Heat Acclimation

Summer is here!  We made it through the time of the year when snow cancellations scroll across the bottom of the screen.  We made it through the time of the year when we not only check the air temperature, but we have to figure in the wind chill.  We finally moved on from “Frosty 5Ks”, thick ski gloves and six layers – not a cake or lasagna – but layers of clothes.  As a runner, I am ready for the warmer weather.

This weekend it was warm; 80 degrees and sunshine each day for the last 3 days.  It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirt.  I was smart too, as I hydrated throughout the morning, wore light clothing and chose some shaded routes.

BUT, it was still hot and my workouts suffered.

It reminded me of a discussion I would have every once in a while with our retired tennis coach.  He was a big believer in heat acclimation (or in some cases cold acclimation).  He had a theory that this was one of the factors you had to work into a strategy for a good training plan.  The younger “me” didn’t put much thought into it, but the older I get, the more I believe he was spot on.

The Korey Stringer Institute (ksi.uconn.edu) defines heat acclimation as “a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress in a controlled environment over the course of 7 to 14 days”.  The Institute describes some of those changes as increased heart rate, increased sweat, the lack of blood distribution and lowering of overall performance.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it really seriously.

Consider my situation in southwestern PA:  I have been running 20-25 miles per week continuously for the last 25 weeks.  The average temperature in that period is 38 degrees (with an average low of 25 and an average high of 62 degrees).  Naturally, my body is not going to handle a big chance in temperature.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it seriously.

There are a few things we can implement in our training that may help with heat acclimation this time of the year.  Here are a few things to consider in your own training:

  • Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing
  • Work out in the morning or when the sun is about to set
  • Cut the workout in half and do one half in the morning and one half in the evening
  • Add in some walk breaks
  • Find a shaded route to walk/run
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and carry water on your training run/walk

Morale of the story for me today – take heat acclimation seriously.  We all want a long and rewarding running career, so take some steps today to prepare for the heat.  And don’t be afraid to back off if the weather gets a bit too hot or you aren’t feeling good that day.

One misconception out there is that performance will suffer from one day off or one workout skipped.  Trust me, that is not the case.  It take 10 days or longer for your fitness level to decrease.  Research and science are on my side.

Stay cool, stay safe and enjoy the summer!!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

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