With the temperatures rising quickly, our normally cool and comfortable workouts have turned into rainforests of sweat. This time of year is often a tricky balance for most athletes living in the Midwest. The sun is shining, and the snow has stopped. Summer is finally here. However, with summer comes the heat. Similar to going up into the mountains and running at altitude, heat can be even more challenging for the body to adapt to. In this article we will dive into what happens to the body during workouts in hotter temperatures and some ways to ease into the summer while still pushing the pace.
The human body is an adaptable machine that relies on constant regulation to keep bodily functions operating at full capacity. When the body becomes too warm it needs to change how it operates. Take, for example, when you work out. The internal temperature of the body rises, and changes happen very rapidly- sweating, increase in cardiovascular demand, and fluid levels. Usually the body is allowed time to adjust to these changes through a warmup and cool down. However, with the warm temperatures your body will feel like you are jumping into a sprint at the end of the race with no time to adapt to the necessary changes. This can cause feelings of exhaustion, electrolyte imbalance, and poor cardiovascular adaptation. The good news is the body is great at adapting if you give it time.
Most athletes have heard of altitude acclimatization. The idea is that you slowly stress the body at greater elevations until it is able to adapt to the demands. The body requires a similar process for running in hot weather. Several studies have examined the principle of heat acclimatization. These studies have found that it takes about 10-14 days for the body to better handle dramatic changes in temperature. Adaptations include improved skin vasodilation and sweating, reduced core and skin temperatures, as well as improved fluid balance and cardiovascular stability. Therefore, during the first 1-3 weeks of experiencing temperature changes it is important to allow the body time to adapt. The body is incredibly good at letting us know what it needs, and it is up to us to listen to it.
Try these few tricks to allow this adaptation period to go smoothly. Time your workouts with the weather. This concept seems simple, but it can be a great tool to adapt more quickly. Target your hard intensity efforts during the early morning or evening times to stress the body under cooler conditions. Then try to time your easy efforts or cross training days during periods of hotter temps. This can allow the body to be stressed from the weather and not from the overall workload. It goes without saying but staying on top of your water and electrolyte consumption is essential. (Check out Rachel’s blog for more on this topic). Finally, allow yourself to experience the challenge. We are often so caught up in trying to make every workout perfect. 99% of races are never perfect which is why we do them. Think of this time of year as a test of mental strength. Allow the weather to be a tool instead of a hurdle to build you into a stronger athlete while still listening to your body as it adapts.
To summarize- running in hot weather will always be a factor in every athlete's training. It is essentially inevitable that you will feel poorly for a bit of time as you get used to it. You probably aren’t doing anything wrong with training or nutrition. It is important to understand how the body adapts and why it feels the way it does.