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How to take care of yourself when running in hot weather

Running in hot weather can cause heat-related illnesses, zap your energy and diminish your performance if you are not properly aware of the dos and don’ts before heading out.  The consequences of being ill-prepared for the heat could lead to permanent brain damage or even death due to severe heat stroke and dehydration.

In 2002, while living in South Korea, I suffered from heat exhaustion after running 10km in the heat. I was quite ill and needed medical attention. From that bad experience I learned to hydrate enough before working out, not push myself like I did in the race, and not to race that same day for another 200 metres. I also learned that I don’t run well in the hot weather. My runs are done early in the morning or in the evening.

To keep you safe in hotter than normal conditions, here are my top five running tips that have helped me and are good reminders.

  1. Know the best time to run: Everyone has different levels of tolerance for running in hot and humid conditions. If your run is negatively affected by the heat, try to avoid running in the hottest part of the day, which is from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If there isn’t an option, try to choose routes in the trails where shade will keep you cool.
  2. Clothing: Wear sweat-absorbing fabrics to help keep you dry and comfortable. Try to avoid moisture-absorbing fabrics like cotton in anything from socks to shorts to t-shirts.  The lighter the garment, the better off you will be. Wear sunglasses and running caps to protect your eyes from the sun year-round.  Your cap will also help shield you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays while preventing your scalp from getting burned. It comes in handy on rainy days too if you’re not a fan of the water beating down in your eyes.
  3. Sunblock: To protect your skin from sun damage and to prevent skin cancer, apply sunscreen before your run.  A very pleasant benefit to protecting your exposed skin is it slows down the natural aging process.  Wear the right SPF according to the pigmentation of your skin.
  4. Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids. Drink at least two to three liters of water a day. Runners need to drink at least two cups of water two hours prior to running and another cup thirty minutes before.  Invest in a water bottle to carry with you or plan your route where you know of multiple sources of water.  Anytime you feel the heat, take a few sips of water as needed.
  5. Slow the pace when running or cross training in the heat. Pool running is a great alternative to running. It can be done with or without a flotation vest and can mimic the running motion in deep water.  Another option is the treadmill, the advantage being if you need to stop early you’ll still be back where you started.  Many gyms provide fans and water fountains. If you feel more tired from the heat than normal, it’s best that you stop and try again later.

After your run, drink plenty of water or a sports drink to replenish lost electrolytes. Don’t forget to eat some cooling foods as well, such as watermelon or cantaloupe.

Remember to listen to your body as this is your guide to stay within the boundaries of not overdoing it. Being a good listener could save your life.

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