Friday, June 13, 2014

The Do's and Don'ts of Summer Running

Well, it's happened. It's the final, frustrating irony of being a runner in the Midwest, where it seems like we get the worst of all seasons.

It's hot now. And I wish it were colder.

I have just enough distance on this past winter to remember its low temperatures fondly as I now run, panting, under a brutal summer sun.

I have a short memory

Okay, I guess it's not quite as bad as this past winter. I don't have to watch out for ice under my feet. I don't have to cover up any exposed skin to avoid frostbite. I don't have to kick aside a foot of snow with each step.

But summer has its own hazards and important rules. I was running last summer too, but not for long enough to encounter any of the season's worst dangers. Now that I'm increasing the distance of my Saturday runs (10 miles tomorrow!), I've had to learn some hard lessons about what you should and shouldn't do in high temperatures.

Do: Wear Sunscreen

For those of you with a lighter complexion, any time in the sun at all ends up necessitating some form of skin protection. While a parasol and floppy hat suit me fine at slower speeds, running doesn't allow that kind of access to high fashion.


"It's fine," I thought a few weeks ago. "Most of my run is along tree-lined paths with plenty of shade, I don't need sunscreen." I realized, though, that even brief, intermittent stretches of sunlight, over a long enough run, are going to leave their mark. I also realized, once I had run far enough to reach a new section of my path, that there are long, uncovered stretches of the North Shore Channel Trail. I realized this after my post-run shower, when I saw this:

So make sure you know the level of sun exposure you will receive on your run, and get some sunscreen on beforehand. Or risk looking like that.

Don't: Wear Dark Colors

I remember learning about how black absorbs heat, while white reflects it, in school. Not in the classroom, mind you, but during recess, which at my elementary school was sometimes held on a blacktop parking lot behind the classrooms. In Nashville, during the hottest days of the school year, we all learned that lesson about colors the hard way.

The same rule applies to running clothes, so wear something light if you have it. Otherwise, you might end up like Jimmy. Poor, clumsy Jimmy.

Do: Have Access to Water

This one seems like a no-brainer, but I was frustrated by the idea of having to carry around a water bottle with me during my whole run. I realized then that it wasn't a complete necessity to have a water bottle if you could map out reliable water fountains along your run. Luckily, I have enough along mine to re-hydrate regularly. During the hottest parts of my run, when I've lost most of the 70% of myself that is water, this becomes a necessity.

I've also considered getting one of those water backpacks with the straws coming up to your mouth. They would probably be good for running, but I've also considered other uses. Namely, secretly drinking vodka while in formal wear.

Like James Bond

Don't: Wait Until Noon to Run

I know, non-morning people. I know that the idea of morning running is terrifying. But I think morning running is great, especially for non-morning people, because it beats the heat. Running in the evening is also a good solution, and most runners end up doing one or the other to navigate around their workday. But the weekend is when the longest runs usually take place, and it's important to remember and compensate for the higher temperatures later in the day.

When my longer runs stretch into the noon hour, I can feel how much more of my energy is sapped by the rising temperature. I've made a handy chart to outline how the sun's position relates to my general well being:

So if you end up running longer or going out later, pace yourself appropriately. It might be easy to overdo it.

That's all for now. Stay cool!

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