Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I learned to deal with heat and humidity.  For the better part of my youth, summers were spent in sticky, sweltering conditions, created by the Seven Hills surrounding the Really Muddy Ohio River.  Cincinnati summers felt like waking up to a wet kiss every morning (once we went outside, at least.)

As a kid, I played soccer, went to the pool, rode my bike, helped with the lawn mowing.  I spent the summers out and about, with tanned legs and bleached blonde hair.  I tortured my little sister on trips to and from the swimming pool, where we would go all day to play (and then I’d try to dust her while riding home – wasn’t I nice?)  We played at the beach, and even then, as a little girl a twinge on the chunky side of life, (and with some seriously BAD hair), I had fun.  For proof, see the slightly dorky picture below of me and my little sister, Liz. (She’s so adorable.)

Ta Da! I may have bad hair and a worse swimsuit, but Liz and I know how Splash Dance.
Ta Da! Even with bad hair and a worse swimsuit, Liz and I knew how Splash Dance.

But if you asked me to run, I’d ask “what for?”  Laps around the soccer field were punishment – given when you talked during drill instructions, or worse, when (ahem) you sometimes got mouthy with Dad, the coach.

So I missed a few key years (approximately 15) of feeling what it was like to work out in real heat.  Except for summer walks during my college years with my cousin Jessica (which we did on the only flat part of real estate near us – by the River) I pretty much missed learning How to Deal With Heat as A Biped.

Enter my early thirties, and not only do I run more, but I walk around the city more.  I also do it with some extra fat.  Thinking back to grade school biology, I’m pretty sure that means I stay warm longer – and get warm faster – than the average bear.  (And the average bear has it hard, according to the most recent Runners World article about heat and the body’s response.) So, over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to make sure that I stay cool while I run or walk.  Take them or leave them, but they work for me…

1) Wear a hat, or a visor.  As I’ve said before, I resemble a large albino (courtesy of my hearty German and Irish heritage), so keeping the sun off my Skin Cancer Magnet (i.e. Nose) is important.  I like the visor because it’s cooler – the heat doesn’t get trapped beneath the cap – but the visor has a downside, too, and that’s an increased skin cancer risk for your head.  I say do whatever works for you. 

2) Hydrate before you go out for a run, during, and after.  And carry a fuel belt.  The amount of hydration you need varies, and there are a lot of suggestions that over-hydrating can be a problem.  But when the heat and humidity rises, you simply need more fluids (and more salt, if you’re going to be out for more than an hour).  If you’re training for a long race (i.e. a half marathon) make sure you speak to your coach, or do some research about how much fluid to take with you.  I typically drink 8 ounces about an hour before a run, and hydrate every 5 minutes on the run with a sip from my water bottle.  If I’m out for a long time, sometimes I’ll drink more, but I always have fluids with me.  Yes, even though that belt looks craptastic around my Michelin-sized waistline.

I once ran the Indy Mini and one of the folks I knew, who hadn’t completed the training, but came out on race day, was running next to us at a point, without any fluids.  She was going pretty fast (compared to her usual pace), and she said she had downed a few ibuprofen before the race to prevent any issues on the course.  I didn’t see her until a year later, when she mentioned that after Indy, she had woken up the next morning with 15 pounds of water weight in swelling…and that her kidneys had essentially shut down during the race.  The doctors weren’t sure if it was the ibuprofen before the race, or the lack of fluids, or the heat, but whatever the cause, she was out of running for a year.  Make it easier on yourself, and control what you can by carrying your own fuel belt.  

3) Wear plenty of sunscreen.  I don’t know the science behind it, but it seems obvious to me that if your skin is blistering in the heat, it’s probably not going to do as good a job as your number one biological cooling mechanism.  I generally wear between an SPF 15 and an SPF 45 outside.  I pay special attention to shoulders, arms, and the back of the neck, not to mention face and ears.

4) Wear slightly loose, light clothing which wicks sweat.  I’ve talked about this a lot, but wicking fabric is a must.  And if you’re looking for a good shirt, something that claims to have “extra vents” on the side panels will help with ventilation.  Great stuff for summer.

5) Expect the run to suck the first time you go out Hot.  Research says it takes about 15 days for your body to adjust to Hot Running.  So the first few times you go out, expect it to be hard.  Dial it down a notch.

6) Know the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion – for you, and your friends.  The New York Times has a great article about NOT listening to the athlete who may be exhausted, so know how to check on your friends.  For heat exhaustion information and heat stroke info, also review these guidelines, from the CDC, or check out the symptoms below for a refresher.

This German-Irish girl takes care to make sure that most of these things never happen – but if I start feeling queasy, or lightheaded, (which has happened), I do something simple: I walk. I take a drink. I slow down.  You can do it, too, and no one will care…

For more information, check out Jeff Galloway’s tips in Runner’s World. 

Take care of yourselves – and I’ll see you on the path.

Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion 101: From the Centers for Disease Control

What is heat stroke? 
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. 

What are the warning signs of a heat stroke?

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

What should I do if I see someone with any of the warning signs of heat stroke? 

If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously. 
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

What is heat exhaustion? 

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, those with high blood pressure, and those working or exercising in a hot environment. 

What are the warning signs of heat exhaustion? 

The warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache 
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. See medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

What steps can be taken to cool the body during heat exhaustion? 

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Rest.
  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
  • Seek an air-conditioned environment.
  • Wear lightweight clothing.

What are heat cramps and who is affected? 
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms – usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs – that may occur in association with strenuous activity. People who sweat a lot during strenuous activity are prone to heat cramps. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles causes painful cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, seek medical attention for heat cramps.

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