface of your body, where it is cooled by coming in contact to your “cooler” skin. 

While this is taking place there is a battle being fought elsewhere over this same supply of blood.  As you continue to run and cover miles, your body calls for more and more oxygen to be sent to your muscles.  As this blood flows to your muscles being placed under a heavy load – less of it can be sent to the skin – and overheating results.  

Your body is forced to make a choice between the two.  Either the oxygen (and the blood carrying it) will go to your muscles allowing you to keep your pace – which will cause you to overheat OR the blood will go to the surface of your skin to cool your body – but less oxygen will be available for your muscles which will slow your performance.  

You cannot have both, although slowing your pace is a much preferred alternative to overheating and all the problems that can cause. 

Dehydration is simply your body losing fluids while you are exercising – in the heat, this of course means sweating.  If you’ve noticed after a long run or race that you have dried salt on your face, arms and legs you probably realized that in addition to losing water you are also losing salt as well.  That is why in the summer months drinking a sports drink that contains electrolytes is so important in addition to the water you consume during a run. 

What is unnecessary during an hour of exercise in the winter becomes critical in the heat of a Texas summer.  Fact of the matter is that I never carry a water belt with me on runs 10 miles or less between 30 degrees and 65 degrees here in Austin.  But this time of year – anything longer than a 10K and I make sure to have water with me on every run. At the very least I make sure I plan my route so that I am passing a water fountain within every two miles.

So here are one runner’s tips for running in the heat. 

1.  Know your Body:  Weigh yourself before and after your run.  Drink 16 ounces of fluids for every pound that you lose during your run.  This is not “weight loss” – this is dehydration.  Take this very seriously. 

Last Tuesday’s Pre Run Weight 137 lbs.
10 K and 43 minutes later 134 lbs.

2.  Run Early:  If you are not a morning runner, you might want to become one from June-September.  Here in Austin even on the hottest summer day reaching 105 degrees will fall below 80 again overnight.  At 6:00 a.m. the temperature is rarely higher than 78.  Better still, if you can have your run completed before the sun reaches the horizon you are even further ahead of the game. 

3.  Sun Protection:  Morning running also removes the need for sunscreen if your run is shorter than an hour or so.  If you do have to run in the heat of the day, apply a sunscreen that is a “non-drip” variety.  These are designed so the sunscreen will not get into your eyes as you sweat.  SPF #15 or #20 at a minimum. 

6:04 a.m. Temp 68 degrees, humidity 94%

4.  Hydration:  During your run make sure you are drinking every 15-20 minutes.  I take a hit on my water bottle on the even numbered miles – 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. – it helps me remember to drink and gives me something to look forward to as the miles tick by.  I try to drink about 4 ounces of water per “squirt”

5.  Clothing:  Wear light-colored, technical clothing that is moisture wicking.  If you are running in cotton it will trap your sweat against your body and will not allow for evaporation – which helps cool your body.  You will also be prone to chafing as the material gets wet and heavy. 

6.  Anti-Chaffing:  Apply Body Glide or another anti-chafing product liberally and everywhere that skin meets skin.  Moisture in the form of sweat is just like running in the rain.  If you do not prepare for it properly it will lead to chafing and blisters. 

7.  Slow Down:  This is science guys, not opinion.  Less blood to your muscles = slower pace.  Don’t fight it and try to be a “hero” or “heroine” – slow down and enjoy your run.  We are out there because we love it.  Why push yourself to run a pace that your body simply isn’t able to hold comfortably?  You will enjoy your summer runs much, much more if you lower those speed expectations just a bit. 

For me it is :05-:10 seconds for every 5 degrees above 65.  If my pace per mile for an 8 mile run is typically 7:10 at 65 degrees or less, I will adjust my pace to run at 7:25 on a 77 degree morning.  I finish the run feeling the same in July as I would in November – and my fitness level is no worse for wear. 

8.   Adjustment Period:  “They” claim that it takes two weeks for the average runner to adjust to running in the heat.  That to me sounds about right – one trick however is to make sure you are also out “in the heat”, not just going from your air-conditioned environment to the running trail and back.  I make sure to do yard work and spend some time “in the heat” when I am not running to help with this adjustment. 

9.  Run Naked:  Now, now – we talked about this before.  By “naked” I mean no GPS and no iPod.  I do this frequently when the summer arrives to help me simply “enjoy being out there”.  This has helped me not be so conscious of every mile split and think about pace on every run.  Without my Garmin beeping at me every mile I simply run by feel.  

If the heat and humidity is forcing me to dial back my pace so be it.  I run by the effort I want to expend instead of by time.  If you know how a “Hard” vs. “Moderate” vs. “Easy” run is supposed to feel – you are ready to embrace “Naked Running”. 

10.  The Dreadmill:  Look, if it’s simply too damn hot out there – it is.  If you need to do a speed workout or a hard interval workout to train for a race and it is 100 degrees outside – be smart.  Last time I checked our gym it was about 70 degrees at Fitness 19.  That is definitely a better option than skipping your workout all together or even worse, putting your health at risk. 

Enjoy the summer guys!  Six months from now we’ll be here talking about the best running gloves and hats … guaranteed.

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