Summer road races are lots of fun, but heat stroke is deadly serious. High temperatures and humidity increase the risk of heat-related illness or death among runners. Masters runners are especially susceptible. It’s important to practice prevention, recognize the danger signs, and be good to yourself when racing in the heat.
Racing in the Heat
Surprisingly, the risks of heat stroke or heat illness are highest for shorter events like the 5K or 10K. Runners are usually pushing themselves to run faster at these distances, and the brain has less time to anticipate heat-related conditions. In a longer race, the pace is slower and the brain has plenty of time to slow things down before runners find themselves in the danger zone.
As you run, your body works hard to release the heat you produce. On a hot day, this task becomes increasingly difficult. Humidity makes things even worse by preventing the evaporation of sweat. As your brain realizes it’s failing to cool itself properly it sends hot blood to the skin’s surface. This reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood being pumped to the working muscles and increases the workload of the heart to keep up with the demands of racing.
Racing in the heat is especially dangerous for runners who have not had a chance to acclimate to higher temperatures. If you’re running a destination race in a hot climate, or racing on the first hot day of the season, use extra caution. Prescription drugs or recent illness may also negatively influence how your body responds to the heat. The wisest decision may be to simply turn your race effort into a fun run.
10 Tips for Running in the Heat
- Hydrate well before, during and after your run.
- Pee test.
- Run early or late.
- Look for shade.
- Stick your shirt in the freezer.
- Put ice in your hat.
- Wear sunglasses.
- Use sunscreen liberally.
- Have a backup plan.
For a more detailed explanation of each bullet point, read Warning: Running in the Heat