The Nasty Season

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where a nice summer day starts out chilly and inches toward seventy-five. Who cares about the week in August when we shield our eyes from that blinding thing in the sky and watch the thermometer push toward ninety? For runners, it’s so infrequent that you can take the day off without any effect.

Not so here in sunny South Carolina. Not for me, anyway. I can barely make it through May, and by June I’m done. Even short runs do me in. A couple of years ago, I finally just quit running and did yoga inside with the AC blowing. I was surprised to come out of the summer lighter and more flexible but, this year, I’d like to keep up with my running through the seasons. Several things help me feel more comfortable in the heat. I’ll have to wait and see how they work when I wake up to 90 degrees with dripping humidity, but I’m hoping to make it at least through June this year. July, if I’m lucky.

If you’re going to run or workout in the heat this year, please consider the following to stave off heat stress and sluggishness: Run shorter routes, and add a second lighter workout. It’s the sun that seems to kill me: it’s weird, but working out in my garage doesn’t have the same effect. If it’s blazing outside, I might cut my run in half and then finish up with some kind of workout in the garage. Or you can do another workout later when you’ve cooled off. Misery in small doses seems a little more bearable.

Some Things To Do:

  1. Ensure you are hydrated before you run. Ignore this and your legs will feel like heavy, cooked spaghetti a mile out. And pee before heading out and notice the color. It should be clear pale yellow. Any darker and you are not hydrated. Drink some water and chill for half an hour or so. Really, You’re not racing in the Olympics today. Do it right. You run to be healthy, right?
  2. And please. Do pee before you run. When it’s this hot outside your body becomes a water processing plant, and the need to pee hits like a truck. Take care of it beforehand to avoid being both baking hot and completely uncomfortable. It’s hard to run with your legs crossed, and around here they shoot strangers running into the woods.
  3. Ramp up your time and miles slowly. This year I started running during the middle of the day as temps began to increase. And if it’s really cooking, I cut my miles. I will run a shorter loop that I can do twice or three times depending on how I’m feeling. A ten-mile out-and-back is too much of a commitment.
  4. Slow down or walk. There have been times when I have slowed to just a running form. An old man shuffle. There have been times that I’ve walked. I burn the same number of calories per mile and enjoy the same workout. And there is a mental reward for finishing your distance. I find that running is more enjoyable standing up rather than laying on the side of the road after fainting from heatstroke. A note: if it embarrasses you to walk when you’re feeling hot and tired and if you’re afraid that Julie and the kids might drive byin their Volvo and see you walking, well, I might as well be the one to tell you: no one really cares what you do.
  5. Wear a hat. I’m not a hat guy, but have learned to like the small bit of shade it gives my eyes. Toss the canvas trucker hat. Wear a lightweight hat meant to wick moisture, and you will definitely feel the relief.
  6. Run as close to naked as you can get. I wear the least I can and not get arrested. I also invested in some running togs made to wick moisture away and keep me cool.  I’ve been surprised to learn how well they work.
  7. Get a hydration pack. I bought one on a whim because I was so baking hot and because it was on sale. Now I hardly leave the house without it.  A must.
  8. Wear sunscreen. An absolute non-negotiable.

And…Some Things Not To Do:

  1. There’s more drama, I think, when your body is baking. You’re strained and having a little less fun. Tiny things that don’t normally bother me loom large. I take an extra minute before I start to make sure I’m all set, knowing that a little pinch in my shoe or the battery in my headphones dying will irritate the crap out of me. Be proactive.
  2. Avoid the rain. At least here in the South. I held off on a run once last year, waiting for the black clouds to open. When the rain came, I ran out expecting a nice Northwest style run. Good bloody gawd. It was the worst run I’ve ever had. It was still ninety degrees, and when the rain hit the pavement it turned the entire street into a steam bath. I have never been on such an uncomfortable run.

So take it slow. Take it easy. Let your body acclimate. Remember that you do this for fun and that you would like to do it again tomorrow.

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