The Running Doc’s Warm-Weather Racing Tips

It’s going to be getting hot outside soon. Use these suggestions to stay cool this summer.

Written by: Lewis G. Maharam, MD

Races in the heat require planning and forethought. You cannot race well when you are unprepared for the heat or when you travel from someplace cold to someplace warm. It takes your body a good 7 to 10 days to acclimatize. To stay healthy in hot weather, I recommend the following:

Run within your capability. Do not push yourself in the heat. The greatest cause of heat illness is running too hard in hot conditions.

Eat a good pre-race meal a few hours before the run. Try an “Elvis bagel” (peanut butter and banana) during your training: It has protein and carbs.

Limit caffeine. Keep your total intake (including gels) to 200 mg; that’s about 2 cups of coffee.

Do “the salt”! Eat salted foods all week prior to the event. On race day, consume one fast-food salt packet at the start line. Have another salt packet halfway through the race.

Start the race well hydrated. Check your urine. If it is light yellow, like lemonade, you are drinking perfectly. If it is clear, you are drinking too much. If your urine looks like iced tea, you are not drinking enough!

Do not overdrink. Drinking too much is as bad as not drinking enough. The best way to drink healthy is to drink only when you’re thirsty. Nevertheless, drink no more than 1 cup (8 ounces) every 20 minutes while running or walking.

Choose sports drinks over water. Practice in training to do this. If you are exercising 30 minutes or more, research shows that sports drinks from the bottle are the healthiest way to go (do not dilute them or alternate them with water or a combo of a gel and water). Sports drinks are expertly prepared with energy (sugar) and salt.

Use the spray stations along the course, if provided, and at the finish to cool off. If you are overheating, a water spray will cool you down quickly and have a lasting effect as the water evaporates from your skin. Keep in mind, however, that drenched clothing will cling to skin and prevent evaporation, and wet socks can cause blisters, so use this strategy wisely. If there are no spray stations, dump a cup of water—not sticky sports drink!—over your head.

Protect yourself from the sun. Wear a cap or visor to shield your head, face, and eyes from the sun’s burning rays, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Use sunscreen on exposed skin, even on overcast days.

Check your meds. Do not consume cold medicines that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, or antidiarrhea medicines with dehydrating agents in them. They may increase your risk for heat illness. Caffeine products are OK only in doses you are used to during training (and in any case less than 200 mg, or 2 cups of coffee). Do not start taking a caffeine product on race day if you have not used one before.

Wear synthetic fabrics. Unlike cotton, synthetics wick moisture from your skin so that cooling evaporation can occur. Synthetics also decrease chafing and don’t cling and cause a chill. Look for loosefitting garments with mesh inserts under the arms, on the sides of the torso, down the arms, and on the outer thighs. Acrylic socks keep feet dry and cool.

Seek help if you need it. If you feel overly warm or just “not right,” stop at a medical station along the course or at the finish and get checked out by a physician.

Finish steady. Do not sprint the last mile. Instead, run the final stretch as you did in your training.

Find some ice. Apply iced towels or ice bags behind your neck at the finish to help you feel cooler faster. If you follow all these recommendations, you will feel great and enjoy the summer running season.

This article was adapted from the new book Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running with permission of VeloPress. From head to toenails, Running Doc’s book explains healthy running practices and guides runners to the right diagnosis and treatment for over 100 running injuries and related health problems. Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running is now available in bookstores, running shops, and online. Download a free sample and preview the contents at velopress.com/runningdoc.

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