If you’re signed up for a summer or fall race, heat is an inevitable factor in your training (raises own hand, sweat dripping from forehead). Your running options are to wake up well before the sun, load up on coffee, and hope you don’t start sleepwalking, or, wait until the sun goes down, get to bed late, and not have time to catch up on the latest running news/stoke videos while you unwind at the end of the day. Or, you can always acclimatize to the heat through gradual and smart training and reap the amazing benefits that go with it. (I’m going to argue that that is your best option.) Heat acclimatization can be accomplished by anybody, its benefits are plentiful, and the differences can be felt in a relatively short time.
Heat training has been shown to increase your standard rate of sweat, which in turn helps you regulate your body temperature. Further still, the body naturally will increase its volume of blood plasma (An adaptation similar to how altitude training increases your red blood cells). A study in the 2012 European Journal of Applied Physics tested athletes before and after they trained for 90 minutes a day for five days in a state of moderate overheating. The study found that they increased blood plasma volume by 4.5%.
So, what does that mean in plainer English? Blood plasma results in a greater cardiac output; you are more efficient at pumping blood. This also yields higher V02 max- the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process at your strongest physical exertion. Therefore, as your heat acclimatization improves, your perceived exertion drops across all paces. Things start to feel easier because they are.
Heat training produces additional stresses on your body’s systems; like an intense workout program, it should not be piled on all at the same time. Gradual exposure is key.
- Start off with spending some time in a sauna after your run. These initial sauna sessions should follow a workout that is done in temperatures that are normal to you. A good range of time to spend in the sauna is 15-30 minutes depending on how sensitive you are to the heat.
- As you become more comfortable with the heat, start to run in the hotter part of the day. Do not do workouts at this point; keep your run at a pace that is comfortable to you, or even easier than normal.
- After a couple of weeks of running in the warm part of the day, start to gradually add layers to your run. Start off with a long sleeve and work your way up to a beanie hat and puffy jacket. Heat training runs can start at 15 minutes, though some ultramarathon athletes may be able to work up to 90 minutes or more. Heat training runs should take the place of a full (or partial) long run. For safety, don’t attempt your speed workouts in heat gear unless you are well seasoned.
Always stop and de-layer immediately if you feel dizzy, confused, or sudden fatigue. Allow your body to recover from heat workouts by sleeping in an air conditioned room. Heat training can fatigue the body in the same ways a long run does.
When race day comes and you are on your way to the finish line, your heat training can be fully utilized by pairing heat management strategies to it. Try some of the following ideas:
-Stuff ice into whatever pockets you can. Ultimate Direction vests both work great for this. Ultimate Direction also makes bels are stretchy and sit right at your waist, directing cooling right to your abdomen and critical organs. Ultimate Direction’s vests have two chest pockets and multiple back pockets that position ice right over your heart and spine. As water melts and drips, your body stays soaked and cooled.
-Wear as much white as possible.
-Wear removable arm sleeves and keep them drenched in water.
-A desert hat can keep sun off your neck and shoulders.
-Keep hydrated with plenty of electrolytes
As your body becomes more adapted to heat, you’ll notice yourself running faster or with less perceived effort, and well on your way to crushing your next race.